Bill Bywater ’57, David Bywater ’85, and Adam Bywater ’23 pose for a family portrait (Matisse Arnone)
Bill Bywater ’57, David Bywater ’85, and Adam Bywater ’23 pose for a family portrait

Matisse Arnone

City High: In The Family

Adam Bywater ‘23 will be a part of the fifth generation in his family to graduate from City High

February 14, 2023

On Saturday mornings in the months of January and February, Adam Bywater ‘23 typically gets to school before the crack of dawn. He arrives so early on these cold winter days because he is a drummer in the show choir combo which performs with the show choirs at competitions across the state around this time of year. Adam participates in several other band-related activities such as jazz band and marching band and is also a varsity runner for the cross-country team. His connections with City High school stretch much further back than his fall of freshman year in 2019.

“I think it’s a lot of fun having a lot of cousins and sisters who went to City High. There’s a lot of stories to share or teachers that we all had,” Adam said. “I had a cousin who was the center snare eight years ago and a drummer in the combo, and now I’m doing the same thing. “

Back in 1900, City High was not at its current location on Morningside Drive. Morningside Drive did not even exist yet, instead where City High lies was a farm on the eastern edge of town. City High wasn’t even in its previous location located at the now-current Mercy hospital parking lot. Instead, it was part of a now non-existent building on Market Street that housed junior high and grammar school students with it. It was in 1900 that Bertha Mercer graduated from this original City High school in her class of 54 other students. Little did she know at the time that more than 100 years later the 15th descendant in her family tree would also be graduating from the same high school.

Bertha’s family moved to Iowa City because her dad bought the Iowa State Press, one of five newspapers at the time-based in Iowa City. Bill Bywater is Bertha’s oldest living direct descendent, and he graduated from City in 1957. The Bywater name came from Bertha’s husband who was a doctor in Iowa City and later left her to move to Oregon. Bill never met his grandmother because as he explained, she died of a burst appendix when his father was 12, but he only ever heard good things about her from his dad’s stories.

She was very devoted to her church- the First Methodist downtown and she acted in other things locally, but women back then usually stayed at home,” Bill said.

In 1903, City High moved to a new building on the same block that later was turned into Central Junior High. This is the building that Bill’s father Ray Bywater went to as a City High student. He was born in a house located on Summit Street and the eastside Iowa City area was a big part of his life. His grandson David Bywater described him as very approachable and said that he did a lot to support the Iowa City community.

“He was a person who could talk to anybody and strike up a conversation,” David said. “He knew when to tell you a joke and depending on who you were, might be a little inappropriate but at the same time, he could be prim and proper when he needed to be so he could meet anybody anywhere.”

Bill was not on track from elementary school to attend City High. He grew up in the country, but his mom insisted that he attend school in town. His dad Ray would drop him off at the University of Iowa Laboratory school which was K-12 on his way to work every day. The Lab school was founded in 1916 to experiment with curriculum development and was used to create many education standards and textbooks. The school closed in 1972 due to a cutback in state funding. Bill can still remember many stories from his early years in preschool and elementary school at the university school.

During World War Two I can remember the soldiers marching up and down the street. The preschool that was part of the College of Dentistry had a program to study facial growth. I was one of their guinea pigs.

— Bill Bywater

“During World War Two I can remember the soldiers marching up and down the street,” Bill said. “The preschool that was part of the College of Dentistry had a program to study facial growth. I was one of their guinea pigs.”

After eighth grade, Bill’s dad insisted he transfers to City High because of his fond memories from his time as a student there. Very quickly, Bill was able to find a place for himself at the new school.

“I had a lot of fun. Probably the most fun was being a statistician for our basketball team, and I played on the golf team,” Bill said.

Following his graduation from City High in 1957, Bill attended Iowa State University and then enrolled in the army for 26 months, most of his time spent in Augusta, Georgia. Bill and his wife moved back to Iowa City right after their first daughter’s birth right before Christmas time. Bill came back to Iowa City to work at the family advertising company his great-grandfather Samuel (Bertha’s father) had started in 1896, now known as Bankers Advertising/Tru Art. The idea that their kids could possibly attend City High definitely crossed Bill’s mind as he and his wife looked for a house in Iowa City.

“We bought a house on this side of town and thought that might work,” Bill said. 

Bill has enjoyed seeing his children and later grandchildren walk the same halls he did as a high school student, but he says that he has observed a lot of changes to the school since he was a student there. The class sizes, which were around 150 students when Bill attended City High, have since shot up despite West High opening as the second public high school in town. He even remembers the old rifle range although he never went inside. He also has enjoyed seeing all of the various additions to City High throughout the years.

“I think it’s a very nice and wonderful opportunity, but the deal with any college, university, or high school is that you can build buildings till the cows come home, but it’s the people inside who make the difference,” Bill said. “I had some wonderful teachers. They were really special people.”

By the time Bill’s son David started at City, the cross-town rivalry with West had already begun. David says during his high school days, the rivalry was treated much differently- in fact, they even shared the same football field for a period of time that he was in high school.

“We’d alternate games when we were away, they would play their home games, so of course, the City versus West game was a big deal and the challenge was to try to paint the goalposts to match your school colors,” David explained.

Angie and David Bywater did not date in high school, but they have known each other since elementary school after starting kindergarten together at Hoover elementary. Angie explains that they were always involved in the same activities and friend groups throughout their time at City High.

“We were in all the music stuff together and hung out. We did go to senior prom together, but we didn’t start dating until after college,” Angie said.

David went to attend college at the University of Kansas and worked in Kansas City for three years before also coming back to Iowa City like his father to work at the family company. There he married Angie who stayed to attend the University of Iowa.

Trips relating to music are some of the things that Angie still looks back most fondly on including a Six Flags trip with the band, Washington DC with the choir, and orchestra director Candice Wiebner’s first-ever student trip to Europe. She has observed lots of changes at City High since her time as a student, from the moving around of the lunchroom and various music classrooms, all the way to larger cultural shifts.

The 1900 diploma of first-generation graduate Bertha Mercer-Bywater (Matisse Arnone)

“I think there was a lot more student involvement by being spectators. Everybody went to the basketball game on Friday night, everybody in the school. I mean that you wouldn’t miss that,” Angie said. “We didn’t have social media to keep us connected, so that was our social connection. That’s where we had to go to see each other and cheer on the teams.”

There are similar things that David has noticed that have changed since his time at City High, among them the addition of 9th graders who previously were a part of the junior high. He has enjoyed watching how sports teams have changed since his time at City High and also the increase in AP classes being offered.

“[City High] has certainly gotten bigger, with more activities and opportunities for kids over the course of the years, not just scholastically but all the extracurriculars that go along with it and so that’s been terrific to watch,” David said. “It’s been fun watching some of the sports teams that have excelled, but it’s also fun to watch that ebb and flow a little bit.”

Even though they graduated nearly 40 years ago, both Angie and David still keep in touch with a lot of their friends they had while in high school. They think a large part of their connectedness comes from the fact that they have both stayed in town, so they could visit with friends who visited Iowa City after moving away.

“For example, Rob Hogg was the managing editor of the Little Hawk and is a good friend of mine who graduated in 85 as well, and he just finished in the legislature,” David said. “I talked to Rob yesterday, I talked to him again today, and see him at least once a month.”

In Bill’s class of 1957, he also has many friends that he still keeps in contact with via email, however, in more recent years he has increasingly learned of friends from his high school days passing away. His class now has a reunion every year around Memorial Day instead of every five years.

“My friend who had as much to do with me going to City High as anybody died in September,” Bill said. “I would talk to him at least once a week, but I have maintained close contact with a lot of these folks. It seems like yesterday when we graduated.”

The one rule that Bill had for his kids when it was time for them to go off to college was they had to leave Iowa City. Not because he thought Iowa City or the University of Iowa was bad but just to have to get out and explore something else. As David and Angie’s kids were applying for colleges, they kept this suggestion for them too.

“When you’re this deeply connected in Iowa City, I think it’s important to go find something else for a little bit,” Angie said. “Adam’s grandparents are all here. He’s got aunts and uncles here. He’s very rooted in Iowa City, so it’s important to explore some other things.”

Adam Bywater says that he has never really had any objections to that rule during his college search and that the pressure of having a kid go to City High like the rest of his family is not super huge in his mind.

“I love Iowa City. It’s a great place, but also It’ll be fun to go somewhere new,” Adam said. “[Carrying on the City High tradition] is definitely a thought, but I don’t think I’ll plan my life around it. With how the family business has been passed down, per tradition, I would go into it, but I don’t feel a lot of pressure to follow in the exact footsteps.”

His parents mostly want him to focus on doing what he wants to do because he feels like it’s important and he enjoys it, not because he feels like he has to. David relates it to how he felt going into his post-high school life.

“I hope that Adam follows his passion, whatever he wants to do whatever his passion is, and that’s what the advice I was given as well,” David said. “I like what I do, and enjoy it and have fun with it, but at the same time I don’t feel forced to come here it was a choice.”

I hope that Adam follows his passion, whatever he wants to do whatever his passion is, and that’s what the advice I was given as well. I like what I do, and enjoy it and have fun with it, but at the same time I don’t feel forced to come here it was a choice.

— David Bywater

Angie agrees for the most part. 

“I wouldn’t care if Adam’s kids didn’t come back to school in Iowa City but if they come back and go to West High…” Angie said with a smile.

No matter what happens in the future Adam hopes that he can stay connected to his deep family history. His family has had a big influence on the things he does and the person he is today.

“I think I definitely got into Boy Scouts in first grade because my dad and grandpa had done it, and music has always been pretty important in our family. I got into music because of that and then I became a percussionist probably with some influence from my cousin and my sister who were both percussionists,” Adam said.

His grandpa Bill also wishes to continue to spread the rich history that his family has in Iowa City. He loves to tell stories about his great-uncles Willis and Roy Mercer who were brothers to Bertha, the original City High graduate. In addition to participating in the family business, Willis served on the School Board, and his brother Roy served on the City Council. Roy was also in the Iowa Legislature and was mayor of Iowa City three times. It was Roy Mercer who Mercer Park was named after.

“Roy was very all business and didn’t know how to have fun, and the other one occasionally had too much fun. That one that was in the legislature, he liked to be with people and entertain at a cottage out in the woods,” Bill said. 

“On the other side of the family, my great uncle, Dr. Will Bywater was credited with bringing the airport to Iowa City. We had an airport before Cedar Rapids, and there were actually scheduled United Airlines flights here.”

The biggest family connector throughout generations has always remained City High. Angie noted that many alumni have come back to work at City High, but doesn’t know of any as deeply rooted as her husband’s family. That has caused the school to hold a very special place in the hearts of all of the Bywaters. Bill values his ability to reminisce about the days when grades were made to be harsher and sports events were all in one divisional class.

“We’ve been blessed with a wonderful school from the music concerts for instance or sports things. In the fall of my freshman year, they didn’t have football playoffs. We were the mythical state champions voted on by sports writers,” Bill said. “The more and more I look back, those were four of the best years of my life. I learned how to manage time, I had a job. My class is probably the last one that had nobody with a perfect 4.0.”

In 2002, Bill was inducted into the City High hall of fame for all of his involvement in the community. His sister Mary was inducted several years later.  Like his father, David feels grateful every day to have so many personal connections to a school like City High. 

“I think that not only is the school enriched because of the extracurriculars that it offers, but we’re also enriched because of the university, and therefore the diversity of thought in the conversations that we have, and the ways that we can stretch our minds,” David said. “Iowa City is a pretty unique place because of that.”

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