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AARP AARP States Iowa Community

Stories of Remarkable Iowans Over 50

Check back every month to meet another AARP Iowa Hidden Gem. Innovators or inventors, record breakers or collectors whose stories are a bit under the radar.

AARP Iowa Hidden Gems
An Urbandale couple has transformed their love for dogs into a non-profit rescue. From the early days of doing it all from home, they now have foster families, a corps of dedicated volunteers, a new cat adoption program and, soon, a new building. Learn why these men believe they get more than they give while finding their rescues forever homes.
Tim Kelley spent most of his engineering career in California, Florida and abroad as a Walt Disney “imagineer.” But when grandchildren brought him to Mount Vernon, Iowa, this 71-year-old Hidden Gem also dreamed up some magical touches for the town’s holiday “Magical Night.”
Cheryl Tevis of Pilot Mound came from a long line of farmers. Now 71, she charted a different route for herself, staying close to agriculture as a writer but also helping women advance in the world of ag. This October Hidden Gem helped found and now leads an Iowa volunteer group dedicated to women supporting women in both agribusiness and farming.
On a snowy night 25 years ago, Ruth Mwangangi arrived in Iowa from Kenya. Grateful for the warm welcome she received, she’s continued ever since to pay it forward, donating thousands of volunteer hours helping other newcomers or those with special needs both appreciate their differences and succeed in their new lives. Discover why this 52-year Ankeny woman believes everyone should volunteer.
Linda Smith vividly remembers her first powerlifting meet in late 2018. “I was terrified,” she says. But this 56-year-old Oxford mother of nine and grandmother of nine loved the competition. Since then, our August Hidden Gem has set new records for the deadlift in her age and weight class and still has more goals to tackle.
Jerry Yocum was just a boy living in nearby Pocahontas when his life briefly intersected with a World War II German prisoner of war camp. But this 83-year-old retired Algona history teacher never imagined that decades later, he’d play a major role in telling the story about that same camp. Meet our July Hidden Gem.
Joe Gonzalez can’t say no. He lives to serve, first as a trailblazing police officer and community volunteer, now as director of the Latino Heritage Festival. Our June Hidden Gem shares why he feels blessed to still be giving back to a place that gave his own immigrant family a new start some 63 years ago.
He discovered birding as a Prairie City boy when an uncle who taught ornithology shared his passion, “and I knew it was OK to look at birds, it wasn’t weird.” He especially likes getting others hooked on his hobby and for 30 years has led bird walks for the Des Moines Audubon Society. Meet Dennis Thompson, 65, our May Hidden Gem.
Mary Young Bear’s bead art nourishes both her creativity and pride in her Meskwaki heritage. Yet her influence on the Meskwaki settlement near Tama, IA, reaches well beyond beading. Mentor, art conservator, cultural advocate and - perhaps most important to her – mother all describe this accomplished 61-year-old, our April Hidden Gem.
Coralville blues artist Kevin Burt’s been performing for almost three decades. But at age 50, he became an “overnight sensation,” winning a coveted international blues competition. The pandemic’s put things on pause, but it hasn’t cooled Kevin’s creativity or determination to get back in front of live audiences when the world safely reopens. Meet Kevin Burt, 52, our March Hidden Gem.
As Donna Hay neared her ninth decade, she discovered a new passion. At age 88, she taught herself to paint by watching classes online. Now almost 92, this Mitchellville woman’s selling her works and teaching classes to others. Meet our February Hidden Gem.
Cedar Rapids lawyer and ventriloquist Dennis Naughton can’t think about retiring. He’s still busy “doing good” and creating smiles. Meet our first Hidden Gem, a monthly Iowa AARP showcase for remarkable Iowans over 50 doing fascinating things. Since he was a boy, Denny and his ventriloquist act have teamed up for a life of adventures. And even in a pandemic, he hasn’t stopped.

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