CORNING, Iowa – Edward Chappell, approaching 80, admired Johnny Carson throughout his long career and wanted to honor the famed entertainer who was born just months apart and miles away from him in this small southwest Iowa town.
To do that, Chappell has purchased the tiny, three-bedroom home where Carson was born Oct. 23, 1925. Chappell plans to restore the home to its 1920s appearance and open it to the public.
"Our intentions are to pay tribute to Johnny Carson, and to extend his legacy as long as possible," said Chappell, chairman of the Johnny Carson Birthplace Society.
Chappell purchased the home, tucked away on a hill in this 1,800-person Adams County town, last October for $17,000, according to county records. He plans to turn it over to the society once its nonprofit status is approved.
A formal dedication of the home as Carson's birthplace is planned for Sept. 21, and Chappell announced Wednesday that Carson's longtime sidekick Ed McMahon had agreed to attend.
Chappell said he always believed Johnny Carson was a class act who represented the best characteristics of the Midwest.
"He always had a little straw showing out of his shoes," said Chappell, who lives in Sun City, Ariz., but grew up in Adams County.
Carson was born in the 1,200-square-foot house, Chappell said, then moved with his family as a toddler to Norfolk, Neb., where he grew up. The 30-year host of the "Tonight" show died in January 2005 at age 79.
Although he didn't spend many years in Corning, Chappell noted, the comedian was generous with donations to community projects. That includes a $90,000 gift to purchase playground equipment for a local elementary school and set up a skate park.
Beth Waddle, executive director of the Adams Community Economic Development Corp., said it's been a dream of the community to "preserve the history of our favorite son, Johnny Carson."
When the house came up for sale, there wasn't an organization in place to purchase it, but she said Chappell "rose to the occasion."