OTTUMWA — "Vital Godliness: A Treatise on Experimental and Practical Piety."
The title of the book wasn't what made it stand out. The author, William S. Plummer, didn't make it incredibly special. It was an older book in the Westminster Presbyterian Church library, but it's age wasn't that impressive either.
It was the name on the front plate.
"I was just sort of looking around in the church library, and there are books of various ages, so I would just slip open a book here and there because I was curious," said Rev. Jane Martinez, pastor at Westminster. "One flipped open to the title page, and I saw on there the library stamp, and because I'm a graduate of the University of Dubuque, I recognized the name."
The very special name that jumped out at her was that of University of Dubuque founder Rev. Adrian Van Vliet, who lived from 1809-70. That's when the very interesting journey began.
While at UD for a conference this spring, Martinez showed a picture of the front plate to a former professor, who was so excited about the find that he immediately took her to meet the university archivist, Jonathan Helmke. Helmke showed it to the former archivist, Joel Samuels, who is currently trying to rebuild Van Vliet's library.
"It's not just, 'OK, he had a book by this name in his library.' He had this book," Martinez said.
On Thursday, Samuels and Helmke made the trip down to Ottumwa to retrieve the book personally and return it to the university for the Van Vliet collection. While they were here, Martinez says, they just had to do a little exploring.
"The church has a library in two areas, and we were on the main floor library," she said. "When I mentioned we had found the book in the other area, Mr. Samuels said he didn't want to be greedy but asked if he could look in the other library, too."