Printed inside a small frame hanging on Roma Johnson’s porch are the words: “Sometimes … right back where you started from is right where you belong.” That’s a sentiment embraced by several Webster City residents who have “come home.”
Sara (Jaycox) Abens and her husband, Tyler, are Webster City-ites through and through. Though there have been opportunities that would have kept them from the place they know so well (both are Webster City High School graduates), in the end, they came home.
After attending college, the couple married and moved to Pella, where Tyler worked in human resources and training at the Pella Corporation. He later moved into a plant manager position while Sara worked as a nurse at Pella Regional Health Center.
Tyler’s parents, Keith and Jo Abens, owners of Abens Realty in Webster City, had been talking with their kids about the busy real estate year they’d had in 2002 and how they could use some help in the business.
“I wanted to be an independent contractor and my own boss,” Ty says.
But he was torn. He enjoyed his job at Pella, but knew it was time to make some personal and professional decisions for the future. Coming back to live and work in Webster City was tempting, but the thing that helped make the decision was that the couple had just found out they were expecting their first child.
“The big motivation in moving back was that we wanted to raise our child close to both sets of grandparents,” Ty explains.
While still in Pella, they both obtained their real estate licenses, eventually moving back to Webster City in 2003. Their son, Jayce, was born in July of that year.
Keith and Jo Abens built their office just steps away from their home. Ty and Sara lived in the basement apartment at the office when they first moved back.
“That way Sara could be upstairs working while Jayce napped,” Ty says. “We’re really glad we came back to Webster City.
“Jayce is close to his grandparents, and we get to be close to our nieces and nephews and be active in the community.”
The family also appreciates being back to follow Lynx athletics that they were involved with in high school.
“We’re also two hours closer to Okoboji,” says Ty. The family cabin and Ty’s sister Tracy, husband Lance, and their kids live in that area.
The couple is now living in the house where Ty grew up and enjoy watching Jayce play in the same yard.
“It’s like seeing myself grow up all over again,” Ty says. “He’s running around building forts and playing in the same creek that I did.”
Working in the family business and raising children in Webster City were also attractive to Jeana Gilbert-McBride.
“My family moved here when I was 1, so Webster City is the only place I have ever known,” she says. “Some of my favorite memories of growing up here would be sledding on Hospital Hill, ice skating at the Brewer Creek skating rink and having hot chocolate by the fire in the shelter. The big Fourth of July celebration, games and fireworks all held at the Hospital Hill/Brewer Creek area was my very favorite.”
Jeana is the youngest of Ron and Connie Gilbert’s three children. Her parents owned Gilbert Jewelers in Webster City.
Her future, at one point, seemed almost pre-determined.
“Both my older siblings had chosen other career paths, so I knew I would likely be the only one who would consider running the family business someday. But I really dreamed of living in a bigger city and pursuing my dream in fashion merchandising.”
Following graduation from Webster City High School in 1995, Jeana attended Iowa Central Community College. Halfway through her second year, she married and moved to Dallas, Texas, for her husband’s job.
After five years in the Dallas area, her husband had an opportunity to locate closer to home in the Minneapolis, Minn., area. Daughter Shelby was born in July 2002.
While away from Webster City, Jeana started to miss her life in Iowa.
“As you get older and start your own family your priorities start to change. I always missed my family and friends, but I did love living in the bigger cities with lots of shopping, plenty of restaurants and always something new to do. At some point, those things were just not as important as the relationships with my family were.”
As Jeana’s parents got closer to planning their retirement, she knew she needed to come home and work in the business.
“In October 2003, we relocated home to Webster City where I began working and learning the family business,” she says.
By 2009, she was making a majority of the business decisions and running the store. In January 2011, she officially took over as the new owner.
Jeana’s second husband, Michael McBride, grew up in Webster City as well. Both share the same passion about raising children here and being a part of the community. He works as a massage therapist, certified personal trainer and runs a mixed martial arts studio in Webster City.
And while the ammenities of the big city were nice, it was hard to be heard amongst the throes of people. Here in Webster City, it’s different — for the better.
“If there is something you don’t like about our community or living here, then get involved, share your ideas, get a plan, and make a change. Your voice can be heard here, and you can make a difference.”
John Boughton was born in Marion and moved to Webster City with his parents, Red and Dorothy, and sister, Mary, in 1962, when he was 6.
His father was a Farm Bureau Insurance agent, and his mother stayed at home, occasionally helping out at the office as well.
“Dad knew a lot of people in the farming community, on Main Street and at the Webster City Country Club,” John recalls.
He fondly remembers the childhood freedoms that seem to have faded from our society.
“I think it was neat that you could have the run of the town. You could get on your bike, run around town and stay out until dark when it was time to go home,” he says. “You couldn’t get too far without people you knew looking after you. It really was ideal, growing up in a small town.”
In 2005, while working as an administrator in Litchfield, Minn., he began to look closer to home due to his father’s failing health.
He took the job as administrator at the Stratford Nursing and Rehab Center, which allowed him to spend six months with his father before he passed away in November 2011. He had been at the Stratford facility for a year when the position at Southfield Wellness Community in Webster City became available. He took the job and began his duties there in June.
“I’m still getting my feet on the ground and finding things,” he says.
His family — wife Martha, who works as a paraeducator in the Northfield, Minn., school system; son Ben, 29; daughter Rachel, 27; and son Sam, 17 — is still in Minnesota until Sam graduates from high school. They will then join him in Webster City.
In addition to his work responsibilities, John has become active in the community through Kiwanis. He’s also enjoying being able to stop and visit his step-mother, Phyllis Boughton, quite often.
“Now I don’t have to drive three hours. I get to see her three times a week,” he says.
“Being back has been a lot about family and friends, seeing people again and spending time with them,” John says.
The new owner at Mornin’ Glory Coffee Shop is Ben Everson, a Webster City native who graduated from WCHS in 2006.
After a year at Iowa Central Community College, he began looking into attending culinary school and enrolled in the Institute of Culinary Arts at Robert Morris University in Chicago, Ill., where he completed a 14-month accelerated program.
In March, he returned to Webster City — where parents Keith and Mona Everson live and work — and started working with former owner Jenny Maharry at the coffee shop, learning the ropes before taking over on June 4.
“She taught me how to do all the drinks, make the sandwiches and introduced me to the vendors,” he says.
He and fiancé Karissa Kennedy, also a Webster City native, both have family in the area and decided a move back home to manage Mornin’ Glory.
“It’s nice to be home where we came from,” Ben says. “My favorite part about being back is seeing all the friends I didn’t get to see on a regular basis. It’s nice to just sit down and converse with them.”
Returning to their hometown has been a good fit for Ben and Karissa and will help make planning their June 8 wedding much easier.
“I love it; it’s been a lot of fun,” Ben says.
Good for the soul
Roma Johnson returned to Webster City in 2007, following the death of her husband, Dean.
The two had lived in Kona, Hawaii, since 1988. Roma still has their home there, and, in fact, spends half of the year in Hawaii. Family, friends, the seasons and a place to heal were what helped Roma decide to spend half the year in her hometown of Webster City.
“I spend from May Day until Halloween here in Webster City,” she says. “I love the changing seasons, the long summer nights and the harvest time. Everything is always the same in Hawaii.”
The daughter of Rex and Peg Lee, Roma, along with her brother and sister, grew up in the house she now lives in on Des Moines Street. She graduated from WCHS in 1960, and she and Dean were high school sweethearts.
Two of their sons live in Hawaii — Joel, 48, and Chris, 42. Son Matt, 45, lives in Fort Dodge.
“He helped guide my decision to come back here,” she says.
Roma recalls a 2005 class reunion, which became a turning point as well.
“At that time, I was ready to say ‘goodbye’ to Webster City, but I remembered talking with a classmate about memories, and I took lots of walks while I was here, and everyplace I went I ran into someone I knew, and I thought, ‘This is my home. How on earth could I leave?’”
So, in 2007 she bought a house on Elm Street and reconnected with friends.
“It was just wonderful,” she says. Her childhood home became available in 2009, so she bought it, renovated it and now enjoys peaceful summer evenings on the three-season porch.
“I was just devastated by my husband’s death, but being back here has helped me heal,” she says. “Webster City is good for my soul. It’s been very healing. I love it; I love being home.”