You’ve seen them at the big game, in the stands or on the sidelines. But at home, Vickie Rhoads, Carol Hoiberg, Deb Fennelly and Ellen Pollard are the ones who call the shots. Recently, Ames Living magazine had the privilege of sitting down with all four of them at the Jacobson Building in Ames adjacent to Jack Trice Stadium. Over coffee, the women dished about their love for the Ames community, what it’s like raising a family with their notable husbands and how much they appreciate each other.
All roads lead to home
Each of the women has her own unique story on how she ended up in Ames. For Vickie Rhoads, wife of Iowa State head football coach Paul Rhoads, the path began on the day when, at nine months pregnant and on the way to the hospital, she was asked a simple question: “Can we?”
For most women, the onset of contractions leads to being rushed to the hospital as quickly as possible. But when Vickie went into labor, after she and Paul hopped in the car, the rest of the story didn’t go exactly as one would expect.
At the time, Paul Rhoads was a young up-and-coming assistant at University of the Pacific. There was an assistant coaching position open at Iowa State University, but in order to get the job, Paul needed to get some information from the Pacific’s football offices. Problem was, he couldn’t wait.
So when Paul asked his laboring wife if they could first “stop by the football offices before going to the maternity ward,” Vickie didn’t object. Three months later, the happy couple (plus one), was living in Ames.
Back on the court
Carol Hoiberg also played an integral role in her family’s path to Ames. Unbeknownst to most, Carol is a major reason her husband, Fred Hoiberg, a.k.a “The Mayor,” is the head basketball coach at Iowa State, or better yet, coaching at all.
Carol and Fred both grew up in Ames where they met in high school and attended Iowa State University together. After Fred’s NBA playing days were over, he took a front office job with the Minnesota Timberwolves. But Carol says she couldn’t stand to watch her husband’s frustration whenever he’d watch basketball games from anywhere but courtside. She says he was visibly frustrated by not being more closely involved with the action.
“You’ve got to coach,” she encouraged him. “You have to get on a bench somewhere.”
When the Iowa State job opened up, Fred finally took her advice.
“And here we are,” Hoiberg says.
This is Deb Fennelly’s 19th year in Ames. She and her husband, Iowa State women’s basketball coach Bill Fennelly, love Ames. In fact, Deb Fennelly says, “We would never consider moving.”
Fennelly says Ames is a great place to raise kids, and it was even more perfect for her and Bill because Ames is in between her hometown (Ruthven,) and Bill’s (Davenport).
“There is no place I’d rather call ‘home,’ ” she says, adding that should they have to move, she’d be a “basket case.”
And that’s a good thing for Ames, not just because Bill Fennelly is the winningest coach in the program’s history, but because Deb does an enormous amount of volunteer work within the community as well. She delivers meals for Heartland Seniors, and lends her time to the American Heart Association and Mary Greeley Medical Center.
“It’s good to give back,” she says.
Rarely does a family that is involved in major college athletics get to choose which city they live in. Usually, they’re at the mercy of which jobs open and when. However, each of these four women, along with their husbands, targeted Ames as a destination of choice. This was especially true for the Pollard family.
Ellen Pollard, wife of Iowa State Athletic Director Jamie Pollard, recalls a time when, as a young couple, they penciled in Ames as one of their select few choice destinations to land if Jamie’s career progressed the way they wanted.
Out of all the cities in the United States, Ellen and Jamie put a checkmark next to Ames from the very beginning. For Ellen, having grown up in Louisiana and Texas, a voluntary move north would seem to be an odd choice. But when asked how a southern girl likes the Ames winters, her smile lights up the room and laughs ensue with her “I’ve learned to drive in it” answer.
The fact that Jamie could convince Ellen that the harsh winters of Ames could be an ideal destination might speak volumes about his powers of persuasion. On the other hand, it also might say a lot about Ellen’s penchant for putting the needs of others ahead of her own.
Putting family first
Being married to husbands with prestigious job titles has certain advantages, but there are drawbacks, too. Their husbands are under enormous amounts of pressure and work long hours. The women say this creates an important role for them within the household.
“That’s our [full-time] job,” Fennelly explains, “to take care of the family.”
The other women agree, and by all appearances, they are good at their jobs. Each of their marriages is strong and vibrant, and their kids are thriving.
“The kids need someone stable who will always be around,” says Hoiberg.
Rhoads agrees. She talks about the need for her to be the medium ground between the kids and her husband.
“I think we’re [the] stability,” Pollard says.
They also point out some unique potential problems for their children.
“We need to remind them to have fun and be yourselves,” Hoiberg says. “But if you do something wrong, people are going to hear about it.”
And just like their fathers, the entire family is subjected to scrutiny.
“Everything we do is so magnified,” says Rhoads. “It’s hardest on the boys to hear people talking about their dad.”
Besides sheltering their children from the limelight, the women also try to keep them grounded and appreciative of what they have.
“I’m constantly reminding them that they’re lucky,” Hoiberg says.
“We try and guard against them being spoiled,” Pollard adds.
Another challenge for their families has been the multiple moves they’ve needed to make to get to Ames. The four families have moved a combined 16 times.
What do you want to know about each other?
The four women know each other quite well. Some of their children go to school together, their husbands work together, they do community work together, they even trade tickets to various Cyclone sporting events with one another. But is there something they’d want to ask each other?
Fennelly chimes in first:
“What do you all do after a tough loss or [when there’s] something bad in the media?” she asks.
Hoiberg is the first to respond.
“He has 24 hours,” she says flatly with her hand cutting through the air like a knife as if she’s severing the moment in time, from which Fred is no longer allowed to be despondent about a tough loss, she says.
“Jamie needs to talk, so I just listen,” says Pollard.
“I’m the cheerleader,” Fennelly says. “I chew him out a little, then it’s time to move on.”
“We can’t allow this to keep affecting our daily life. We have to move on.”
Rhoads, who had been silent through this part of the conversation, finally admits, “Sometimes I’m the one that needs to be cheered up.” The women all laugh.
We heart Ames
When the group is asked what they love about Ames, the answers flow quickly.
“The people,” says Fennelly as the others nod in agreement. “It’s been a great community to raise our boys.”
There’s such a degree of authentic sincerity in Fennelly’s voice that the group is quieted out of respect for the moment and deference to the grandmother-to-be (you read it here first). Tears begin to well in her eyes, and she whispers, “And this,” as her voice cracks with emotion, “this right here is special,” motioning around the table at the other women. There’s no doubting the sincere affinity she has for them, but she’s not just referring to the kinship between them, she’s also referring to the entire Iowa State athletic department and the Ames community as a whole.
“You are so sweet,” Hoiberg says as she starts to get emotional herself and moves to console her friend.
“It’s not that way everywhere else,” says Rhoads with a deep and true appreciation.
“It’s a Cyclone family,” adds Hoiberg.
Someone says Jamie Pollard fosters that family atmosphere, and it is clearly the sentiment of the entire group.
The comment leaves everyone looking at the ever-humble Ellen Pollard, who prefers giving recognition as opposed to receiving it.
“The whole Ames community has been so supportive,” Pollard says.
For these women, no matter what happens on the field or on the court, their feelings are steadfast: They love their families, the Iowa State Cyclones, each other and the Ames community as a whole.