O, tiny town of Bethlehem

If the old Christmas hymn was about Iowa’s Bethlehem instead of the one over in the West Bank, they’d have to change the lyrics: It’s not just little, it’s tiny.

The little blip on the map south of Chariton has exactly three residents: Chuck Clark; his wife, Deb; and their 8-year-old son, Hunter. The family moved to town 10 years ago from Des Moines and built a new house on the property Chuck Clark’s grandparents bought in 1940.

“I just got tired of the city life,” said Clark, whose cap identified him as the unofficial mayor.

Although Bethlehem’s population never matched the hordes of RAGBRAI riders who rolled through today, in its early days it boasted three grocery stores, six doctors, three churches, two dentists and a post office. The Clarks’ two older sons moved away after school, and the only neighboring family moved to nearby Millerton in 2005.

But Clark’s roots here run deep. As a boy, he helped build the town’s tiny white chapel – the one that went up after the Methodist, Lutheran and Baptist churches were torn down. He and Deb were married there.

“It holds 16 people and a minister – and one more holding the door open to watch,” he said.

Here, the Clarks take a quick break from selling food to riders, which will help pay for new windows in the chapel:


— Michael Morain

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