Community events are the heartbeat of SE Iowa

While the winter holidays are about spending time with family, spring and summer in southeast Iowa is full of activity.

Last weekend was the first big boom of events featuring the Southeast Iowa Special Olympic Games, a Walk for Autism in Washington, the first Live Healthy Iowa 5K to be held in Henry County, and beloved Iowa Wesleyan University’s celebration of 100 years of their Music Department to name a few.

After yet another week of dreary cold weather, southeastern Iowans brushed off the dust carried by wind from Texas to the Midwest, grabbed some sunscreen and greeted their fellow residents with a carefree smile.

Spring is a time for community and friendly competition. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of participants at the Live Healthy Iowa 5K on Saturday. From seasoned runners who attempted to set a new personal record to residents dedicated to running and walking the 5K as a part of a healthier lifestyle.

While I don’t consider myself a runner today, it used to be something near and dear to my heart. I know how meaningful it is to have someone cheering for you on the sidelines as you’re out of breath and want to quit. I hope my loud clapping and shouts of “yes, girl, you got this” helped someone else cross that finish line.

Henry County’s very own residents from the Mt. Pleasant and Danville community school districts had their own teams at the Southeast Iowa Special Olympic Games on Saturday, April 13 — with two students even qualifying for Special Olympic State Games in May.

Saturday was the first Special Olympic Games I have ever attended. What a better opportunity than seeing the event play out right in my own backyard? In interviews with people before the Games, people would tell me how amazing it is to watch.

“There’s a broad spectrum of competition ... There’s such a difference in sportsmanship and the way they approach (it),” said Brad Benge, area director for Southeast Iowa Special Olympics.

One of my favorite encounters Saturday was with Betty Lowry, from Oskaloosa, who said her favorite part of competing in Special Olympics was encouraging the other athletes. From the sidelines of the javelin throwing competition, she was holding onto a blue ribbon and enthusiastically cheering her heart out for her teammate.

After reveling in watching people compete in Special Olympics, I popped over to band and choir rehearsals for Iowa Wesleyan University’s Centennial Celebration Concert where I got my own little preview of what happened later that evening. Hearing musicians from across generations of IW graduating classes is enough to give anyone goose bumps.

Current students who played in the concert considered ways they will be involved in campus life after graduation. Alumni thought back to what was given to them through their IW education.

Throughout the weekend, Easter egg hunts were scattered across southeast Iowa. The future of our communities impatiently waited for the go-ahead to grab on to as many colorful, plastic eggs as they could find.

I never thought I would live in a town as small as I do. I had no idea how much small towns have to offer and how much we have to offer each other. All of these events took dozens of volunteers who gave up a lazy Saturday morning or a quiet afternoon to create something memorable.

I applaud everyone who participates in any capacity in events in our communities. You make it a better place to live and work and have a family.