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Under cover

1 Jun


Meeting with Tom Twetten (’57 psychology), you get the distinct feeling that there’s much more to his story than he’s telling you.

Tom spent his career working for the Central Intelligence Agency as an operations officer and head of clandestine operations. He will verify that he worked in six countries, but he won’t say which ones. (An Internet search suggests that he worked under cover in Libya, Ghana, India, and Jordan.)

Living in some of those countries in the 1970s, he developed an interest in the preservation of rare books. Twenty years later, he took a night class on bookbinding and found that he had a talent for creating artistic leather bindings.

When he left the CIA in 1995 after 34 years of service, he said, “I could have been a senior adviser in intelligence, but I wanted to get as far away from Washington as I could.”

He and his wife, Kathryn, already liked New England, and they decided to locate “far away” – in terms of both geography and culture – in the tiny village of Craftsbury Common, Vt.

“The second part [of retirement] was to do something entirely different,” he said. Tom launched Craftsbury Antiquarian Books in the basement of his 19th century home. It’s a business in which he both buys and sells rare books – focusing on travel, art, archeology, military, and culture – and also binds books with his own artistic designs.

He says the book business is perfect for retirement. He can work as much or as little as he wants – for a day or an hour. “I can go visit grandkids and take a book to work on,” he says.

It’s a quiet life that seems so counter to his top-secret government career that one can hardly NOT ask the question: Can’t you tell us any stories about your career?

“Well,” he says with a sly smile, “I could tell you stories about book binding.”

Working together in an emergency

21 Dec


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.

An Iowa soul

10 Dec


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.”

A neat way to teach history

30 Oct

Located in rural Woodstock, Billings Farm & Museum offers visitors a chance to experience farm life as it was 100 years ago. The site includes pastureland for sheep, horses, and cows; animal barns; an orchard and garden; an 1890 farmhouse; wagon barn; and a visitor center. Vermont farm life exhibits include haying, milking, butter making, maple sugaring, machine threshing, grain harvest, and more.

David Miles (MA ’81 history) is Billings Farm & Museum’s director of interpretation and education.

“This is a pretty neat way to teach history,” he says.

David pursued his graduate education at Iowa State partly because he wanted to live in an area of the country he hadn’t experienced before (he had lived in Delaware and several other states) and partly because Iowa State offered him a 12-month assistantship: six months teaching on campus and six months at Living History Farms in Des Moines.

“I enjoyed the teaching assistantship, but at Living History Farms I was still teaching but to a different audience,” he says. “It was a learning experience and also a fun experience. I was captivated by it right away.”

He spent 15 years at Living History Farms, where he met his future wife, Donna Wishman Miles (’81 craft design). The couple moved to Vermont for his job at Billings 20 years ago.

David has discovered that not only do many visitors not know much about farming 100 years ago, they also don’t know very much about modern agriculture.

“I find that I’m teaching modern agriculture on a history farm,” he says. Unlike a generation or two ago, “you just don’t SEE farming today.”

Today David spends much of his time in an administrative role and working with schoolteachers. But during the fall foliage season, when he says it’s “all hands on deck,” David finds himself giving tours, talking to older adults who arrive on tour buses, and teaching children such skills as the lost art of split-rail-fence building. During peak season, Billings Farm & Museum has as many as 1200 visitors a day.

New England

16 Oct

Welcome to Vermont! And Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. Jim and I were greeted with warm Iowa State welcomes everywhere we traveled in New England these past two weeks. We met a total of 16 alumni in 13 days, and I’ll be sharing some of their stories in the coming weeks right here on the blog. Others will be featured in the special VISIONS Across America issue in spring 2014.

For years I’ve been joking that I am the weather fairy, because every time we schedule a photo shoot for VISIONS magazine, even if the weather forecast is horrible, even if the day begins wet and dreary, by the time we do the photo shoot the skies clear and we have a beautiful day.

Well, something has happened to my luck, because on this trip we had rain on four days of scheduled outdoor photos. Jim made three of them work; the last one we moved inside.

On day one, we started out with Jess Phelps in the rain (above), and it rained all day. Jess is a 2004 history/economics/international agriculture/ag business grad – yes, you read that right. He had four majors. He also got a law degree from Drake University in 2007. Jess manages a historic preservation team for Historic New England, the nation’s oldest and largest regional heritage organization. He lives in Boston but travels throughout the area.

From Massachusetts we traveled to Maine to meet with Susan Chadima and Michael Steitzer (pictured above). Susan graduated from Iowa State in 1976 with a degree in zoology and followed up with a 1979 DVM. She’s a veterinarian, owner, and founder of Androscoggin Animal Hospital in Topsham. Her husband Michael has a 1975 bachelor’s degree in architecture and a 1983 master of architecture. He’s an architect and owner of a small firm called MSA Architects in Topsham. After scouting for a photo location all morning in the rain, wind, and gloom, Jim and I met Michael and Susan for lunch on Bailey Island, and the weather cleared up just in time for the photo shoot.

By this time I was in love with the Maine coast (it’s been nearly 25 years since I visited this area), and our meeting with Dave Mills (right) on Little Deer Isle only solidified those feelings. Dave (’55 industrial administration; MS ’57 psychology) lives in a lovely, secluded home on an idyllic island with his wife and two dogs. A psychologist for many years, Dave is now mostly retired from his career, though he still works with clients one or two days a week.

During our photo shoot on the rocky coast, I asked Dave what Maine residents call themselves (“Mainers?” I wondered). He replied without missing a beat: “Maniacs.”

From Maine, Jim and I traveled to New Hampshire to meet with Ken Rancourt (’72 meteorology), director of summit operations emeritus at the Mount Washington Observatory.

Ken drove us in his weather van 6,288 feet up the Mount Washington Auto Road to the observatory, where meteorologists have documented the world’s worst weather. The weather we experienced there on Oct. 4 was not the “worst” by a long shot, but it was bad enough for this Midwestern editor: chilly, breezy, foggy, and steadily raining. Ken led us to the top of the observatory, a climb that involved twisty metal steps and a wet, slippery ladder; he and Jim seemed to enjoy the inclement conditions during the photo shoot (that’s Ken and me below in the fog), but I was miserable and required a towel for my hair after it was over. Brrrrrr.

This morning I read on (the website for the Mount Washington Observatory) that in the days since our visit, the mountain conditions have deteriorated rapidly, with “raging winds, blowing snow, and rime ice coating virtually everything.” Yikes.

The next day, after we warmed up and dried off, we headed north into rural Vermont to meet one of Iowa State’s most interesting alumni, Tom Twetten, at his home in Craftsbury Common (right). As a student, Tom was a campus leader, and his 1957 psychology degree led him to a long and storied career with the CIA. He left the agency in 1995 and retired to Vermont, where he is an antiquarian book dealer and artistic book binder.

The trees in Vermont were spectacular at this point, so we took Tom’s advice and drove up and around through Smuggler’s Notch to our overnight town of Stowe, where we encountered the worst leaf-peeping traffic jam of our two weeks in New England. (Seriously, it was nuts.)

The next morning we headed west to meet Matthew Hake – you guessed it – in the rain. Matthew (’84 civil engineering) is the division administrator for the Vermont Division Office of the Federal Highway Administration. He’s lived in several states, but so far Vermont has proved to be the most challenging. The aftermath of Hurricane Irene in August 2011 caused flooding and mayhem in the state, closing roads and destroying bridges. Matthew lives with his wife and four children (including Haley, a recent Iowa State grad) in St. George (above).

St. George is not far from Burlington, and we had three good reasons to go there next: do laundry, see the town, and try to grab a quick cup of coffee with ISU friends Shane and Lauren Jacobson.

It was raining hard, so first we hunkered down at the laundromat (travel is so luxurious!) Three loads and 82 quarters later, it was still raining, so we walked through Church Street Marketplace with about a thousand other people, all toting umbrellas. (We were there on a Saturday, and the town was hopping, albeit soggily.)

Later in the afternoon, we met with Shane (’03 communication studies, ’08 master of education) and Lauren (’02 psychology). Shane is currently the vice president and COO of the University of Vermont Foundation. I met him when he worked at Iowa State – first in the Admissions Office, then with us at the Alumni Association, then for the ISU Foundation – before moving to Vermont. Lauren has a 2005 law degree from Drake University. We met them for coffee and dessert in a funky little market (above), and by the time we left, the rain had finally cleared.

We drove through the Green Mountains to our final Vermont destination: Woodstock. There we met Donna Wishman Miles (’81 craft design) at her home, where she raises children (two sons) and chickens, makes one-of-a-kind quilts, grows pumpkins, and sells eggs. She also has “a few” other jobs. She fed Jim and me chocolate muffins and good coffee (right). Her husband, David Miles (MA ’81 history) is the director of interpretation and education at Billings Farm & Museum in Woodstock. (That’s him above teaching little kids how to build a split-rail fence.) We spent an exhilarating day with them and enjoyed the (finally) sunny weather.

I was sad to leave Woodstock. It’s a wonderful area. But we were on the move, heading to southern New Hampshire to meet with John Hagen (’84 business administration). John is head of HR for a global IT company and lives in tiny Amherst. He also travels, competes in triathons, and enjoys other outdoor activities available in New England. We recognized him immediately…he may be the only person in Amherst with an ISU baseball cap (left).

Later that day we saw more Iowa State colors at the home of Sam and Kylie Pfile in Riverside, R.I. Not only were they both wearing ISU clothing, they also had an Iowa State flag flying on their front porch, and their dog, Gus, was sporting a cute Cyclone collar (below). We felt right at home.

Sam (’01 ag business) is a consumer safety inspector for the USDA, and Kylie (’03 art & design) works for AVID Products in sales and design. Rhode Island has the smallest number of Iowa State alumni (121), but Sam and Kylie represent the Cyclone faithful very well.

The next morning we were treated to a delightful breakfast at the home of Tom Fitzgerald (MS ’74 English) and his wife, Laurie. Tom (above in his home office) is a technical writer and author of Poor Richard’s Lament and several other books. Both Tom and Laurie grew up in the northeast, and they live in a seaside cottage in North Kingstown, R.I., that has been in Laurie’s family for three generations.

After visiting Rhode Island, we headed back into Massachusetts and – wouldn’t you know it? – more rain and gloom. We had hoped to photograph Angela Hyatt (’91 architecture) outdoors in front of one of her building projects, but after two hours of playing the wait-and-see-what-the-weather-will-do game, we gave up and photographed her in her office at Schwartz/Silver Architects Inc. in Boston (above). It ended up being a great setting, with huge windows overlooking Boston’s Chinatown area.

I can’t wait to tell you more about these alumni, so check back often. Meanwhile, we’re less than four weeks out from our next trip: California, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico.