For many young people, the time comes to get out of their hometowns.
Some are gone for good, but for others, a few years away and a college education lay the groundwork for taking over family businesses and perpetuating a small-town way of life for their own children. Sometimes that’s the plan the whole time, as it was for John Baty; other times it takes some soul-searching, as it did for Nancy Huisman. For Dr. Kathleen Lange, Cupid intervened: when she met and married a local businessman, she changed her medical specialty to better suit the area’s needs.
Like father, like daughter
Growing up around the family business, Hall Engineering, Nancy Huisman was inspired to become a civil engineer.
That didn’t mean she foresaw returning to Centerville to become president of the company, a civil engineering consulting firm that primarily works with municipalities on infrastructure projects.
Huisman is the second generation to return to Centerville to work with the company. Her grandfather, Robert Buss, purchased Hall Engineering in 1957 from M.G. Hall, who established it in the century’s first decade. When his son, Bill Buss, was finishing a master’s degree in business, he asked him to help out for a while.
“It was kind of accidental,” Buss says. “I had no intentions of coming back here after I got out of grad school, but he was very busy. When he asked, I came back and never left.”
Because of that chain of events, Huisman grew up hanging around the workplace and learned surveying there while in high school. She was accepted directly into Marquette University’s engineering program and went off to become a civil engineer like her grandfather.
After college, she stayed in Milwaukee and worked with several consulting firms. When her grandfather died in 2002, Hall Engineering was in need of a licensed engineer but, Huisman says, Buss didn’t want to pressure her.
“I was ready to have a family, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to move back to Centerville,” she says. “But I was living in Milwaukee at the time and thought it might be a nice, slower-paced life to raise my kids in.”
She moved back in 2005, soon before the birth of her first son. Cohen is now 8, and his little brother, Bordan, is 5.
As the new president, she couldn’t really take time off but instead brought her infant to work.
“Who knows? Maybe we’ll have one of those boys taking over,” she says.
Hall Engineering recently relocated from the second-floor offices on the square it had occupied since 1962 to the ground floor of the Alliant building at the corner of Sheridan and Drake.
“We had outgrown our space for sure,” Huisman says. “We want to remain a small family-owned company, but we would like to be able to grow our staff as the workload allows.”
Buss says it was a joy to have his daughter and her family return to Centerville. Their personalities are a good fit and they have a similar work ethic, he says.
“We are pretty lucky — we actually get along at work,” Huisman adds.
Quality of life
Jim and Vicki Baty moved to Moravia in 1981 and recently celebrated the 30th anniversary of founding Baty Electric.
Vicki says the family moved to Moravia from Ottumwa because she didn’t like some of the things she saw going on in the bigger school system. She had a friend who grew up in Moravia who got her thinking about the benefits of small schools. They used to hunt in Appanoose County on the weekends and finally decided the change of pace would be good.
At first, Vicki says, the family felt a little disconnected in a small town where everyone seemed to be related somehow. But both of their sons married local girls, so now, she notes, the Batys are related to everyone else in town, too.
Their younger son, John, starting working with his dad in junior high. He attended Simpson College and after graduation became full time in his dad’s company. John did his apprenticeship the first two years, which meant he occasionally learned ways of doing things that differed from his father’s.
“Everybody said father-son would never work out,” Jim says. But, he says, “Young blood was needed,” and the two found ways to combine their knowledge.
The two are equal partners. After John got out of college in 1994, Jim told him he could have 5 percent of the company a year so that they would be equal partners after 10 years. Both are master electricians with contractor’s licenses.
Baty Electric does a lot of work in surrounding towns like Ottumwa, Oskaloosa and Chariton, says Vicki, who does the company’s paperwork. But, she adds, lately there has been a considerable uptick in work closer to home with developments at Rathbun Lake and Sundown Lake.
John has become really involved in community issues in Moravia, currently serving on the school board, city council and Fall Festival committee.
“I just think it’s a great thing when you walk down the street and you know the kids walking by,” John says. “If a town is going to survive, you’ve got to keep the school going and keep it healthy.”
John and his wife, Stacy, have been restoring a Victorian-era home down the street from his parents. The couple has three children: Sydney, a high school senior, Zane, 14, and Spencer, 11. John says maybe one of them will be the next to join the family business.
With her father a physician and her mother a registered nurse, Dr. Kathleen Lange grew up around medicine.
Lange’s family moved to Centerville in 1967 while her father, Dr. Stephen Jewett, was serving as a doctor in Vietnam because her mother’s parents lived here. When he returned, he joined a practice in Centerville.
Jewett encouraged Lange to become a nurse because he figured she would always have a job. Already an emergency medical technician, she took his advice, became a licensed practical nurse and started working at the Ottumwa emergency room.
Something was missing, though. She wanted to know more but had doubts about becoming a doctor.
“I decided, ‘Yeah, this is what I really want to do,’ but I wasn’t sure I could handle the medical school stuff,” she says.
Doctors she worked with in Ottumwa encouraged her. But when she told her father, it led to the first fight they had ever had.
Jewett was worried she wouldn’t be happy as a doctor and might never have time for a family. Further, medicine was changing rapidly, and Jewett was frustrated by insurance companies’ increasing role.
“After our little fight about me going to medical school, he was extremely supportive,” Lange says. “He just wanted to make sure I knew what I was doing.”
As Lange puts it, she managed to do everything the hard way. While still working full time in Ottumwa, she commuted to Kirksville, Mo., to earn a bachelor’s degree in biology. In 1988, she started medical school at the University of Iowa, where she continued to work as a nurse on weekends.
She started a urology residency in Iowa City and was on her way to becoming a surgeon in that field when she met Tom Lange, a funeral director in Centerville with three sons.
Suddenly her future changed, and she made plans to go into family practice and join her dad’s clinic, Chariton Valley Medical Center. She switched to a family practice residency in Des Moines, leaving Centerville at 5 a.m. and getting home after 7 p.m. unless she was on call and had to stay up there.
When Lange joined Jewett’s practice, her daughter, Maddison Lange, was 6 months old.
“I had a long discussion with Dr. (Melvin) Parks and my dad about making sure I took time for my kids’ activities, and they retrospectively wished they had done the same,” she says. “I have tried to fit my schedule to my family life — it doesn’t always work.”
Lange and Jewett worked together until he retired about four years ago. He died last summer.
“My first year, he taught me more than I ever learned in residency,” she says.
Lange says she attends her daughter’s softball games and other events when she can. She can take her cell phone, a big change from the days when Jewett used to sit by the phone while on call.
Because she lives in a small town, people recognize her as a doctor wherever she goes. At a recent softball game, Lange called in prescriptions for poison ivy medicine and treated a player’s dislocated finger.
“That’s part of being a small-town community physician that I don’t mind,” she says.
Lange says she is glad she ended up in Centerville, but currently she is the only physician in her practice and finds it hard to recruit.
“(New doctors) want to come out of residency and make $250,000 a year and not be on call, and that’s not very realistic in rural America,” she says. “It is not an easy life, but it is rewarding.”