AMES, Iowa (KGET) – Something has been bugging me for most of my adult life. I was born in a small Midwestern town a long, long time ago and I left a long, long time ago and haven’t been back. That is, until the day in early December when I finally made it back to Ames, Iowa.

Yes, I was born in Iowa – not that I remember the occasion. I lived there only for about the first 19 or 20 months of my life.  Nevertheless, I consider myself a member in good standing of the born-in-Iowa club, which is replete with American icons. Do I qualify?

I decided to reacquaint myself with the town of Ames. My son Ben and I flew to Chicago, ate some deep-dish pizza, rented a car, drove west and set out to further establish Iowa as the cradle of American culture.

First stop: Davenport, Iowa, on the west bank of the Mississippi River. Just north of town is the 1846 birthplace of Buffalo Bill Cody, frontiersman and showman. It’s not much to look at, though – just a rock at a rural crossroads. Not an auspicious way to begin.

Next stop: West Branch, Iowa, the birthplace of Herbert Hoover, our 31st president, born in 1874. The Hoovers’ tiny home is still standing, as are many of the buildings on his street. That includes the presidential outhouse.

Next stop: Riverside, Iowa, the birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise. Well, future birthplace – March 22, 2233. (The exact date is in some dispute, I might add.)

We know this thanks to the 1986 film “Star Trek: The Voyage Home.”

After the film came out the Riverside Town Council voted unanimously to declare Riverside to be that Iowa town.

Next stop: Winterset, Iowa, birthplace of Marion Morrison, better known as John Wayne. The future Duke was born in 1907. Admission to the John Wayne Museum? $20 a pop. We passed.

And then it was on to Corning, Iowa, where Tonight Show host Johnny Carson was born in 1925. His family moved to Nebraska when he was 8, but that doesn’t trouble the folks in Corning one bit.

That evening we reached the state capital of Des Moines, ate dinner, took a right turn onto U.S. 35 and drove 30 miles north to my long, lost hometown.

Ames is the home of Iowa State University of Science and Technology and the Ames Laboratory, one of the U.S. Department of Energy’s 10 science research labs. It’s a college town, with a Division I sports program and a frat house row. 

The next morning, a chilly, overcast Sunday, I took a walking tour of the town to find out what the place was all about. 

I ran into Jenny Pollard at your downtown boutique specializing in essential oils.

“It’s really just a quaint, charming city of about 65,000 people but half of them are under the age of 25,” she said. “And they leave in the summer. That’s kind of our golden time.”

Anna Herriott, a Cincinnati native who’s in the Iowa State veterinary school grad program, loves Ames.

“The people here, they’re just – they’re so nice,” she said. “They’re welcoming and it’s friendly, it’s safe. You know, It’s got that good Midwest vibe.”

R. Eugene and Carol Price, about 1954.

But it wasn’t academia or the chance to watch the Cyclones on crisp autumn Saturdays that brought the Reverend R. Eugene Price to Ames with his young wife Carol.

It was the promise of his first church – at what was then the First Church of God.  And about two blocks away, 1208 Wilson Ave, – owned by the church, specifically for its minister and his family.

No automatic washing machine for the preacher’s wife – no other woman in the church had one, so she sure wasn’t going to get one. Little Bobby’s diapers went on the clothesline outside. 

In the end my dad’s salary – $40 a week – wasn’t cutting it. We moved to California, where my sister Susan was born, and Dad eventually joined the Navy so he could feed his family. 

I’ll bet they have an automatic washing machine now. I had to go and see, of course. 

Would they even open the door for me? I polled the townsfolk on that question. This was a typical response.

“Oh, I’m sure they’ll be nice,” said Terrie Hofer of Octagon Center for the Arts.

But will they let me, a stranger and a journalist of all things, into their house?

“Maybe, maybe not,” said Hofer. “Who knows?

It was a beautiful, older tree-lined street. I found it. Nobody was home.

So I went back to downtown Ames – about five blocks of stores and a couple of miles east of the university – where the shopkeepers personified Iowa Nice. They were all walking and talking, like Chamber of Commerce advertisements.

“Ames is literally the best place in the entire world,” said Amy Zmolek, a manager at Dog-Eared Books. “It has the best of literally everything.”

After a couple of hours, I went back to my old home. Nope. Still nobody home.

It was an NFL Sunday so we killed some time at a local Buffalo Wild Wings. The game of the week: College wrestling, Iowa State vs. in-state rival Iowa.

Hey, this is Iowa.

By then it was dark. Time for one more shot at 1208 Wilson.

This time I was in luck. Roofing contractor Scott Nelson, who bought the 102-year-old house three years ago, answered the door. He and his wife Nancy are empty nesters and yes they actually allowed me in the front door.

“We’re at 1208 Wilson in Ames Iowa, our home for the past three years,” he said for the benefit of my phone’s video camera. “If you want to walk around and take a look a little bit …”

They were as nice as they could be, just as I expected.

There was more to see in Ames, much more, but this would have to do. By this time it was Monday morning, it was time to get back to Chicago. 

Iowa has always been an asterisk in my life – a very significant one – and not just because it’s one of the security questions the bank people ask me. It’s a piece of me. And now we’ve been formally introduced.

Could Ames have played a role in the development of my character? Having seen the town and met some of the people, I like to think so.