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Take a hike

31 May


Being bored in her retirement is not a concern for Elizabeth “Debbie” (Sisson) Wych.

Debbie and her husband, Bob, moved from Iowa to Sedona, Ariz., in 2009 after visiting the area a few years earlier for spring break.

“We loved the hiking and the weather,” she said.

She quickly got involved in Friends of the Forest, a group of volunteers who support the U.S. Forest Service. Debbie regularly volunteers for trail patrol and at the Ranger Visitor Information Center. For their work with the organization, she and Bob received the Friends of the Forest 2012 Volunteer of the Year award.

It’s hard to imagine that Debbie (’70 elementary education) is any less busy now in her retirement than she was when she was working full time back in Iowa, where she was an elementary school counselor (for 18 years in Dallas Center-Grimes Elementary and Beaver Creek Elementary in Johnston). Besides Friends of the Forest, she is also involved in her church, plays in the bell choir, is a “big sis” to a 14-year-old girl through Big Brothers/Big Sisters, is a member of the Red Rock Quilters, and participates in other service organizations in the Sedona area. She also hikes several times a week, exercises, and takes classes at a local fitness center.

“I never have to worry about what I’m going to do,” she said.

She and Bob also like to travel, and Debbie says they never miss an opportunity to cheer on the Cyclones.

On the border

20 Jan


Shawn Kyne could never envision himself with an office job. And boy, did he get his wish. As a U.S. Border Patrol agent, Shawn helps patrol the western corridor of the Tucson Sector made up mostly of the Tohono O’odham Nation, an Indian reservation roughly the size of Connecticut.

It’s an intense, active job for the 2005 political science grad from Minnesota who says he was always interested in law enforcement.

The area Shawn patrols in southern Arizona is mountainous and sparsely populated, with rugged terrain and a harsh climate. There are tarantulas, rattlesnakes, scorpions, and plants that sting and poke. Often the people he encounters crossing the border illegally from Mexico into the United States have been walking for five days or more.

“I patrol the desert, looking for footprints and signs of entry into the U.S.,” Shawn says. “We run into everything from people coming here for work, human and drug smugglers, stolen vehicles, and gang members. We run the gamut of law enforcement. We operate on the pavement and in the dirt in the most remote areas of Arizona.”

Indeed, Shawn says no two days are ever the same.

“You never come to work expecting a boring day,” he explains. “You could lay in a wash for six hours and not hear a peep. And some days it’s like a movie – and it’s all good parts.”

At the heart of his work is tracking: using skills both simple (following tracks, looking for disturbances on the ground) and high-tech (thermal imaging, GPS, ground sensors).

“It’s not for everyone,” he admits. “It’s hard work, long days, and catching people who aren’t happy to see you.”

He says the Tucson Sector is one of the most active sections of the border, with people trying to cross into the country illegally every day, on every shift. And the smugglers are getting more sophisticated – but so is the Border Patrol.

“We have more agents on the ground and access to more technology than ever before,” he says.


In the photo above, Shawn is standing by the border fence. Part of the fence that runs along the U.S./Mexico border in the Tucson Sector of Arizona is a simple vehicle barricade – you can easily walk across the border here, but not legally. He explained that technology allows agents to detect crossings in these remote areas and arrest those who attempt to enter the country illegally. Shawn told photographer Jim Heemstra that if he walked into Mexico and crossed back into the U.S., he would have to arrest him. And he wasn’t joking.

The American Southwest

27 Nov

Jim and I returned Nov. 19 from our tour of the American Southwest, where we met with nine alumni in the states of California, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico. This trip exceeded our wildest expectations; ISU alumni never cease to wow us! Here’s a quick look at places we went and the people we met:


We started our Southwest tour in the Los Angeles area where we met Lana Rushing (’94 journalism/mass communication), principal and owner of Rushing Public Relations, at a coffee shop in Santa Monica. We also learned just how windy it can be on the Southern California coast and what havoc that can create during a photo shoot.

The next day we traveled to Temecula to meet with Rosie (Iverson) Wilson, owner (along with her husband, Gerry) of Wilson Creek Winery & Vineyards. Rosie is a 1952 child development grad, and she and Gerry showed us a terrific time at the winery and restaurant they run with the help of their family. We even got to meet their pet pig, Molly Merlot, who was dressed in flowers and more adorable than I knew a pig could be.



Up next was a trip to Las Vegas to meet Alison Monaghan, a 2005 journalism/mass communication grad. Alison is a senior account executive for Kirvin Doak Communications. We met her on the Las Vegas Strip, which is not the easiest place to do a photo shoot. That’s me, Jim, and Alison standing near the Paris Las Vegas.

The following morning we met Bob Gannon (’74 ag business) at the Henderson Executive Airport. I’ve wanted to do a story on Bob for years, so it was really exciting to interview and photograph him. Bob’s been around the world 2.5 times in a single-engine airplane, and he took Jim and me on a most memorable ride.



After leaving Bob in Henderson, Nev., we drove to Flagstaff, Ariz., for the night. I knew it would be cold during some of this trip, and I thought I was prepared, but I was still surprised that the temperature gauge read 14 degrees the next morning! We did not have an ice scraper in our rental car, so we had to blast the defrost for awhile before taking off for Sedona to meet with Elizabeth “Debbie” (Sisson) Wych. Debbie (’70 elementary education) is a retired elementary school counselor who hikes and volunteers extensively in beautiful Sedona.

From there we drove to Tucson. The next morning we met U.S. Border Patrol public affairs officer Jeremy Copeland, who drove us about an hour and a half to Sells, Ariz., to meet up with ISU alumnus Shawn Kyne (’05 political science). Shawn has been a U.S. Border Patrol agent since 2008. The two of them took Jim and me on a wild ride-along through the Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation, which is roughly the size of Connecticut. That’s Jim and Shawn at the U.S./Mexico border fence.


The next day, all we did was drive: from Tucson across southeast Arizona all the way up to north-central New Mexico. It was a long day, broken up by lunch in the tiny town of Hatch, N.M., AKA The Chile Capital of the World. We sampled the famous red and green chiles and found them both delicious. We ended our drive in Santa Fe.

We drove the next morning up the mountains into Los Alamos, where we met Kory Budlong Sylvester (’92 nuclear engineering). Kory is a technical staff member of the Nonproliferation and International Security Division for the Los Alamos National Laboratory. He and his wife, Susan (’86 journalism/mass communication), above, have two sons and long, loyal ties to Iowa State.

From there, we went back through Santa Fe (for dessert and a quick peek through a few art galleries) and on to our final destination: Albuquerque.

Jim and I fell in love with Albuquerque, which was a good thing because we had to kill a full day there. We were scheduled to meet with hot-air balloonists Lyndi Dittmer-Perry (’83 industrial administration) and her husband, Jim Perry (’67 electrical engineering), before dawn near the Balloon Fiesta Park, but the weather didn’t cooperate, nor did it cooperate later that day. So we moved our photo shoot to the following morning, which was also the day we were scheduled to travel back to Iowa. Luckily, everything worked out, and Jim and I had a blast with Jim and Lyndi and their “It’s a Zoo” balloon crew (above, with Jim and Lyndi at the far left). It was the perfect way to end a great trip.

As always, some of these alumni features will be published in the special spring 2014 VISIONS Across America issue and others will appear in the coming weeks on this blog. Thanks for reading!


17 Nov

Jim and I are a long way from home. This week we’ve traveled to California, Nevada, and Arizona. Yesterday we spent the day doing a ride-along with Shawn Kyne (2005 political science), a U.S. Border Patrol agent for the Tucson Sector. This photo shows Jim and me at the U.S.-Mexico border south of Sells, Ariz., in the Tohono O’odham Nation.  It was a fascinating experience. Now we’re in New Mexico for a couple of days before coming back to Iowa just in time for Thanksgiving.