Archive | December, 2012

Working together in an emergency

21 Dec

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Matthew Hake had been the division administrator for the Vermont office of the Federal Highway Administration just two and a half weeks when the unthinkable happened: A massive flood knocked out bridges, destroyed roads, and isolated entire towns from the outside world.

The August 2011 flood was caused when Hurricane Irene moved inland and stalled over the state of Vermont, dumping as much as 11 inches of rain on parts of the state.

“It was a mess,” Matthew said, more than a year later. “I was working 15- to 18-hour days. I was not experienced with disasters and emergencies. I had to come all the way to Vermont to experience a hurricane.”

Matthew (’84 civil engineering) had previously been stationed with the Federal Highway Administration in South Carolina, Washington, D.C., Utah, California, Wyoming, Arizona, Delaware, and Wisconsin. He had never experienced anything like the flooding in Vermont.

“Vermont’s topography is carved out by rivers, and the towns are in the valleys,” he explained. “So all the water inundated the towns. It devastated much of Vermont. Five towns were entirely cut off. It was amazing the amount of damage this water created.”

Matthew’s federal team worked closely with Vermont’s Department of Transportation and with other federal relief programs such as FEMA. He said the response to the disaster was amazing.

“Vermonters just came together to make sure everyone was OK,” he said. “The state could not have done this without outside help. The National Guard, volunteers from other states, contractors – everyone dropped what they were doing to help out.”

Matthew says the state was close to being back to normal when we visited him at his home near Burlington in October 2012. Some bridges and roadways in the southern part of the state were still being rebuilt.

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Just a couple of lobster Maine-iacs

17 Dec

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Meeting Susan Chadima and Michael Steitzer on the coast of Maine this fall gave me the added bonus of getting a crash course in Lobster Eating 101. It turns out that there’s a lot of ripping and draining and cracking and probing and dipping and scraping and poking and dunking required before you can actually eat the lobster. This involves tools, a bucket, a little dish of melted butter, and a very large, plastic bib.

Clearly Susan and Michael have done this a time or two. They’ve lived in Topsham, Maine, for 33 years.

Susan (’76 zoology; ’79 DVM) and Michael (’75 architecture; ’83 master of architecture) met at Iowa State the first week of Susan’s freshman year. (Michael says he saw Susan wearing a pretty dress.) Originally from Cedar Rapids, they moved to Maine looking for a change from the Midwest. (“We thought we’d stay out here for a few years,” they say.) Susan started a veterinary practice and then expanded to a full-fledged clinic: the Androscoggin Animal Hospital.

Michael, an architect with a small firm, designed the clinic. Though he has designed schools, hospitals, and homes, he says 95 percent of his current business is focused on veterinary hospitals, which he has designed all over the country.

Susan is a traditional small-animal veterinarian. She has also traveled to Afghanistan nine times to train veterinarians and perform hands-on medical procedures. The couple recently adopted a street dog from Kabul.

They love living in Maine and say the people are friendly and welcoming.

“People here don’t fit the East Coast stereotype,” Susan says. “It’s very much like the Midwest.”

But back to the lobsters. Lobster fishing, Michael says, is very tricky and territorial. He explains that there’s a complex code of ethics involved among lobster fishermen. Failure to comply with these unwritten lobster laws can resist in swift penalties, such as finding a big hole in the bottom of your boat.

He also wants to be sure Jim and I have the lingo down: You don’t call a lobster restaurant a “lobster shack.” A crab restaurant is a “crab shack,” but a lobster restaurant is a “lobster house.” If you just buy the lobster from a little building on the coast, that’s called a “lobster pound.”

Bon appétit!

An Iowa soul

10 Dec

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Donna Wishman Miles (’81 craft design) has lived in Vermont for 20 years, but she still stays true to her Iowa heritage.

“I like to say that Vermont is beautiful and a wonderful place to raise a family,” she says. “But my soul sometimes gets all crumpled up in these mountains, and every so often I need to get out to Iowa where it is flat so I can spread it out and breathe more deeply.”

A native Iowan, Donna was a third-generation Iowa Stater. In her art program, she specialized in surface design.

“I learned to quilt and weave from Iowa State,” she says. “ I learned to butcher a chicken and bake bread from my mom.”

The first quilt Donna made at Iowa State was “funky.” But her designs became more traditional when she accepted a job caring for the quilt collection at Living History Farms in Des Moines, where she met her husband, David Miles (MA ’81 history).

Today, Donna’s quilts have come full circle, she says. The inspiration for a recent quilt came to her when she was in Italy.

“I was in Rome, and I finally got to see the art I studied in college,” she says. “It affected me deeply to be standing in front of it. I needed to make a quilt that reflected the masters’ influence.”

The result, a quilt titled “Off the Beaten Path” (shown with Donna, above), includes not just the art and architecture of Rome but also the cobblestones, lemons, olives, almonds, tomatoes, garlic, coffee beans, and other sensory influences of the Mediterranean.

Her current project, still in the beginning stages, is an Iowa landscape. She’s carefully choosing the colors and patterns that remind her of Grant Wood’s Iowa as well as her grandfather’s farm. Once it’s pieced, she’ll hand-stitch the quilt.

“I’m a hand-quilter,” she explains. “I need to be close to it and feel it. I like putting little, tiny stitches in it.”

Donna’s quilts take time: She has a full life in Woodstock, Vt. She works with the local elementary school’s farm-to-school program and volunteers at Billings Farm and Museum. She raises chickens and ducks, grows pumpkins, and sells eggs (and the pumpkins, too). And she has two dogs, a cat, and two sons: Eric, a senior at Champlain College, and Yeabsira, a sixth-grader whom she and David adopted at the age of 4 from Ethiopia.

IMG_2861Oh, and here’s one more tie to Iowa: Donna’s Vermont license plate. It reads “IOWAST.”

California girl

5 Dec

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At age 24, Lana Rushing had an office in Santa Monica, Calif., with a view of the ocean.

“It was fabulous,” Lana says.

The 1994 journalism/mass communication grad got her start with Engineering Animation, Inc., in Ames. When the company launched its entertainment division, Lana, a Des Moines native, jumped at the chance to move to California.

Engineering Animation closed its Los Angeles entertainment offices in 1998, but Lana stayed in California, working for public relations firms and building a client network.

Today Lana heads her own firm, Rushing Public Relations, and specializes in technology and entertainment PR. During her career, her extensive client list has included LG Electronics, Netflix, and Hewlett-Packard, and she’s branched out to provide services to clients as far away as Italy and France. She describes Rushing PR as “boutique-style service with big-agency thinking.”

“I’m very diversified,” she told me when we met for coffee at Caffe Luxxe in Santa Monica last month. “I’ve been surprised by the power of my network. I like being the boss.”

Lana’s staff consists of a “flexible, virtual team” of PR professionals whom she hires as needed to help manage accounts. She works from her home office in West Los Angeles and says she has a better work/life balance now than ever before.

Living and working in Los Angeles has its perks, too.

“I got to watch ‘Baywatch’ being filmed on the beach when I first moved here, and I see people like Jane Fonda all the time in Whole Foods,” she says. “It’s an extra level of fun.”