A STATE OF MIND : Iowa Club of San Diego's Year-Round Entertainment Package Includes Beef Queens and Tailgate Parties

Times Staff Writer

Membership for the Iowa Club of San Diego is limited to people who were born in, lived in or have passed through Iowa; to folks who have driven on Interstate-80 anywhere in the country; to those who know where the Hawkeye state is located and can pronounce it (Iowa) and spell it, and to anyone who can tell a Minnesota joke.

"The Iowa Club represents a way of life," said Bob Ottilie, who moved from Oelwein, Iowa to San Diego in 1979 and is one of the club's founders. "It's made up of people who appreciate the values of Iowa, but are happy to live in San Diego. It's a fun club."

It's a wild group that would hold its own at most Big Ten fraternity parties. This club once crowned a vegetarian as its Iowa Beef Queen.

The Iowa Club was formed in the spring of 1984 and has a mailing list of 1,800 with 350 paying members. It is made up of about 80% Iowans, Ottilie said. There are also about 3,500 University of Iowa graduates in San Diego County, and they are trying to form an alumni club in San Diego.

With Iowa playing San Diego State in the Holiday Bowl Tuesday night, Iowans are making some noise in San Diego these days.

Gary Peters, a die-hard Hawkeye fan, enjoys driving in his white convertible (covered with Hawkeye stickers) blasting tapes of Iowa fight songs and cheers on his stereo.

"I go the whole nine yards," said Peters, who went to Iowa for two years and moved to San Diego in 1963. Peters, who returns to Iowa to see a football game and go pheasant hunting at least once a year, will become president of the Iowa Club on Jan. 1.

A group of Iowans greeted the Iowa football team at the airport last Tuesday. The Iowa Club will hold a party at noon Tuesday at the Inter-Continental Hotel and a tailgate party in Section D of San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium at 3. The University of Iowa sold out its Holiday Bowl allotment of 10,000 seats.

"When Iowans come out here to visit," said club president Mike Hornung, "they are amazed by all this out here. They are easily entertained."

And being entertaining is the Iowa Club's motto.

Hundreds of Iowans turned out for the first Iowa Club picnic in September, 1985. The picnic was in the tradition of Iowa picnics in Long Beach, where attendance peaked at 50,000 in 1958 and fell to 27 in 1984.

Picnics are as much an Iowa tradition as beef, beer and jokes.

And then there is the Iowa Beef Queen.

The first Iowa Club of San Diego Beef Queen was crowned at a barbecue at Iowa Meat Farms in June, 1985. She was Robbie Ely, a friend of an Iowa Club member.

When Ely turned up to accept her award, club members discovered she was a vegetarian. They tossed the lettuce, tomatoes and onions off a hamburger and started cheering, "Eat the Beef."

"She had to consume at least a portion of a beef patty before she would be crowned," Ottilie said.

"Bob (Ottilie) is one Iowan who is still mentally in Iowa," said Steve Knox, who moved to San Diego from Iowa 16 years ago..

Last June, Sherri Patterson, 28, was crowned after a serious competition among 15 women. One of the six finalists was Fanny Jorgenson, 90, known as Granny Fanny. But when Jorgenson left to visit Iowa a week before the finals, she was eliminated.

"I think the reason I won is because I'm the only one who didn't want to win," said Patterson, a transplant who has been in San Diego less than a year.

Like most Iowans living in Southern California, Patterson loves the sunny weather but still has a warm place in her heart for home.

"Iowans are very friendly and very open," Patterson said. "Not that Californians are unfriendly. It's just that they don't have the time. Iowans are a real neighborhoody-type people. . . . People have the idea that people from Iowa are hicks. But I love Iowa. I always will."

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