Involvement brings joy

Editor’s note: This is another in an occasional series about citizens of Iola and why they chose to make their home here. The series is in recognition of Iola’s Sesquicentennial and how it takes a commitment by its citizens to make a town thrive.

By JENELLE JOHNSON
Family Living Editor

Becky Nilges

Becky Nilges’ philosophy on life is, “Wherever I live I make it my home by getting involved in the community through participation in school events and civic organizations.”
Nilges has lived by those words for the nearly 30 years she has made Iola her home.
A native of Richmond, she attended Allen County Community College in the 1970s before continuing her education at Emporia State University.
In 1979 she returned to ACCC to watch a basketball game and became engaged in conversation with Hugh Haire, an administrator at the college. As a recreation major she told Haire she was looking for an internship to complete her degree.
Haire made several inquiries, secured a grant to establish a student activities position at the college and offered the position to Nilges.
That was July 5, 1979, Nilges recalled.
“I accepted the internship. The college then established my job as a full-time position, and I stayed at Allen County for the next 17 years,” she said.
In the mid 1990s, Nilges felt it was time for a change. When the position of director for Iola Area Chamber of Commerce became available she applied and was hired for the position.
Nilges found the organizational skills she used at the college fit the Chamber.
“I enjoyed working with the Chamber. It is a one-of-a kind job that is very time consuming. I hope everyone thought I did a good job the six years I was at the Chamber,” she said.
One area Nilges particularly enjoyed was working with Southeast Kansas Tourism, where she could promote Iola as a travel destination.
Iola has so much to offer to tourists, such as Thursday night concerts at the bandstand during the summer, the appearance of buildings on the square and the old cemetery for genealogy buffs, she said.
“I had one couple tell me every time they traveled from Wichita to Springfield, Mo., they would bring a picnic lunch and stop at the Neosho River to eat. I think they were reliving memories from their youth,” she said.
Nilges said there has also been an influx of “Baby Boomers” returning to the slower pace of life in Iola.
“I think the ‘Baby Boomers’ are trying to recapture childhood memories and share them with their grandchildren,” she said.
Nilges now spends her days caring for her nephew Danny Boeken. The 3 1/2 year old was born premature, weighing about 4 pounds. To help out her family she volunteered to care for the infant so his parents could return to work.
“Right now I have the best job of all being with Danny, and I’ve been lucky enough for part-time jobs to come along to supplement my income,” she said.

NILGES BELIEVES for Iola to remain a strong community it needs to have good health care and a strong school system.
Families looking to move to Iola, whether they are just starting their lives or are senior citizens, want a hospital with upgrades to provide the best care for its citizens. Some people won’t consider a community that doesn’t have a hospital, she said.
Young families are looking at the schools. Iola does have a strong school system, but some buildings need major upgrades to stay in step with today’s technology.
“I also believe to keep our citizenship strong we need to teach the next generation the importance of serving in the community,” she said.
Pride in one’s community can be shown through joining clubs and churches or just by helping a neighbor by mowing their yard or taking a person with limited mobility to the grocery store, she said.

WHEN ASKED TO serve, Nilges was one of the first to volunteer to help plan Iola’s Sesquicentennial Celebration.
Judy Brigham called Nilges to discuss activities for the celebration and also mentioned the committee needed a chairman.
“I was on my way to the meeting with the intent to say no to being chairman, but when I got to the meeting ‘yes I will be chairman’ came out of my mouth,” she said.
The committee began planning for the celebration in August 2007.
One of their objectives was to get as many people as possible involved in planning festivities.
Kiwanis, Lions and Rotary members were contacted as were smaller clubs and groups such as Sorosis and Unity Clubs and Friends of the Library.
The committee has also strived to coordinate many of its activities with established events such as Memorial Day, the Allen County Fair and Farm-City Days.
There is no excuse for anyone to say there is nothing for them to do in Iola.
“I have always believed that boredom is self-inflicted. If you can’t find something to do with your time, the Sesquicentennial Committee can always use more help,” Nilges said.