55 Years Ago, A Moment of Détente

Détente, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, means the easing of strained relations, especially in a political situation. Fifty-five years ago on September 23, 1959, then-Premier of the Soviet Union Nikita Khrushchev and his wife Nina spent a day on the Garst family farm in Coon Rapids, Iowa, slightly west of Des Moines. The appearance of the head of the Soviet Russian government in America during a long period of strained relations between the US and USSR looks a lot like détente – and we have the collections to prove it.

What aspects of this visit can Iowa State’s Special Collections department shed light on? In fact, Iowa State is home to a swath of materials that uncover the stories relating to the Garsts and of course this momentous visit. They include the Garst Family Papers (MS 579), the Garst and Thomas Hybrid Corn Company (MS 173), the Garst Company (MS 642), and the Khrushchev Committee 50th Anniversary Event Records (MS 615). More collections that provide evidence of U.S.-Soviet relations are listed on this page of resources.

Khrushchevs and Garsts on the farm

Elizabeth and Roswell Garst, pictured center, on their farm with Nina and Nikita Khrushchev (RS 579)

The Garst Family Papers currently covers the period from 1860s up to 2012; we are still receiving donations from the Garst relatives. It documents the extended family and its history through photographs, letters, scrapbooks, and drawings related to various activities. These relate to the farm itself and the business that Roswell and Elizabeth co-owned with Charlie and Bertha Thomas, the Garst and Thomas Hybrid Corn Company. Included in this are a number of photographs and photo albums that portray the Khrushchevs’ day on the farm, as well.

Iowa State also holds records from that Garst and Thomas Hybrid Corn Company as well as the Garst Company. The hybrid corn company was founded in 1931 and eventually became ICI Seeds, Inc., in 1991. The records cover much of this history, dating from 1933 to 1973, and contains advertising materials, business records such as invoices and audits, and correspondence with banks, other companies, and customers. While they may seem a bit dry, these records do manage to convey some of what made Roswell Garst the man that he was in the 1950s when he became a known figure in the international agriculture arena. The Garst Company was a farming company that Roswell and Elizabeth’s three eldest children, Jane, Stephen, and David, started in 1941. The collection materials, which date from 1941 to 2004, document through correspondence and photographs the business, mainly its large beef cattle operation. Again, another window into the Garst family that provides evidence of their interests and work around the time of the Khrushchevs’ visit.

Red Boss eats first hot dog

A scrapbook page displays a clipping regarding the Khrushchevs’ visit to a meat packing plant in Des Moines, Iowa (MS 579)

A third related collection is the Khrushchev Committee 50th Anniversary Event Records, which document the work of a statewide committee that celebrated – as you can guess – the 50th anniversary of the visit in 2009. Thirty different organizations were involved in the commemoration, which also boasted involvement from Khrushchev’s son Sergei and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture (and former Iowa governor) Tom Vilsack. The collection documents the events with a number of different items, including materials for the attendees and press, schedules, news clippings, and event footage.

Our collections also boast audio and film related to the Garst family, on aspects of agriculture and business as well as this historic visit. See a list of these by searching ISU’s online library catalog for Garst film.

At this point in time when tensions between the United States and Russia are rising, I find it interesting to look back and see what events have affected international relations in the past. Let us know if you have any questions regarding the plethora of materials on this topic.

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