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Looking back, moving forward

Posted December 25, 2013 in Waukee

When the new year rolls around, it’s often a time for resolutions — get fit, lose weight, stop smoking, eat better, exercise more, slow down. It’s also a time to stop for a moment to think back on the last year and its effect on your life, as well as a time to think forward to what the coming year will bring.

Some of us have very definable goals — run a marathon or take a trip to Europe — while others are less specific. Nonetheless, taking stock of our lives and what’s important is good to do from time to time, and there’s no better time than during the new year, when everything seems new again.

These Waukee residents share their stories about what happened in the last year and what they’re looking forward to in 2014. From all of us at Waukee Living, Happy New Year!

The sweetest time
When it comes to sweets, Michelle Holtz is no stranger. She’s the owner of Sweet Rewards Gluten Free Bakery, which just opened its new storefront in Waukee, with its grand opening on Dec. 11. She says the road to business ownership has been a wild ride.

Michelle Holtz and her husband Chad are thrilled to start 2014 with their new storefront for Michelle’s business, Sweet Rewards Gluten Free Bakery.

Michelle Holtz and her husband Chad are thrilled to start 2014 with their new storefront for Michelle’s business, Sweet Rewards Gluten Free Bakery.

Holtz started making gluten- and dairy-free treats when her husband was having health issues about four or five years ago and had to eliminate the foods from his diet. She always loved to bake, but she says it was too hard and too expensive to keep baking with specialty ingredients just for him.

It was during a road trip that the couple found a gluten free bakery, and her husband sampled its treats.

“He tried it, and he said, ‘Yours is so much better,’ ” she laughs. “All of a sudden, he started sending me all this info on how to start your own business.”

Holtz started baking, and she began selling her treats at local farmer’s markets. Soon they were being carried at local Dahl’s stores and a few Hy-Vees. They also supply gluten- and dairy-free treats to a few local restaurants as well as to other bakeries that might not offer the specialty selections.

Holtz says the response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive. People who have sampled her treats have said they can’t tell that anything is missing.

“They can’t tell the difference,” she says. “That’s a huge compliment for us, and it means a lot being able to provide something for people who have been without for a long time. They can do a home birthday party and their kids can finally have a cupcake. They feel normal, and that’s the biggest blessing.”

Holtz says she’s excited to be opening up her business in Waukee, where she and her husband have lived for 12 years. She’s sure 2014 will bring some of the best times yet.

“We have a wonderful customer base,” she says. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s so worth it. We’re ready to see what comes next.”

A new direction
Though he has roots in Iowa, new Waukee Public Library Director Jake Speer spent more than a decade in Indiana before moving back to Iowa to take the job in Waukee. He grew up in Ottumwa, and his wife is from Davenport, but he most recently had jobs at the state library downtown in Indianapolis, Ind., and the Hussey-Mayfield Memorial Public Library in Zionsville, Ind.

Jake Speer is excited to start 2014 as the new director of the Waukee Public Library.

Jake Speer is excited to start 2014 as the new director of the Waukee Public Library.

Speer says what drew him to Waukee is the fact that the community is growing and vibrant, and he’s impressed with the community’s dedication to the library.

“I thought it was a great opportunity to be a part of a great growing community and growing library,” he says. “It’s just a great place to be. Also, it’s great to be closer to family and be part of this community for my son who will be 4 later this month.”

Speer says he’s excited about the new Ori addition, which opened in November. The addition is the result of a very generous bequest from former resident Hiram Ori. The approximate amount of $700,000 is the largest single donation in the long history of the library.

The new addition is part museum, part meeting space. One section has interactive screens where people can listen to people talk about growing up in the coal mining area and see maps of the mines. There are also some traditional museum displays with artifacts.

“Most people in Waukee are newer to the community, and they don’t know the history if they’re new,” he says. “This way they can learn about this snapshot in time and life in the mines.”

Also included is a large, state-of-the-art meeting space that fits about 65 people. Speer says the meeting space can be utilized by community groups.

“We want to promote that and bring in people of all ages,” says Speer. “It’s a wonderful resource for the community.”

Looking toward the future, Speer says his goal for the library is to expand its online offerings. He says people want online resources like e-books and audio books, and they might even add a downloadable music service down the road.

“I think what we want to do is offer really strong programs for people of all ages and a really diverse print collection and strong online presence,” he says. “We want to continue to look at online resources to make it convenient for people in Waukee to access library services 24/7 because that’s something people are expecting and looking for.”

Senior year
Arguably one of the years with the biggest changes in a person’s life is his or her senior year in high school and the beginning of college. For Waukee senior Gabby Magee, the last year has seen its share of challenges, but she says she’s excited for all the new things to come in 2014.

For high school senior Gabby Magee, 2013 had some challenges, but she’s ready for all the changes the new year will bring.

For high school senior Gabby Magee, 2013 had some challenges, but she’s ready for all the changes the new year will bring.

Magee played volleyball and ran track, but last year she tore her ACL. She says it was a long road back to recovery, but she was able to play volleyball again this year. Knee problems have continued to plague her, so she decided not to run track. She has continued to serve as the men’s basketball team manager, which she has enjoyed, she says.

Magee will also start a new internship in January for the Drake Relays through Waukee’s school to work program.

“When I started school to work, I wanted to do a pre-med internship, but I saw half my class was doing medicine,” she says. “Since I’m interested in sports medicine, I asked our teacher about different opportunities at Drake since that was a school that interested me, and she had a connection with the athletic director so he found the relays internship.”

Magee will work on catering for the officials and volunteers for the events, organizing the registration for the kids races and taking care of other details. She plans to attend Drake in the fall, and she’s excited about the possibility of working certain camps and helping out again in the athletic office in the fall.

Magee says she’s happy that she started working for Beyond the Bell, a before and after school program, at Walnut Hills Elementary. It’s been fun to get to know the kids and take them on field trips and spend time with them, she says.

Though 2013 had its setbacks, Magee says she was happy she was able to play volleyball, and she’s excited to see what the next year will bring. She says even if you’re going through a hard time, keep your head up.

“I would say, don’t focus on all the bad parts,” she says. “It will all work out in the end. Listen to your parents and those who love you and don’t get too down on yourself.”

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