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Down by the river

1 Jun


Jane Cornelius Steele has had an eclectic career.

The 1974 family environment graduate has worked in international education, physical therapy, health communications, and therapeutic horseback riding. She once drove a truck for Linn County Extension and taught home repair. She’s lived in Bolivia, Honduras, Sri Lanka, and Washington, D.C. She has a prolific backyard garden and raises chickens.

Longtime friend Gary Kirby says Jane is an “earth-loving, tree-hugging, organic recycler.”

Jane lives in Verona, Va., four hours from the ocean, half an hour from Shenandoah National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Mountains surround her home, and a river demarcates the edge of her property line.

“I told a real estate agent, ‘Let me know if something comes up on the river,’” she said. “And there had to be room for a garden.”

Jane’s one-acre lot has plenty of space to grow snow peas, spinach, arugula, strawberries, tomatoes, eggplant, and potatoes (though, sadly, no corn) and house four laying hens named Ruby, Alberta, Henrietta, and Eggbert.

The chickens were Gary’s idea.

“Gary is impulsive,” Jane explains. “I think things out, look at my budget. He sees baby chicks in the feed store and just buys them.”

Jane grew up in Hudson, a small town near Waterloo, Iowa, and after living all over the world her only concern about moving to rural western Virginia was its potential lack of culture.

“I was concerned about the culture, but there’s so much going on here I can’t get to it all,” she says. The area, it turns out, is a hub for theatre, music, food, and art – a perfect place for Jane to pursue a career or two and, maybe someday, retire.

Part II: The remarkable Dwight Ink

18 Apr

03-25-13 DWIGHT 173F9811 calls Dwight Ink the “silent leader.” In a story posted on Jan. 13, 2010, William D. Eggers and John O’Leary write:

“History tends to adore the person at the helm, the president who calls the shots from the Oval Office. Overlooked are the bureaucrats who actually carry out the commands. Out of the limelight, Dwight Ink served seven consecutive presidents, from Dwight Eisenhower to Ronald Reagan. Now retired, this unassuming bureaucrat was often the one doing the heavy lifting. In a story that reads like the antithesis of Hurricane Katrina, Ink led a swift and efficient reconstruction effort [in Alaska]. The 1964 Alaskan Earthquake is largely forgotten today because of Ink’s leadership.”

This is Part II of our visit with Mr. Ink (’47 government) at his home in Leesburg, Va.

On the presidents:

  • I had a unique opportunity serving in leadership roles with seven different presidents.
  • I respected Eisenhower the most of any that I served. I respected Kennedy the least, but I found him the most exciting. But, gee, I had so much fun under all of them. Except Nixon’s second term.
  • I had the most impact under Nixon. His first term was the best we ever had under an operations standpoint, but that turned around in the ’72 election. It was the Jekyll and Hyde presidency.
  • I was the senior adviser to the Reagan transition team. I helped shut down the Anti-poverty Agency – I never expected that assignment. It was the hottest political issue [of the day]. Ted Kennedy led the opposition. [But together we worked to] persuade Congress to support the President to close it down and minimize difficulty for poor people.
  • [At a classified briefing on the nuclear arms race I found myself] alone with president [Dwight Eisenhower]. I was so stunned [I couldn’t remember anything]. We talked about football…ISU vs Kansas. He relaxed me. Briefing the president, for a career person, was quite a thrill.

On the Limited Nuclear Test Ban following WWII:

  • We saw horrible destruction from the bomb. [It was] indescribable fury. I was terribly concerned about stopping the nuclear arms race. They can absolutely destroy civilization. It was THE most important security issue of the day.

On the rebuilding of Alaska after the earthquake of 1964:

  • 55,000 square miles of surface rose or dropped at least five feet [in] Anchorage, Kodiak, Homer, Valdez…two thirds of Alaska where the population was. When we got up there we couldn’t find an engineer who thought we would rebuild enough in the first season to save the state. That would have been economic disaster. I really spent horrible nights trying to figure out what to do when everyone said it was impossible. We could not succeed using “normal” federal processes and procedures. We’d lose the state. They gave me all kinds of freedom to innovate. An Anchorage Times editorial headline called it “Government at its best.” The federal people were heroes in Alaska.

In October 2011, Government Executive magazine named Ink one of the 20 “All-time Greatest Feds.” Joining him on the list were Theodore Roosevelt and James Web, manager of the moon landing. Here’s his reaction:

  • It was nice for my ego. But I kept thinking of others who were better qualified. [My wife] Donna said, “Just enjoy it.”

Dwight and Donna moved to Leesburg, Va., 10 years ago. At age 90, his eyesight is failing, and he’s working to finish his memoirs. Here’s Dwight on retirement:

  • I retired with the federal government when Reagan left office. I semi-retired at age 70 but worked part time until three months ago. [He is president emeritus of the Institute of Public Administration.] When I hit 90 I decided to almost – but not quite totally – retire. My wife says at 90 I should slow down.

Part I: The remarkable Dwight Ink

15 Apr

03-25-13 dwight 173F9890

Dwight Ink (’47 government) is a man who gets things done. Described as “The Remarkable Dwight Ink” in the book If We Can Put a Man On the Moon: Getting Big Things Done in Government by William D. Eggers and John O’Leary, Ink held major leadership roles in the federal government for seven presidents: from Eisenhower to Reagan.

Here are just a few of the many positions in which he served:

  • Assistant general manager for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission
  • First assistant secretary for administration in the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
  • Assistant director for executive management in the Office of Management and Budget
  • Deputy administrator of the General Service Administration
  • Assistant administrator of the Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean
  • Director of the Community Services Administration under Ronald Reagan

Ink also:

  • Supervised the reconstruction of Alaska after the earthquake of 1964
  • Helped establish the Environmental Protection Agency
  • Managed oil conservation after the Arab Embargo
  • And was instrumental in the design of Civil Service reform, the first major overhaul of that federal system in 100 years, during the Carter Administration

As part of VISIONS Across America, Mr. Ink invited Jim Heemstra and me to visit him in his Leesburg, Va., home. I have to tell you, it was quite an honor to have the opportunity to hear, first hand, a few of Mr. Ink’s fascinating stories. This post is part one of two, based on those stories.

On growing up poor on a Madison County, Iowa, farm:

  • In grade school, I had to drop out when it got too cold to go barefoot. My family could not afford shoes.

On his education at Iowa State:

  • I didn’t have much preparation for college. I almost flunked out my first year, but the university took a chance on me.
  • Iowa State provided the environment and opportunity to go into [public service], the very best field I can possibly imagine. It’s a field you can go to the top as an average type of person.
  • I did a lot of organizing on the Iowa State campus before and after [World War II]. When the debate coach got drafted, the university appointed me “faculty adviser” to the debate teams. They even gave me an office in Beardshear. I organized a national debate in the football stadium. I got to know political leaders in Iowa. These were experiences that very few universities would allow a student to do. I owe so much, so much to Iowa State University.

[Note: Mr. Ink donated 68 boxes of personal papers to Iowa State’s library archives in 2012.]

On public service:

  • I was a combat engineer for three and half years in World War II. I had a lot of time to think. I came back thinking that public service would be a field of interest. I’d never get rich, but it would provide a decent living and provide shoes for my kids.
  • I did whatever was needed to do. My view of the career I chose was that I should focus on wherever I might be needed the most.
  • In what other field could you have so much interest and excitement as public service? I can’t think of one. And you help people. It’s very fulfilling.

Next up: Dwight Ink on the projects, the presidents, and, at age 90, retirement from public service.

Cherry blossoms? What cherry blossoms?

2 Apr

When I think back to our VISIONS Across America springtime trip to the Washington, D.C., area years from now, the thing I’ll remember most is that it snowed. And that – although we visited during Cherry Blossom Festival – there were no cherry blossoms.

Not that it mattered. We were not there to see cherry blossoms. We were there to meet Iowa State alumni: 10 of them total, in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, and D.C. itself.

We started out in Washington, D.C., with a fast meeting with Thomas Hoenig (MS ’72 economics, PhD ’74). Tom has been vice chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) since last April after serving with the Federal Reserve Bank in Kansas City, Mo., for 38 years. When I say “fast meeting,” I mean fast; he was on his way to catch a plane, so Jim took a few photos and I did a speed interview – and that was all the time we had with him.

03-21-13 LANCASTER 173F8584


We headed north to Lancaster County, Pa., the home of our next two alumni. Located in the southeast portion of the state, the county is known for its “Pennsylvania Dutch” (actually, German) heritage and rolling Amish farmland. While we were there, Jim and I saw Amish farmers plowing fields with teams of horses and mules, families traveling by horse and buggy, and groups of Amish school children with their lunch pails heading to one-room schoolhouses. Bakeries abound, offering regional specialties like shoo-fly pie and individual black-and-white “whoopie pies.” We visited the Lancaster Central Market, America’s longest-running public farmers market, established in 1730. It was amazing.

03-21-13 JOHN 173F8112

Also amazing: John Kaiser (MS  ’87 chemical engineering) of nearby Manheim, Pa., is a senior process manager for cocoa and chocolate at Mars and he TASTES CHOCOLATE FOR A LIVING. Well, he does a lot more than just that, but still, John has one of the greatest jobs in the world. When we arrived at his home, he not only had stacks of Dove chocolate bars to send home with us, he also had pans of wonderfully fragrant roasted cocoa beans and old-fashioned hot chocolate for us to taste and photograph. This was not one of our toughest assignments.

03-21-13 K SANDY 173F8402In keeping with the theme, our next visit was to Sandy Carosella (’88 industrial engineering), who greeted us with steaming cups of coffee and a big plate of whoopie pies. Sandy started her career as an engineer with Quaker Oats, but she shifted careers to teaching when her first child was born. She’s now a substitute teacher and focuses most of her energy on her family.


Our next stop was tiny Delaware, the nation’s second-smallest state but home to a healthy number of Iowa State alumni: 236 at last count. Delaware’s historic claim to fame is that it was the first state to ratify the Constitution of the United States, technically making it THE first state.

03-22-13 FANGQUI IMG_5551We spent a full day in Wilmington, meeting first in the snow-flurried downtown area with Fangqui Sun (MS ’97 economics and statistics), senior vice president of risk management for Citigroup. Fangqui, a native of northeastern China, told us wonderful stories about being warmly welcomed to the United States – and Ames, Iowa – to expand her education and launch a successful career in finance. I can’t wait to write her story!

03-22-13 ROWING IMG_6857Our afternoon was spent on the Christina River. Well, Jim spent his afternoon on the river; I hung out on solid ground near the boathouse. Jim was photographing alumna Marie Peters (’81 industrial administration), a math teacher and faculty adviser to the crew team at Concord High School. It was not an especially warm day to be outside, on or off the river, but Marie said the crew team had been on the water regularly since February. Brrrrrrr! Marie has led the crew program – the first in a public Delaware high school – for more than 10 years.


03-23-13 MICHELLE IMG_7149Leaving Delaware, we moved on to Maryland. Our first meeting (in Silver Spring, just inside the D.C. beltway) was an absolute joy. Michelle DeFayette  (’87 political science) had Jim and me laughing the entire time. Michelle has worked in training and development for Youth for Understanding International Exchange, the Peace Corps, and USAID – and she’s also played soccer since she was eight years old. And she’s just a fun person. (That’s Michelle, far left, in downtown Silver Spring with partner Shannon England.)We had a blast spending the afternoon with her – we would have stayed much longer, but the D.C. traffic freaks us out, so we wanted to get to our overnight location before it got too late.

Our next morning (a Sunday) was blissfully unscheduled. We drove into D.C. and took a walk around some of the monuments: the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial. All around us were disappointed tour-bus visitors, clearly in D.C. for the cherry blossoms but greeted only with sharp wind and a gray sky.

03-24-13 BOBBI IMG_7941We spent the afternoon in Annapolis – a quintessential American city. The combination of historic architecture (including the Maryland State House), U.S. Naval Academy, and the Chesapeake Bay makes Annapolis a wonderful place to visit. Annapolis is also the home of Bobbi Doorenbos (’92 finance), a former U.S. Air Force F-16 pilot. Bobbi currently works at Air National Guard headquarters at Andrews Air Force Base. She and Jim bonded over their shared Dutch heritage!


The next morning – the start of the work week – we awoke to snow on the ground, snow covering the trees, snow still coming down, and the anticipation of a day of driving in and out of the city in what we could only assume would be weather-fueled gridlock.

We were pleasantly surprised, because Monday’s traffic was far lighter than any other day. Did people stay home? Did they take public transportation? We don’t know, and we don’t care – we were just very happy that we were able to make it to all three of our appointments without incident.

03-25-13 KAREN IMG_8318Our first photo/interview was on the north side of Washington, D.C., We met with Karen Keninger (MA ’92 English), director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped – part of the Library of Congress. She showed us the incredible services provided to patrons all across the country – services she herself has used since she was young. I will tell you more about Karen in an upcoming blog.

03-25-13 dwight 173F0169From there, we headed west to Leesburg, Va., where we met with one of our most esteemed alumni, Dwight Ink  (’47 government). Mr. Ink (I can’t bring myself to call him Dwight) has literally made history as a public servant for the federal government; he worked with seven U.S. presidents, from Eisenhower to Reagan. He has so many stories to tell – I’m sure we only heard a small fraction of them. I’ll tell you some of those stories soon in a two-part blog.

Our last meeting of the day (and of this trip) was with Rohini Ramnath (’07 international studies/Spanish/political science) back in D.C. Rohini moved to Washington, D.C., with Teach for America but has stayed in the city to work as a data manager for CentroNia’s DC Bilingual Public Charter School. I’ve been following Rohini’s career ever since she was a student at Iowa State – she was a Wallace E. Barron All-University Senior and in the first class of STATEment Makers – so it was really fun to catch up with her on her own turf. That’s Rohini below in the Columbia Heights metro station near her school.

03-25-13 rohini IMG_8505

I’ll be spending the next few weeks writing profiles of each of these alumni (some of which will be posted here), going through Jim’s photos, and planning the next trip (to New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut), which is coming up way too fast…. But we now have 31 states completed!

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.

Welcome to…

5 May

Jim and I are putting some serious miles on the rental car. Yesterday we were in four states. We started our day in Kentucky, crossed briefly into Virginia and Tennessee, and ended up in North Carolina. I had a bit of a scare at the Tennessee state line because the area right in front of the welcome sign where we had our photo taken was thick with poison ivy. I was wearing sandals. After I tromped through it, Jim mentioned the poison ivy. Great timing! I scrubbed my feet and hoped for the best – and didn’t end up breaking out.

So far we’ve met with four alumni; tomorrow we meet a fifth. Right now we’re in Staunton, Va. We’re having a great trip, meeting some really interesting folks, and enjoying this truly spectacular part of the United States.

I’ll write more when I get back to Ames and post Jim’s pictures!

Next stops: Kentucky, North Carolina, Virginia

9 Apr

We’re making final travel arrangements and appointments with alumni in our next three states. It’s getting harder and harder to decide which alumni to feature in each state, because you’re sending us so many great story ideas. I wish we could meet with every one of you! But since time and money won’t allow that, we’re doing our best to choose representative alumni from each state.

I should mention that when we go to Virginia, we’re focusing on just the southern and western portions of the state. We’ll do a separate trip to Washington, D.C., next year, so we hope to pick up a few more Virginians on that trip.

I hope you’ve noticed that we’ve had a lot more activity on our state pages lately. Especially in the three states we’re visiting next, we’ve seen a huge increase in postings. Check it out!

We don’t have too many photos being sent to us for the state photo galleries, however, so if you have photos of yourself, groups of alumni, family photos, or just pictures of your state, please send them our way and we’ll be happy to get them posted for you. I’m working right now on the photos that Jim and I took in Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee. We’ll get those posted in their respective state photo galleries soon.