RAGBRAI news team
Fri, Jul 27, 2012 | by Des Moines RegisterShare
By Andie Dominick
As the 40th RAGBRAI draws to a close Saturday, we would be remiss not to recognize a lesser known legend: Bill Zenor.
The retired state trooper has worked on 39 of the 40 bicycle rides across the state. For many years, he was one of the state troopers standing in the blistering heat to help control the flow of bikes and cars.
After he retired, he spent one week every July helping everyone from reporters to lost cyclists.
I got to know Zenor when I covered the ride for The Des Moines Register for several years.
Of the many stories he told me, my favorite is the one about corn bears. I was writing a daily column in his van, and he suggested I remind readers about the creatures. He was worried that a new generation of cyclists might not be aware of them.
Several years earlier he had been directing traffic when a couple from “back East” was climbing over the fence toward a cornfield. They were heading into the corn to use the field as makeshift “facilities.”
“I had a loudspeaker and I yelled, ‘Don’t go into that cornfield. Didn’t they tell you?’” Zenor said.
“Tell us what?” the couple asked.
“About the corn bears,” Zenor replied.
The couple was baffled, never having heard of a corn bear. He told them it was a furry little animal with long front teeth that lived in cornfields.
“They crawled back over that fence and got back on their bikes,” said Zenor. “They just about broke their bladders.”
Word got around and other riders were talking about the corn bears in the campground that night. Rumor had it the State Patrol had issued a warning about them, and a trooper wouldn’t lie about something so serious.
I mentioned the corn bears to Zenor when I talked to him this week and was met with that hearty, familiar laugh.
He was in Story City, doing what he does so well: chatting with locals and visitors, hearing their stories and sharing his.
He said he was also only 11 miles from his hometown.
It reminded me Zenor is not only a RAGBRAI legend. He’s an Iowa legend.
He grew up, no kidding, in Zenorsville, a town that no longer exists. It was located on the Boone and Story county border and was named after his great-grandfather.
His parents were farmers, and he was the only one of nine kids to finish high school. He was offered a full-ride scholarship to play football for Northwest Missouri State University.
In 1953, when someone told him the Iowa State Patrol was hiring, he said he wasn’t interested. The guy called him a chicken.
“Nobody told Zenor he was a chicken,” he said. Thus, he became a state trooper, got married, raised four sons and hooked up with RAGBRAI for the second year of the bicycle ride.
He says this is his last year on the ride. At 81 years old, he is plenty busy in Red Oak, where he now lives. He is president of his coffee club and works as a courier for the local hospital.
“I’ve met a lot of terrific people and I get thinking about leaving and it saddens me,” he said. “I looked forward to this week. When you’ve got something like that you enjoy, you hate to lose your grasp on it.”
RAGBRAI hates to lose you, too, Bill. Thank you for helping make this ride, a celebration of Iowa, such a success.
Thank you for the stories that keep its history alive — and the warnings about furry creatures lurking behind the rows of corn.
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