• Lunch with a Leader: Rosemary Beach

    • Posted on Sep 11, 2016
    Here's the sixth installment of my "Lunch with a Leader" series: Rosemary Beach.  It appeared in the WCF Courier this morning.

    What a leader she has been for decades; the whole Cedar Valley would be very different without her vision, not to mention her endless energy and constant positive attitude.   


    Rosemary Beach lives with her personal casket in her house.   She had it designed and built especially for her diminutive body, well over forty years ago.  
    “I knew I was going to die before I was fifty, and I wanted my casket ready,” she told me over lunch.  She’s 81.   

     She felt so sure that she hired a craftsman to create her casket.  Why?   
    “Everything was hard for me,” she admits with disarming candor.   “I was raising three kids alone, working hourly wage jobs, not making ends meet.  I owed back taxes, and I was exhausted all the time.”  So she expected to die relatively young. 

    How very wrong she was.   

     I knew her first as a waitress at the Depot Restaurant in Cedar Falls, and shortly thereafter as a founder of Sturgis Falls Days.  She helped plan the first Sturgis Falls Celebration for June, 1976, with volunteers Tom Klemuk and Judith Cutler.   
    Local acts, local booths, local everything.  

    No professional Dixieland, no parade, no three-day throngs all over downtown. It only covered the one square block of Cedar Falls’ Overman Park, for one Sunday, but it was a smashing success.  She continued helping direct the Celebration for ten years, then moved on.    

     That was the humble beginning of one of the most enduring and popular community celebrations in Iowa, if not the country.   It was free then, and remains free after forty years, attracting thousands from all over the Midwest.   
    “It was so much fun!”  She insists, lighting up like a sunlamp.   No one refused when she asked for volunteers.   “It’s just ‘how can I help?’ And ‘tell me what I can do,’” as she put it, ever proud of her community.   

    Her secret?  “I only ask people who are willing and enthusiastic, and they’re all over Cedar Falls.  We’re lucky that way.”  

     I’ve fallen under her spell several times.  Her infectious enthusiasm makes me want to volunteer. That’s her secret, and a rare gift.   

     As a longtime community leader with her stamp on virtually every major organization, Rosemary Beach seems to have learned how to herd cats.  

    Volunteers are notorious for forgetting promises and not showing up, but not when Rosemary Beach asks.  

     Why has she lived four decades past her own predicted demise? 

    “Life got better for me.  I met Bob Beach, who became a good friend, then we up and got married.”  That was 36 years ago, and their marriage offers hope for mid-life marriages, a role model of a mutually respectful and supportive partnership.  
    Bob Beach turns 90 this month, and he and Rosemary’s community involvement has never flagged.  They’re among the most recognizable couples in Northeast Iowa.  

    However, “I do know when it’s time to change,” she admitted.  Director of the Cedar Falls Historical Society for thirteen years, Rosemary resigned when the organization went digital.    “I just didn’t want to go through that,” she confessed.  
    That’s another of her gifts—she lives and works within her capabilities, and knows what they are.   

    In April, she was inducted into the Iowa Volunteer Hall of Fame, and her list of accomplishments published at the time is nothing short of astonishing:  Hartman Reserve Nature Center, Hearst Center for the Arts, Cedar Valley Arboretum, Blue Zones, the Oster Regent Theatre, the Cedar Falls Tourism & Visitors Bureau—for starters. 

     She’s also received the Mayors’ Lifetime Achievement Volunteer Award, the Sturgis Falls Cornerstone Award, the Western Home Community Volunteer of the Year and the Governor’s Volunteer Award.  

    She mused, “At the Iowa State Fair this year, they announced that I was “Iowan for a Day,” and Bob and I rode around fairgrounds in an official golf cart. Everyone treated us like royalty.” 

    Of course she’s been flattered by all the attention, but insists that “Everything was more fun than work.”  

    Her only complaint concerned how much more difficult legally everything has gotten.  When she began volunteering, nobody worried about insurance or liability issues.  “We did things we could never do these days—too many liabilities.”   She shuddered to think about jumping all the legal hurdles for every creative idea.   

    Currently she’s organizing a Cedar Falls Authors Festival, gathering volunteers to celebrate nationally known writers from town such as Bess Streeter Aldrich, Ruth Suckow, Nancy Price, and Robert Waller.  “All I’m getting is excitement and cooperation.”  As usual.   

     So what about that casket that she had built four decades ago?  “It still sits in our house, and I still plan on using it.”   

     But not anytime soon.   

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  • Cary Darrah: Lunch With A Leader

    • Posted on Aug 27, 2016
    This was published on Friday, August 26, in the Waterloo Courier.  

                Which leaders get the most done?  High-profile in the news leaders, or behind-the-scenes, make-it-happen-don’t-worry-who-gets-credit-leaders? 

                The question implies the answer, of course. It’s the low-profile collaborative leaders who make visionary long-term differences, but don’t often make the news. 

               That doesn’t bother them at all.  

                In fact, you may have not have heard of Cary Darrah, or maybe only in a passing reference to Cedar Falls’ Main Street, but she’s made an enormous difference to the Cedar Valley. 

                For decades Darrah has been a prime mover in the remaking and re-inventing of Cedar Falls Main Street.  From 1997 to 2007, she served as Executive Director of Community Main Street, overseeing the transformation of a sleepy and rather dull downtown to its current vibrant full-on mix of shops, restaurants, bars, entertainment venues, and boutiques. 

                Main Street’s dramatic transformation impresses visitors and locals alike. 

                Darrah takes little personal credit. “It’s all due to good collaborators I work with who make it happen,” she insists, and she means it.  “None of us could do it alone.”  

                She continued developing and collaborating in 2007 as vice president of community development with the Greater Cedar Valley Alliance & Chamber, as well as serving as general manager of TechWorks in Waterloo, a project that the Cedar Valley Alliance oversees.

                In June, she moved up to President of TechWorks, where she now oversees that entire operation.  

                So what exactly is TechWorks and what does she do there? Over lunch I mentioned that some people see it as a “blue sky” operation—all brochures and marketing but very little else.  

                “Yes, I know that’s a perception.  Getting it up and running has been a long and complex process beginning in 2007, then the recession slowed us down, then a long recovery during which we demolished several of the older buildings.  Then we turned over ten of our 43 acres to John Deere for their museum.  We’ve just now started doing more of what we intended in 2007.” 

                Essentially, TechWorks now exists to support and expand business and manufacturing opportunities in the Cedar Valley.  Their “Tech 1” building on Westfield Avenue houses a “Makerspace” floor of machinery where entrepreneurs and inventors can experiment with and discover their own designs using high-tech machinery.   In addition, in collaboration with UNI, they house a large 3-D printer that helps students, faculty, and inventors explore that technology. 

                A Courtyard Marriott Hotel will soon become part of their “Tech 2” building site, as well as a new upscale restaurant and John Deere Regional Training Center.  

                For the past several years, Darrah has also organized a TechWorks-sponsored “Leadership Institute” which holds seminars and education classes for over thirty future leaders that their employers have chosen as potential business leaders.

                This October, that Institute will host speaker Fred Kiel, whose book “Return on Character—the Real Reason Leaders and their Companies Win.”  She hopes Kiel’s visit sparks an extended conversation about business ethics and how ethical practices contributes to a company’s success. 

                The entire TechWorks organization began in 2007 when John Deere donated the site of its former Waterloo Tractor factory—43 acres of prime downtown land—and money to demolish the buildings.  Without visionaries like Cary Darrah and Steve Dust, its former President, that site would have become a “green space,” basically, a park. 

                Instead, it’s now a growing and vital non-profit organization devoted to contributing time and talent to enhance business and manufacturing in the Cedar Valley, according to Darrah. 

                She reminded me that “Black Hawk County does the most manufacturing of any county in Iowa,” and that’s due at least partly to an environment of encouragement and support from the Greater Cedar Valley Alliance and Chamber and TechWorks.   “We’re trying to create an environment that makes businesses and their leaders want to come here.” 

                As proof of that pudding, Forbes magazine recently named Waterloo as the #10 small U.S. city “where business and careers thrive.” 

                For the last twenty years, Darrah’s Cedar Valley leadership has helped do just that. “My job is to listen to people’s needs, evaluate what will help, then implement that help in whatever ways we can.”  

                As Cary Darrah has found, that’s a successful formula for community leadership.



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