The Long Family History
The Long family history in Valley Junction began when David and Viola Eppright moved the south side of Des Moines to work at the old Hawkeye Cement Company, later known as Marquette and Monarch Cement. Johnny E. Long Jr. is the son of their daughter Mae Ella and John Long Sr. Johnny had seven siblings (John, Betty, Lucille, Robert and Patricia, Marion Eppright and Jackie Logan). Due to the pollution emitted by cement plant, the family moved to the one hundred block of 6th Street in Valley Junction when Johnny was ten years old.
The Longs loved their community as though it were their family by blood.
In 1927 Alonzo Page married Jencie Mae Reeves. Together they later raised Dorothy Lee (Hawkins), Geraldine (Allison), Barbara (Long), Shirley (Ramirez), Sheila (Pedigo), Gerald, and Deborah. In the early spring of 1942, Alonzo joined the janitorial staff at the Armstrong Rubber Manufacturing Company in Des Moines. After a few months of the work-a-day routine, his fascination for cooking again came to the surface. So to help make ends meet, he opened a small barbecue establishment, Blue Jays, in his Valley Junction home. His
specialties were barbecued ribs, beef, ham, and wild game all smothered in his delicious secret sauce. Alonzo retired from Armstrong in the early 1960’s. But he continued to cook at Blue Jays until the late 1960’s. Feeding the masses was something that was imbedded in Barbara Jean.
1951 was a big year for Johnny and Barbara. Johnny had
attended West Des Moines schools and went directly to work at the
Marquette Cement Plan in 1951. He and Barbara Jean Page married
that same year. In fact they were best man and bridesmaid to Elliot -Smith
Wedding that same weekend. They lived on 11th street most of their 59
years of married life. Their nine children included, Gerald (Page), Gregory,
Stephen, Vicky (Long-Hill), Valerie (James), Rachelle, Darryl, Johnnetta, and
Margaret. In the mid-sixties after several attempts to purchase a home in
the Ridgeway and Fairmeadows additions, they built a new house at their 11th Street location. Their home became a center of attraction for many of the areas youth.
The Longs were a friend to the workingman. Johnny, known by many as “June Bug”, worked at the cement plant for 34 years. Johnny was recognized in the book “Outside In”, as the first African-American heavy equipment operator in the state of Iowa. He also became the first African-American foreman of a
major company in Iowa. Barbara worked for the city of Des Moines and WDM Opportunity Center where she later became its director.
They also tried their hand at running a restaurant when they opened a lunch diner in Des Moines called June Bug’s Café. The café allowed Barbara to share delicious recipes, and both appreciated offering employment to those who needed it. During the holidays, Barbara with her daughters and granddaughters would cook and sell scrumptious pies and cakes.
In retirement, they became dedicated community activists on behalf of the
historic Valley Junction. The Longs advocated on behalf of the residents of the
historic Valley Junction district, to ensure, enhance and maintain the same "quality of life" as all others in West Des Moines. As a means to organize and give voice to the community they loved, they were founding members of the Valley Junction Residential Association where Johnny served as president and later vice-
president. They enjoyed personal relationships with the West Des Moines Mayors, City Council and City Managers. John and Barbara attended all the West Des Moines City Council meetings.
The Longs loved their community as though it were their family by blood. They saw a great need in the families and knew from the spirit of the community that was used to operating like a family, that social services could be brought directly into the Valley Junction community. Barbara and Johnny were along with others the chief cornerstone in the creation of the Eddie Davis Community Center. The community center located on Maple in Valley Junction was named after his grandfather. He began as the general contractor in the renovation of the community center, where he and his son-in-law, Gerald B. James III, tirelessly worked many months towards the completion of the project. Johnny later became the building Supervisor and managed the community service workers. He was loved beyond limits by the young people and others who participated in the program. Barbara, like the neighborhood mother would, worked to fill the hunger, clothing, and childcare need in the community. Daily she prepared free meals for lunch and ensured the food pantry and clothing closet was stocked for anyone who needed it. Like their home, the door was open to family. By family, they meant everyone.
In 2009, Johnny and Barbara were crowned Iowa’s Juneteenth King and Queen recognizing their longevity in and years of service to the community. At the heartbreak of the family and community, Johnny Edward Long, Jr. passed away in 2010. The funeral service was held at Valley Church on Fuller Road with standing room only for four hours. Multiple city officials and clergy wanted to speak on
the great honor and service of this great man.
Barbara has continued to work at the community center and can still be found stirring a pot or two on occasion. In 2010 their legacy included 34 grandchildren, 82 great grandchildren, eight great-great grandchildren that has continued to grow. Their legacy of community service and entrepreneurism flows strongly in the veins of any who call themselves descendants of Johnny and Barbara Long.