The Town That Built Me

By Susan Hatten
Ida Grove, Iowa. A charismatic little town of 2,200 residents at the junction of Highways 59 and 175 in Northwest Iowa, appropriately positioned as the county seat.

My family moved from Des Moines to Ida Grove in the summer of 1988, as my father moved from a job at Hartford Insurance Co. to GOMACO Corp., an industrial manufacturing company based there. I recall my mother quipping about “driving an hour to a shopping mall” and other such challenges we would encounter being so far from civilization.

Our new house was a 1920s Victorian-inspired charmer along Main Street. Equipped with a welcoming front porch for visitors, it still needed much TLC after we moved in. I fondly recall my sister and I carefully pressing our tiny hands into the cold, wet concrete, as our father worked each summer to shape our new home.

It didn’t take long for our family to find that this town was more than a place to live and work—it also was a place to make our home. My parents sought out leadership opportunities; we became very involved with our church, schools and other groups; and my younger sister and I took part in all that we could (for better or worse).

Ida Grove was a town full of personality and politics. I learned this, and the value of community engagement and leadership, at the ripe young age of 6.

This was the pre-computer era, when children were safe to wander the neighborhoods and embrace the outdoors. I have affectionate memories of walking to our favorite sledding hill, bicycling to meet friends at the pool, and meeting “uptown” to visit our town’s soda fountain treasure, Albrecht’s Pharmacy. In the fall, we blocked the date for the annual Fireman’s Stag; in the winter, we knew who made the best chili for the Catholic church fundraiser; and in the spring, we counted the number of high school graduation invitations we received.

As I finished high school, I longed to live in a big city and would daydream about moving to New York, San Francisco or London. But upon entering the real world, I quickly realized just how much I valued my experiences in our small town in Iowa and within the Midwest.

Some events of late have offered a nice reminder of who I really am and what I hope to leave as my own personal legacy one day.

As Miranda Lambert shares in her single, “The House That Built Me”: “Out here it’s like I’m someone else, I thought that maybe I could find myself. If I could walk around, I swear I’ll leave. Won’t take nothing but a memory… from the house that built me.”

As I continue in my own career and make Des Moines my home, I become even more thankful for my formative years in Ida Grove. It doesn’t matter how many galas I attend, which local celebrity I am privileged to meet or how many volunteer hours or boards I represent. At the core, I am a small-town girl with big dreams, trying to make them happen in our capital city.

susan hatten

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