It’s a big country

10 May

As we were driving along on our latest VISIONS Across America trip (to Kentucky, North Carolina, and Virginia), Jim observed, “It’s a big honking country.” Actually, he may not have said “honking;” I cleaned up the quote a bit because this is a family-friendly blog. But I agree: This is a BIG country. We drove 2,700 miles last week, much of it off the interstate highway system, so we were in the car for a very, very long time.

It’s worth it, though. This project just keeps showing me more and more that Iowa State alumni are doing amazing things, many in their own quiet way.

Our first state was Kentucky, and, yes, we were there during Derby week but we didn’t attend a race. We did meet with two alumni who are involved with horses: Julie Hunsinger Mink (’82 psychology, ’88 statistics), who loves to go to the races, and Scott Kendall (’84 DVM), an equine veterinarian. Both live near the Lexington area, which may be the most beautiful part of the state. Those horse farms are absolutely stunning.

Julie is the chief actuary for Investors Heritage Life in Frankfort. She took us on a tour of central Kentucky, from the Keeneland race track to the Four Roses bourbon distillery (above) to the historic capital of Frankfort. (I promise, we just had a sip of that bourbon. I am not a big fan.)

As you can imagine, Scott (shown at left with his vet clinic on wheels) is very busy tending to horses in the area, plus he and his wife Elise have a horse farm of their own. Scott is a veterinarian at the Woodford Equine Hospital in Versailles, Ky.

We left Kentucky and took a winding road to Boone, N.C. (Mapquest suggested we take Interstate 75, but Jim prefers the “scenic route.”) I will admit it was quite beautiful, and we went through a lot of cool little towns.

In Boone we met with Joe Otto, a 2007 history grad who is in graduate school at Appalachian State University. Boone is an awesome place, and we had a great time with Joe, learning about his area of study and hiking at the Julian Price Memorial Park, a short drive down the Blue Ridge Parkway. Just as I am not a big fan of Kentucky bourbon, I am not a big fan of falling into a creek. So thanks, Joe, for keeping me on my feet the whole way.

Coincidentally, our next alum visit was also in Boone: Jeanne Mercer-Ballard (’89 interior design), an interior design professor at Appalachian State. Jeanne lives in a passive solar home on 10 acres in nearby Zionville. We met with her on a busy day: all of her design students were displaying their final projects on campus.

More long and winding roads took us next to Staunton, Va., another very cool town, and nearby Verona, home of alumna Jane Cornelius Steele (’74 family environment). Jane’s story caught my attention when she wrote that, “I’m nestled in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia … living on a river and raising chickens.” Jane made us a delicious breakfast (so much better than the continental breakfasts we’d been eating in our hotels), and we got to meet the chickens. Jane has had a multifaceted career in physical therapy and health communications.

We couldn’t be so close to Shenandoah National Park without stopping by after our work was done. Unfortunately, the park was socked in with dense fog. Or maybe it’s actually fortunate, because if it wouldn’t have been foggy we might still be there.

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