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Dynamic duo

26 Sep

Kelli Cameron and Steve Servantez are cheerleaders for Iowa State University – and for each other. How they came to meet is a story with many twists and turns.

Kelli (’02 ag education) and Steve (’89 DVM) grew up in different decades and in different states. Kelli is originally from Milton, Wis.; Steve was born and raised in Mason City, Iowa. Steve attended Iowa State in the 1980s for his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine; Kelli was a farm girl who attended Iowa State right around the turn of the new millennium.

Their paths crossed briefly when Kelli decided to attend Iowa State. By this time, Steve was living and working as a veterinarian in southern Wisconsin, and he learned of Kelli’s interest in Iowa State. As an ISU Alumni Ambassador for the area, Steve wrote Kelli a letter and enclosed a check for $100 to help with tuition.

Kelli never forgot this act of kindness from a complete stranger. However, years passed before she and Steve would cross paths again.

In 2010, Kelli had moved back to Wisconsin and was involved in raising money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

“I was doing a fundraiser in Milton, Wisconsin,” Kelli says. “We were doing haircuts for $20 a person. Steve and his wife, Julie, were photographing the event.”

Steve continues the story: “Kelli came up to me and said, ‘Do you know who I am?’ She had just moved back to the area.”

Even though Steve has been an ISU Alumni Ambassador for 20 years and has written many, many letters to prospective students, he did remember Kelli. “I remember that she thanked me,” he said. “It was so nice for a high school student to do that.”

It didn’t take long for the two to reconnect. Steve supported Kelli’s Leukemia and Lymphoma Society work by writing a check for $1,000.

“He donated his time and also financially to the fundraiser,” Kelli said. “It was really nice to have that support.”

So now that Kelli and Steve are living in the in the same area, they “keep running into each other.” They have many of the same friends and the same interests. They’re both involved in Rotary and see each other every week. Steve is good friends with Kelli’s fiancé, Jon.

When I met with Kelli and Steve in Janesville in early August, they could not stop singing each other’s praises:

“Kelli is community minded,” Steve says. “She’s a fantastic person.”

“I never forgot Steve’s support,” Kelli says.

Steve and Kelli remain closely connected with Iowa State, too. Steve continues to recruit students – especially veterinary students – to go to Iowa State. He and Kelli both talk to parents of college-bound students. Kelli always encourages families to visit the ISU campus.

“Parents have to support kids to go out of state,” Kelli says. “But it’s a different experience that they can’t have anywhere else.”

“I tell parents it’s an investment,” Steve adds.

Kelli and Steve both come back to campus regularly to attend Cyclone football games (when Kelli’s fiancé surprised her with tickets to a game and took her campaniling, she “knew he was a keeper.”) Steve just bought a 1978 Volkswagen bus and plans to drive it to campus for the Homecoming game.

In their professional lives, Steve is a small-animal/exotic-animal veterinarian with Badger Veterinary Hospital in Janesville; Kelli is the director of the Foundation and Alumni Association for Blackhawk Technical College in Janesville.

Janesville – and Iowa State – is lucky to have them.

A match made on Welch Avenue

12 Sep

Karlee Michalski, an apparel merchandising, design, and production major, was searching for a minor to round out her education. Her advisor suggested she try performing arts. So Karlee got involved with the ISU theatre program, working on sets and costumes.

At the same time, Eric Meisel, a management information systems major, thought he’d like to try acting and directing.

The two met during a theatre student ritual: Tuesday nights at Welch Ave. Station.

“I had just turned 21,” Eric says. “I had a core group of theatre friends, and they mentioned Tuesdays at Welch. The first time I went, I met Karlee.”

Karlee was older (“I thought he was jailbait,” she says, laughing).

The next time they saw each other, they “talked the whole night,” got food at Jimmy John’s in Campustown, and made a date to play Frisbee golf the next day.

It was a match made on Welch Avenue.

Karlee graduated first, in 2010, and got a job as an assistant technical designer with Lands’ End in Dodgeville, Wis.

“We did the long-distance thing for awhile,” she said.

Then Eric graduated and found a job as a data analyst with Medseek in Verona, Wis. They found an apartment in Mount Horeb, right in between.

Eric proposed to Karlee in October 2011. They were skydiving…there was champagne and flowers…it was very romantic.

A May 26 wedding date has been set.

‘We were just happy to participate’

10 Sep


Think today’s student-athletes have it rough? Faye Perkins (’79 physical education, MS ’85) can put it in perspective for you.

Back in her day, the Cyclone women’s basketball team did all of its practices and played each of its games in Forker Hall – and if they had 20-30 people in the stands for the game, that would be a good crowd.

During her junior year, the women’s team got to have one practice and play one game in Hilton Coliseum. But Faye and each of her teammates had to sell 20 tickets.

“Back then, we were just happy to participate,” Faye says.

Participation in women’s and girls’ team sports was certainly not a given. Faye remembers that she and her classmates had to petition to have a girls’ basketball team at her Cresco, Iowa, high school. Once they got their team approved, the girls were relegated to practicing in the pole shed at the county fairgrounds.

But – “we had a winning season!” Faye says joyfully. “We had a better record than the boys.”

This was back in 1972, just at the start of the Title IX program. Things were beginning to change in girls’ and women’s sports – for the better.

Faye applied to Grandview College and received a scholarship to play basketball.

But two weeks before school started, Chris Murray, then Iowa State’s head track and field coach, called her on the phone.

“He said I had to come to Iowa State,” Faye remembers.

Murray must have been persuasive, because Faye changed her enrollment to Iowa State and never looked back.

She ran track and field and was a member of the basketball team during her freshman year. In her sophomore year, she dropped track but added softball. Her abilities in multiple sports won her a place in the Iowa State Athletics Hall of Fame.

The Hall of Fame website sings her praises: “Faye Perkins is perhaps the most versatile athlete in Cyclone history, competing in three sports at a high level of excellence,” it says. “In track, she was an All-America performer. She led the 1976 and 1978 Cyclones to conference titles in softball. In basketball, she played on teams that finished with some of the finest in history.”

Faye was also one of Iowa State’s first female athletic scholarship recipients. Upon graduation, she went on to earn a master’s at Iowa State, followed by a Ph.D. from the University of Utah. She has taught physical education at the K-12 level and has been a head volleyball, basketball, track and field, and gymnastics coach at the middle school level.

But softball is her one true love. She coached high school softball, and in 1988 she became head softball coach and an assistant professor in the Health and Human Performance Department at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, where she remains. Over the years she has been an assistant to the vice chancellor for faculty development, department chair, and interim dean of the College of Education and Professional Studies. But she’s most proud of her coaching: her softball team last year made it to the NCAA Div. III regional championship game.

“My job combines my love of academics with my love of athletics,” Faye says.

She said that one of her proudest moments was when she got the phone call in 2004 from the ISU Athletics Department telling her she had been chosen for the ISU Athletics Hall of Fame.

“I could not stop crying,” she said, smiling happily.

Faye and her husband, Joe, have two sons, Paul and Robert.

The Upper Midwest

24 Aug

What a phenomenal experience we’ve had the last two weeks! Jim and I had an opportunity to meet with so many friendly, passionate, successful Iowa Staters in the upper Midwest states of Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. It never ceases to warm my heart that Iowa State grads are doing such amazing things all over the country.

We began our 10-day journey in Dearborn, Mich., world headquarters for Ford Motor Company and home to our own Matt Dunker (’00 mechanical engineering). Matt is a vehicle architect for Ford, and he’s had a love affair with cars since he was just 15 years old. Matt will be featured in our special VISIONS Across America issue in spring 2014. That’s Matt and me above at Ford World HQ.

Also in Michigan we met with Greg Clites (’74 meteorology, MS ’81 civil engineering/water resources). Greg lives in Ann Arbor and teaches high school math in nearby Tecumseh. Greg struck me as being genuinely interested in students and their success – the kind of math teacher I wish I had in high school. His approach to teaching makes math relevant in students’ lives. I’ll feature Greg (shown at right in his Tecumseh High School classroom) in the next several weeks on this blog.

Between our appointments with Matt and Greg we visited the University of Michigan campus. The fall semester had not yet started, but the campus and downtown Ann Arbor were already lively and vibrant. I always think it’s a treat to visit university campuses when we travel, so we try to make the time to do that whenever we can. We also made sure to stop by Zingerman’s Deli, a gastronomical institution in the city of Ann Arbor. Yum!

Leaving Michigan and entering Illinois, we headed for the big city of Chicago. There we had a trio of wonderful interviews and photo shoots with alumni, and we had a rocking good time at the ISUAA Club of Chicago “Cyclone Summertime Happy Hour” event at the Millennium Park Grill (see earlier blog post).

Our first stop was with Theaster Gates (’96 community & regional planning, MS ’05 interdisciplinary graduate studies). Theaster (right) is a hard person to describe in a few words. He’s an artist, an urban planner, and an arts administrator. But within each of those categories, there’s so much more. He’s the director of arts program development for the University of Chicago; he’s a potter and installation artist; he’s a community organizer and cultural entrepreneur. We toured a few of the buildings within the Dorchester Project, an area he’s developed for community arts on Chicago’s southeast side. I can’t wait to tell you more about him in the special issue of VISIONS.

We spent a full morning at the Lincoln Park Zoo – mostly for work, but I have to admit I always enjoy visiting a good zoo. It’s especially fun when you have a tour guide like Anthony Nielsen (’97 fisheries & wildlife biology). Anthony is the lead keeper of the Kovler Lion House and Seal Pool, and he gave us a behind-the-scenes tour of both. I even got to touch Della, the gray seal. (That’s Jim photographing Anthony and Della in the seal pool above.) Anthony has been with the zoo for 12 years, and he clearly loves the animals he works with. I’ll write more about him, too, in the coming weeks.

Our last Chicagoland meeting was with John Arends (’77 journalism & mass comm) in Batavia, Ill.  John is president and CEO of ARENDS, a communication and marketing company founded by his father, Don Arends, who is also an Iowa State graduate (’52 ag journalism). The Arends family has quite a number of Iowa State ties, including being named Family of the Year in 2010. John’s wife, Anne (’78 PE & dance), and two of their three children, Allie and Kate, graduated from Iowa State; son David is a senior this year in kinesiology and health. Jim and I spent a fascinating afternoon with John, Anne, and their dog, Ellie, at John’s office, which is located in an 1870s-era former windmill factory on the Fox River. (That’s John with Ellie above.)  John has quite a story to tell, and I’m really excited to be able to share it with you (soon, I promise).

I love Chicago, but I was relieved to leave all that traffic behind. Our next few interviews and photo shoots were scheduled in southern Wisconsin, an area that just cries out to be photographed. When we weren’t on assignment, Jim and I rambled through the rolling countryside in search of the perfect red barn and the perfect black-and-white dairy cows to photograph.

Our first appointment in Wisconsin was with a dynamic duo that has both Iowa State connections and local ties.  Kelli Cameron (’02 ag education) and Steve Servantez (’89 DVM) have a unique, interconnected story to tell. They both live in Janesville, Wis., and are equally enthusiastic about Iowa State and about their local community service projects. (Jim and I are with Kelli and Steve above).

Next up we met a young couple in Mt. Horeb: Karlee Michalski and Eric Meisel, left. Karlee is a 2010 apparel merchandising, design, and production major who works as an assistant technical designer at Lands’ End. Eric is a data analyst at Medseek, a healthcare software firm in Verona. They are planning a May wedding. I love the story of how they met at Iowa State and how they’re using their degrees in their first jobs right out of college.

The next morning we headed to Lands’ End headquarters in nearby Dodgeville. Lands’ End is a big deal in this part of Wisconsin, and a quick look at our alumni database shows at least 30 Iowa State alumni currently working there in some capacity. Chief among them is Chris Kolbe, a 1992 fashion merchandising graduate who holds the title of executive vice president/brand president for the company – one of the very top positions. Chris has also worked for such fashion giants as Ralph Lauren, Saks Fifth Avenue, Liz Claiborne, and J. Crew.

While I was at Lands’ End I also ran into Heather Sinclair, a 2011 graduate who practically lived here at the Alumni Center – she was really, really active with Student Alumni Leadership Council, and she worked briefly with me in alumni communications. Heather graduated with a double major in apparel merchandising, design, & production and journalism & mass communication (wow, that’s a lot of “and”s). She now works for Lands’ End as an assistant merchant and seems to love her new job and her new state of Wisconsin. We had fun catching up, as you can see in the photo of us above.

The last Wisconsin alum we met was Faye Perkins (’79 PE & biology, MS ’85 exercise physiology). Faye (left) made my day when she posted a comment on the Wisconsin web page that ended with, “ONCE A CYCLONE, ALWAYS A CYCLONE!! I LOVE ISU!!” Faye is one of Iowa State’s pioneer female athletes, one of our earliest female scholarship winners, and a member of the ISU Athletic Hall of Fame. She’s been a faculty member, administrator, and softball coach at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. I found our time together absolutely inspirational.

At this point, we were three states down, one to go. But I was so enthusiastic about the story potential in Minnesota that I scheduled seven alumni in that state. So we still had our work cut out for us (and another three days on the road).

As it turns out, I am not the least bit sorry I “overscheduled” us in Minnesota, because the alumni we met there were outstanding, and every one was unique.

First off: Ron Schara (’66 journalism). If you live in Minnesota, and if you are a hunter or fisherman, you know Ron Schara. Even if you don’t live in Minnesota, if you are a hunter or fisherman, you probably know Ron Schara. He’s a living legend.

Ron is the executive producer of the popular television show “Minnesota Bound,” which he hosts with his black lab, Raven. We met Ron and Raven and got to sit in on part of the outdoor filming of one of his shows. If you can’t wait to read more about Ron, you can watch episodes of his shows online. That’s Jim photographing Ron and Raven by the Rum River.

Later that same day we caught up with Natalie Boike, an alumna after my own heart. She’s a magazine editor! So we had lots in common and lots to talk about. Natalie has worked for a variety of publications, most recently the Mpls.St.Paul Magazine. Natalie is a 2005 journalism and mass communications grad. (We’re showing off our respective magazines in Nicollet Mall above.)

The next day, Jim and I once again found ourselves on a university campus: the University of Minnesota’s main campus in Minneapolis. There we met with Louis Mansky (MS ’86 microbiology, PhD ’90), a professor and director of the Institute of Molecular Virology. Louis (shown at right in his office) spends his time focused on the important study of the HIV virus and how it evolves and mutates. Fascinating stuff.

It was a thrill to meet our next alumna, Ann Lindemeyer Burckhardt (’55 home economics journalism), because I grew up with her cookbooks. Do you remember the Betty Crocker cookbook? I think my mom had several versions. For a long time, that cookbook was THE go-to gift to take to a bridal shower. And Ann was the editor from 1956 until 1963.

She also published 11 cookbooks of her own and wrote for the food section of the Minneapolis Star Tribune for 24 years. I could tell you more about her, but then I’d give away all the good stuff. Needless to say, we spent a delightful afternoon with Ann in her Edina apartment (above).

Later that day we met Jeff Prouty (’79 industrial administration) for a decidedly NOT difficult appointment – on his boat in Wayzata. He had offered the opportunity for Jim and me to take a spin with him on Lake Minnetonka and said we could invite a few Iowa Staters to join us. I immediately called Russ Snyder (’73 landscape architecture), our ISUAA Club of the Twin Cities president, and he put together a small invitation list that included club leaders and members of our Young Alumni Council. Jeff is a management consultant and the chairman and founder of The Prouty Project in the Twin Cities. We had a thoroughly relaxing evening on his Think Tank II (that’s Jeff with the boat above). It was the perfect way to end the day.

The next morning we left Minneapolis and headed to the southeast Minnesota town of Rochester, home of the world-renowned Mayo Clinic. There we met Lucas Carlstrom (’08 animal science), an MD and PhD student in molecular neuroscience at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine. Luke (left) is starting the fifth year of an eight-year program there, and his list of accomplishments is already impressive.

And, finally…drum roll, please…our LAST interview on our LAST DAY on the road (for awhile) took us to the Prestegard Farm in rural Frost, Minn. A recent graduate, Richard Prestegard (’02 ag business) works with his father, Al, who attended Iowa State back in the early 1970s in farm operations.(That’s Richard, left, and Al, right, chillin’ in the field with Jim.) They currently farm land that’s been in the family for five generations. Their corn-and-soybean operation offered a dramatic backdrop and a perfect end to a fantastic trip to the upper Midwest.