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Everything old is new again

31 May


Steve, Shawn, and Scott Foutch saw a need for quality apartments in St. Joseph, Mo. And they saw a building they could purchase for next to nothing.

With a $32 million renovation, the 455,000-square-foot Mitchell Park Plaza was created from the historic Big Chief Tablet factory: 258 luxury apartments with huge windows and balconies, an indoor swimming pool, recreation center, rooftop garden, convenience store, and coffee shop.

Mitchell Park Plaza is just one of more than 20 buildings owned by Foutch Brothers in Missouri, Kansas, and Iowa – with more on the way. The company renovates historic schools, office buildings, and warehouses into apartment-style living spaces and other modern-day uses. But more than that, the brothers’ projects restore neighborhoods and invigorate communities.

“Some of these projects are very special,” says Shawn (’87 civil engineering). “There is a passion in these communities for saving their schools. It’s hard not to develop [your own] passion for these buildings.”

Steve (’88 architecture) and Scott (’86 farm operation & animal science) founded the company in 2004; Shawn joined them two years ago. The brothers, who grew up in Woodbine, Iowa, each brings his own skill set and area of expertise.

The business has its headquarters in Kansas City, Mo., but they “go where the buildings are” – from Leavenworth, Kan., to Shelby, Iowa.

“So many projects are coming at us now that we can be selective,” Steve says.

Where healing takes place

27 Feb

Here’s our last feature post prior to the release of the special VISIONS Across America issue, which should hit the mail in late March. Once that issue is in the hands of our Alumni Association members, I’ll post the stories featured in that issue so the blog will contain features on EVERY alum we met during this two-year project.

But I digress. We met Krista Eilers in Kansas City last September. Here’s her story:

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Krista Eilers, MSW, NHP, QRP practices what she preaches.

A holistic practitioner and founder of Holistic Healing in Kansas City, Krista starts each day with 30 minutes of yoga. When she’s not working as a yoga instructor or holistic health coach, Krista power-walks, bikes, and sails.

“I love the outdoors,” she says. “I think it’s where healing takes place.”

In her professional life, Krista works with individuals in the areas of emotional health, cancer prevention, pain management, occupational health, stress and anger management, and nutrition. She also works with cancer survivors.

“The number one most important thing in working with cancer survivors is emotional health,” she says.

If she had to simplify her advice and “stick it on the fridge,” it would be this: Dietary changes (“eat fresh, wholesome food”), exercise (“especially outdoors!”), and meditation (deep breathing, yoga, tai chi, or whatever you enjoy).

“It’s the whole mind/body/spirit approach to life,” she says. “It’s important to be in the ‘now.’”

A native of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and a 1993 ISU grad with a degree in social work, Krista has lived in the Kansas City area since 1994.

“You won’t get any better climate than Kansas City,” she says. “You can be outside 10 months out of the year.”

Working in the weeds

3 Feb

Here’s another look back at warmer, greener times: Our September meeting with Dawn Refsell (’01 agronomy, MS ’03) in Lathrop, Mo.


Sometimes Dawn Refsell is a detective. As in, “Why did these weeds not respond to a herbicide applied by the farmer?”

Sometimes she’s a product developer, experimenting on different plants in the field.  As in, “How can we make this fungicide more effective?”

And sometimes she’s a technical service provider. As in, “Here I am on your farm. How can I help?”

Dawn has two degrees from Iowa State – a 2001 bachelor of science in agronomy and a 2003 master’s in crop production & physiology – and a PhD in agronomy with an emphasis in weed ecology from Kansas State University. She’s a field market development specialist for Valent USA Corp.

It’s an interesting time to be a weed expert.

“We’re going back to the ’80s and ’90s in terms of weed management,” she says. “We’re going back to the older chemistry and mixing with a little of the new.”

Dawn lives with her husband, Doug, in Lathrop, Mo. Her field territory is Missouri, Kansas, and Iowa, but she travels throughout the country. Her focus is row crops and any of the products Valent sells for those crops. In early September, for example, she spent a week in Mississippi, working with a herbicide on cotton and peanut plants. But mostly, she says, she works out of her truck.

Dawn grew up on a grain and livestock farm in Wallingford, Iowa (“a little speed-bump town.”) She was active in 4-H, and that connected her to Iowa State. All of her college roommates were 4-H friends. She was also a member of the second class of Hixson Scholars.

One of Dawn’s specialties is waterhemp.

“I wanted to study the weed ecology and why it grows,” she said. “I want to understand why the weed is there before we figure out how to kill it.”

Missouri/Kansas: Hot, hot, hot

13 Sep

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When we plan our travel to each state, we try our best to go when the weather will be good – not too hot, not too cold, pretty colors, all that stuff. When I scheduled our latest trip for September, I figured that would be a nice time of year to visit Missouri and Kansas.

So it was a bit of a shock to see “103” on the bank’s temperature display in Manhattan, Kan., on a Sunday afternoon in early September, but I guess it should not have been too much of a surprise since our car had been reading between 99 and 105 all afternoon. And, truly, it was equally hot back home in Iowa. Go figure.

Jim and I met with a total of eight alumni in the two states, and even though it was hotter than blue blazes, we survived.

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We started our travels in St. Joseph, Mo., where we met up with three brothers – all Iowa State alumni – who work together doing the coolest stuff. What’s that phrase – making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear? That’s kind of what they do. They take old, historic buildings (generally empty and unused) and turn them into the most fabulous places to live.

The three alumni are (left to right, above) Scott, Shawn, and Steve Foutch, collectively and professionally known as Foutch Brothers. Scott (’86 farm operations/animal science), Shawn (’87 civil engineering), and Steve (’88 architecture) grew up in Woodbine, Iowa. Their company is headquartered in Kansas City, Mo., but their renovated buildings can be found throughout the Midwest. We saw three of the buildings in downtown St. Joseph, including a former paper factory that has been completely transformed into apartments and commercial spaces (above, by the indoor swimming pool). More photos and info to come!

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Our next visit was with Dawn Refsell (’01 agronomy, MS ’03 crop production & physiology), a field market development specialist with Valent USA Corp. Besides being a weed specialist and spending most days with farmers in their fields, Dawn has a lot of other interests: She quilts, gardens, helps her husband with his beehives, and rides a Harley. We tromped around with Dawn in (very hot) soybean and corn fields (above) near her home in rural Lathrop, Mo., and she gave Jim and me jars of her delicious homemade salsa before we left.

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The next morning we met Krista Eilers, MSW, NHP, QRP (’93 social work) at Loose Park, just south of the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, Mo. Krista is a holistic practitioner and founder of Holistic Healing, and she’s also a yoga instructor. She practices yoga every day and also power-walks, bikes, and sails.

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From there, we drove to Manhattan, Kan., where we met Cathy and Mike Mores. I’m sure I will never forget this day because it was SO HOT. But Mike (’99 advertising) and Cathy (’99 art & design) were such good sports. We visited for more than an hour in their air-conditioned home, but the idea was to photograph them hiking at the nearby Konza Prairie. At this point I’m thinking, “Here’s a great idea: Let’s hike up the highest hill in Kansas on the hottest day of the year.” But it worked out really well. Even though it was hot, there was a nice breeze, and we did, indeed, hike up what seemed like the highest hill in Kansas and lived to tell about it.

A highlight of our visit with Mike and Cathy was getting to meet their son, Parker. Parker has an awesome Iowa State bedroom – he’s a true Cyclone fan in the middle of Wildcat Country. He is also one of those serious, wise-beyond-his-years kinds of kids — except that while we were hiking, he kept wanting to pour all of the family’s drinking water on his head. That’s how I knew he was 7 years old and not 35.

Here’s a conversation I had with Parker while we were walking together in the prairie, trying to stay out of the pictures:

Me: So, Parker, your dad tells me you have frogs in the pond in your backyard.

Parker: One frog. It’s a medium-sized frog.

Me: Oh, cool. I like frogs. Does he have a name?

Parker, giving me a scornful look: It’s a wild animal.

Me: Right.

Clearly, this kid is more mature than I am, because I would have named that frog.

Everyone should have a kid as cool as Parker.

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Our last appointment in Kansas (state No. 46, if you’re keeping track!) was at the Overland Park home of Allison Foss. Allison (’01 child, adult & family services) is a social worker and case manager for individuals with developmental disabilities in Johnson County. She also helps coordinate the Greater Kansas City Myasthenia Gravis Walk, Run & Roll, a 5K run and walk to benefit the Myasthenia Gravis Association of Kansas City. Allison is definitely the kind of Iowa Stater who makes a difference in her community.

As always, I’m anxious to tell you more about these awesome alumni, either on this blog or in print next spring in the special VISIONS Across America issue of the magazine.

Next up: We’re heading to Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah NEXT WEEK. (Who is doing this crazy scheduling??? Oh, I guess I am.) After we get back, we only have one state left!