Katie Averill has deep roots in Fort Dodge

Katie Averill’s message to a leadership group from Fort Dodge visiting the State Capitol was straight from the heart.

“I walked into the room and told them, I have been looking forward to this,” she said. “I am a Fort Dodge girl. You can take the girl out of The Dodge, but you can’t take The Dodge out of the girl.”

“The Dodge” remains in the heart of “the girl,” seven months after she and her husband, Tim, moved to Des Moines when Gov. Kim Reynolds appointed her superintendent of the Iowa Division of Credit Unions. The division has 10 field examiners who oversee 89 state-chartered credit unions, serving 1.1 million members with $16 billion in regulated assets.

Averill was senior vice president at Citizens Community Credit Union in Fort Dodge when she was appointed to the statewide position. She worked at the credit union for almost 10 years, and also served as its vice president of marketing and business development and director of marketing, while overseeing seven branch locations.

“Working for a credit union, I thought I understood the role of the superintendent,” she said, “but that was only a small taste compared to reality. It’s a broad spectrum, it touches and crosses lots of different agencies, at the state and federal level. More than a third of Iowans are credit union members.”

Averill succeeded JoAnn Johnson, who retired, in the role as the state’s top credit union regulator, heading a department charged with safeguarding the interests of credit union depositors and shareholders throughout the state.

Before her credit union work, Averill owned a company that provided packaging for dental laboratories all over the nation. Her father started the business and she worked with him for five years before purchasing it from him in 1995

“Owning a business gives you a solid base for every aspect of a business, including shoveling the sidewalks and taking out the trash,” she said. “In a small business like that, you wear all the hats.” She sold the business to an Indiana company in 2005.

Her roots in Fort Dodge are indeed deep: both sets of her grandparents were from Fort Dodge, as were her parents, Ort and Jeanne Mills, who are both deceased. Her mother was adult education coordinator at Iowa Central Community College. Katie is the youngest of six who include Julie who lives in Perry, Jane in Chicago and Tucson, Dick in Reno and Tucson, Peggy in Kansas City and John in Kansas City. “We were a very close-knit family, which I am very thankful for,” she said.

Tim also comes from a family with Fort Dodge roots. His parents were Veronica and Jim Averill. His father is deceased and his mother continues to live in Fort Dodge. Tim’s sister, Amy Bailey, lives with her husband and their two children in Kingsley.

Katie and Tim met in high school — “he was a high school honey,” she said. He grew up two blocks from the Mills’ home where he played backyard baseball with her older brother. Katie attended St. Edmond High School and he attended Fort Dodge Senior High. They were married in 1987, months after she graduated from with a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Iowa State University, with a major in marketing. She transferred to Iowa State after a year at Iowa Central Community College.

They raised three children: Megan, Emily and Jimmy. Megan is a kindergarten teacher at St. Edmond and Jimmy is a senior in construction engineering at Iowa State.

A life-changing moment came for the Averill family in June 2011 when Emily Joy Averill was killed in an auto accident, a few weeks after graduating from St. Edmond. She was 18, an All-State and national champion cheerleader, an honor roll student, and was headed to Iowa Central on a cheerleading scholarship.

“The community of Fort Dodge was unbelievably supportive to our family,” Averill said. “Our family was there for us. My mom was a strong, strong woman. She raised us to have the confidence, tenacity and strength to go through a tragedy like this and move forward and climb higher. It broke my father’s heart when Emily died. We reverted back to the time when he was the dad and I was his little girl. He died 10 months to the day after Emily died. He was a great support to me.”

Recovering from the death of a child “is a mental journey you travel,” Averill said. “It is taking one breath at a time, one step at a time, you keep yourself moving forward.”

Emily “had a sparkly personality,” she added. “She was definitely our middle child, able to explore things, enjoying trying new things. She was artistic and creative. Her middle name, we named her the right name. What she brought in her 18 years was a lot of joy. It’s a three-letter word that embodies who she was — a great word.”

Many members of the Fort Dodge community provided donations to memorialize Emily, so Katie and Tim established the Emily JOY Averill Foundation in 2012 to remember their daughter “by continuing to promote her aspirations for education, early childhood literacy, work ethic, loyalty and the joy of life.” The foundation established scholarships for graduating seniors in high school, support of cheerleading programs that were a big part of Emily’s life, and a program called the Joy of Reading that provides financial support for projects that advance youth reading and literacy. Its priority is supporting reading with second-grade students.

The JoyMobile — a converted hospital van that serves as a library on wheels — is a fixture on the Fort Dodge scene, especially at elementary schools where it works with 17 classrooms of second-graders. “It is something I am really proud of, leaving a legacy of the joy of reading,” Averill said. “We have registered it as a Little Free Library, where people can contribute books and take a book to read. Fort Dodge has the very first Little Free Library on wheels.”

During the summer, it can be found at the swimming pool and ballparks and other places where young people gather. “People in Fort Dodge are continuing to use that JoyMobile,” she said.

“It’s a legacy that continues in Fort Dodge. We carry her in our hearts. Sometimes I get little signs from her — like bobby pins. She had such curly hair and had to put it up for cheer. We always had bobby pins all over the house. I find them everywhere. It’s a comforting little touch from my angel.”

It was through the foundation that Katie came into contact with the administration of former Gov. Terry Branstad and Reynolds when she was lieutenant governor. “Sometimes, the state of Iowa is a small world,” Averill said.

In 2015, Branstad appointed her to the Early Childhood State Board, which is charged with creating a comprehensive vision for early childhood care, education and health care.

Last May, when Branstad was appointed U.S. ambassador to the People’s Republic of China, Reynolds, a fifth-generation Iowan, took over as governor. Her selection of Averill to the credit union position was one of her first appointments.

“I admire Katie’s drive to make a difference,” Gov. Reynolds told The Messenger. “Our paths crossed through her charity, JOY of Reading. What impressed me most about Katie was the way she turned the unthinkable loss of her daughter into unmeasurable joy for hundreds of other children in her community. She’s poured her life into distributing books as a way to remember her daughter and help other kids learn to read. She’s making a difference in so many lives, and it’s one of the many reasons I respect her so much and am so proud to have her as part of my team.”

Katie and Tim live in a condo in a downtown Des Moines building — two blocks from the State Capitol — that was built in 1887. Tim works as business development manager for Country Maid, a pastry manufacturing business based in West Bend.

“Whenever people ask me my hometown, I never hesitate to say Fort Dodge,” she said. “The influences I had throughout my career and friendships and getting to know parents of my children’s friends. Growing up there taught me tenacity, compassion, creativity — and has brought wonderful friendships. With certainty, that is who I am.”