Main Street is a downtown development/revitalization program developed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and implemented in most states. The program has brought life back to the traditional business districts/downtowns in hundreds, if not thousands, of communities, large and small. While serving in Oskaloosa as the first program manager, I was proud to be involved in hundreds of local projects like the rehabilitation of historic downtown buildings; recruitment of businesses; restoration of the historic bandstand and city park; and the creation of new events such as the lighted Christmas Parade. Most of those events and the Main Street program are still going strong. I grew up with an appreciation for my hometown and how the downtown served as the social center and symbol for community pride. This new position put a charge into my passion for downtown development. While in Oskaloosa, LuAnn and I had our first child, Evan. What a good kid! Now he is 29-years-old. Holy cow!
After five years in Oskaloosa, we moved to Madison, Wisconsin, where I joined the Wisconsin Main Street program as assistant coordinator. The family stayed in the Madison area for 23 years. During most of that time, I was director of the Main Street program. I stayed on my career path, but as director of the state program, my job was very different. I helped guide the efforts of hundreds of communities in Wisconsin and spent a lot of time on the road. It’s a beautiful state. I have had the opportunity to provide consulting services to communities across the United States.
And then things changed. Our second child, Faith, was born in 1993. What seemed like a typical pregnancy and birth strayed a bit off course. Faith (her name was chosen before we knew about her challenges) was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at birth. I had no idea what that was, but I learned quickly. Surgery was performed two days later, accompanied by a two-month hospital stay. Pair this with a learning disability and mental illness—we have had our hands full. LuAnn and I have dedicated our lives to helping her and getting her the outside help she needs. Some days are true challenges but Faith, who is now 26-years-old, is a fantastic young woman with a great sense of humor. She makes us laugh every day! I’m better because of her.
In 2014, I decided it was time to move our family back home to Iowa. I accepted a position as director of the Iowa Downtown Resource Center with the Iowa Economic Development Authority in Des Moines. Our staff of 10 manages Main Street Iowa and downtown development services to any community in Iowa that wants them. This ranges from technical assistance to awarding grant funds for historic building rehabilitation projects. It is a pleasure to work with the amazing people on our staff and in Iowa’s communities. LuAnn and I live very close to our two children. We love spending time with them and our first grandson, Breckyn.
What do I do when I’m not working? I am doing my best to avoid getting old. In fact, I still play competitive baseball as a 56-year-old in the Men’s Senior Baseball League. There is no better feeling than scooping a ball out of the dirt, unless it’s drinking a beer with teammates after the game. This has given me the opportunity to play many times in Las Vegas and the in the men’s senior world series in Arizona on the spring training fields. Very cool. But, my knees are starting to tell me, “Jim, its time.” Evan and Faith grew up going to games, and Faith still enjoys watching her “old” dad play.
I enjoy following the Iowa Hawkeyes and St. Louis Cardinals. We often go to the high school games in the Des Moines area. I love to go to antique stores. I bring home cool junk. In the springtime, I enjoy morel hunting. In the summer, I make an annual fishing trip with my friends, but rarely catch fish. I am even worse at golf. LuAnn and I love to go on vacations together.
What book am I reading? I just finished “The 57 Bus” by Dashka Slater. It’s a good easy read about diversity, hate and acceptance.
How did Central prepare me? I believe my years at Central started a domino effect. I was a shy kid in high school. I didn’t involve myself in a lot of things other than baseball and basketball. That first week at Central was terror for me. I was a good high school student, but those classes at Central were hard. I think we covered a year of accounting high school material in five days. I was homesick for a week, but that passed quickly. My freshman year, I only paid attention to the books and did quite well. Then, it was time to start working on my other weaknesses. My communication skills and ability to be a self-starter improved dramatically. Doing a public presentation would have been a nightmare before Central. Now, I do them weekly. The college courses certainly helped, as did several of my professors who worked hard to get me to participate. But, when you consider the crazy group of guys I hung out with at Central … well, there was no way I was going to be a wallflower.
So many of the experiences I had while at Central provided me with a skill set to sit through an interview, speak publicly, work in teams and lead. For a semester during my junior year, I participated in the study abroad program. Well, I didn’t actually go abroad … only as far as Chicago. I lived on the south side, attended classes on Mondays and for the remainder of the week I jumped on the L Train and took a bus to my internship with a marketing agency on Michigan Avenue. I do not believe I was very good at that job. They certainly helped me more than I helped them. It was quite a cultural experience for a small-town Iowa boy wearing a really bad blue suit. I think that experience had a major influence on who I am. Each job I have had since then has been one of high interaction, public speaking and teamwork. Perhaps I have taken that for granted since I left Central. I know my business management major and sociology minor were the perfect pair for my career in downtown development and local and state government.
What are my favorite memories of Central? I always thought Central had a beautiful campus. If I went home for a weekend, I looked forward to getting back to Pella. I loved going to athletic events such as football games. I lived with a bunch of basketball players and I enjoyed their games. The concerts Central held every year were great. At the risk of having my diploma revoked, I’ll stop here.
Did I have favorite professors? I remember every professor I had at Central. Three come to mind quickly. I always enjoyed how interesting my sociology professor, Don Maxam, was. My business professor, Jann Freed, had a zeal for her job that made it easy to learn. And, I’ll never forget my economics professor, Don Butler, and how he selected one student each class to take nearly all his questions with a ribbing after each wrong answer. When I was selected, I had a brief relapse of homesickness. He taught me to be prepared.
What advice would I give a current student? This sounds easy, but get involved. Don’t hold back. Speak up in class. Look like a leader – (even if you are initially acting) – and you will become one. Join something, anything. I did it. I was soft spoken and leery about trying new things. I wish I would have done more of this. I have been making up for lost time for years.