On the Christmas card, Christie Vilsack wrote if they were ever near Waterville, they’d come by.
When Roc Langone saw Vilsack and her husband Tom would be attending their 50th college reunion at Hamilton College this spring, he took her up on the offer. After some obstacles cleared, the Vilsacks visited Langone’s Roc-Star Ice Cream and Eatery in Waterville, and at his urging, took a tour of the new greenhouse at Waterville Junior-Senior High School.
Christie Vilsack taught Langone’s ninth grade English class. She and her husband met at Hamilton, and married and settled in her native Iowa.
Tom Vilsack, born in Pittsburgh, did Ok as a Midwestern resident. After entering local politics, including as mayor of his wife’s Mount Pleasant town, he won the 1998 gubernatorial race, becoming Iowa’s first Democratic governor in 30 years.
His politics also brought him to the early days in 1988 as a supporter of Joe Biden’s first presidential run. He served as the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, appointed by President Obama, from 2009 to 2017, and then last year was re-appointed to the position by President Biden.
Which explains why the visit by the Vilsacks included a Secret Service entourage.
Langone received the Christmas card after he sent Secretary Vilsack a note last fall. “He was talking about using schools more to get in local agriculture products,’’ Langone said. “I sent him my thoughts on that.’’
Langone knows about that ag-school connection as his ice cream cookie sandwiches provided frozen treats in numerous schools. That came about after Langone revised the recipe numerous times to meet USDA standards for what can be served in a school.
When his guests finished at his place, Langone called the Junior-Senior High School office - it happened to be Fun Day so there already was a higher level of unusual - and said he needed Agriculture teacher Cindy Gallagher to meet him at the front door as he was bringing up a surprise guest.
Gallagher, joined by WCS Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Spring, took the Vilsacks on a tour of the new greenhouse recently opened and the Agriculture classrooms.
Langone said the Vilsacks appreciated getting to see the school again; they visited once during a WCS graduation about 10 years ago.
Secretary Vilsack also took away some ideas for using the Waterville ag program and local resources to show how locally sourced foods can benefit more people.
“I think they enjoyed seeing an actual ag program up close and hear how we might be able to create partnerships with each other,’’ Langone said.