Laurens: Quiet time
Library improves, vets group expands
LAURENS — For the Busiest Little Town in Iowa, winter time has been pretty quiet, according to city manager Hilary Reed.
But that’s not to say there hasn’t been anything going on.
Since joining the city in October, Reed said there have been a few projects in the city that were either completed or are expected to continue this year.
In November, Reed said the town completed the Prairie Park trail project.
“It’s connecting our Prairie Preservation Park to our Sportsman Park Trail,” Reed said.
She added that the city received a large grant to help pay for the project.
There have also been a number of city projects ongoing recently.
“The water plant has new RL membranes going in today (January),” she said. “The pool committee is continuing their fundraiser for the new pool.”
The fundraiser has been an ongoing project for a number of years, with the ultimate goal of replacing the town’s pool.
“The (city) council approved the final plan of how it will look and what they’re all going to do with that,” she said. “They’re one step closer, now that they have the design in place.”
Other ongoing projects include the West Main Street repair project, which is on hold right now due to the winter. That project has been ongoing for a few years, Reed said.
“And we want to finish that this year,” she said.
She added that Laurens Hometown Pride has applied for a Keep Iowa Beautiful grant, and wants to use that to restain the pergolas at Memory Lane Park, located in downtown Laurens.
Across the street at the Laurens Public Library, director Glenda Mulder said she and her staff were busy in 2016 and are continuing to stay that way.
The biggest project the library took part in last year was digitizing the history of Pocahontas County and putting all the information online.
Mulder said it was a collaborative effort between all the county libraries and the Pocahontas County Historical Society, which has a museum located right next door to the library.
“They wrote this wonderful book about Pocahontas County history in 1981,” Mulder said. “They published it and it’s a great resource and it’s now available online through the county libraries that have their newspapers digitized and online.”
A link can be found on the library’s website, and it includes other resources such as county newspapers and the Laurens centennial book.
“It’s especially awesome because it was never indexed,” Mulder said. “Unless you knew right where to look, you had to look through a lot to get there, where now you can use a search term and find out things you’re looking for.”
“I’m pretty excited about that one,” Mulder added.
The library itself also saw a number of changes. The lighting inside the building was replaced with LED lights, and Mulder said the exterior lights will be replaced soon.
“We’re kind of excited about that,” she said. “No more flickering fluorescence.”
Jeri Wenell, a retired kindergarten teacher, also joined the staff as the new children’s librarian.
Together, with assistant director Deb Hertz, the library staff often goes out into the community.
Mulder said Hertz delivers nursing homes and homebound residents, while Wenell delivers children’s books to the day cares and child care centers.
In addition, Mulder said the library recently formed a partnership with Iowa Public Television for early school readiness and early school literacy.
“They brought a bunch of books and DVDs and a story time carpet,” she said. “So that’s kind of fun.”
A local nonprofit aimed at helping veterans also saw expansion in 2016.
Rally 4 Veterans was started in January 2015 by a group of Laurens residents who wanted to help veterans.
One of its board members is Vani Ahlers, a local business owner.
“Our mission is to engage 99 counties to have an annual fundraiser that will go towards benefitting an Iowa veteran,” Ahlers said.
In 2015, the 5013(c) group raised $15,000 for the Fisher House Foundation, which provides free housing to veterans and their families. That money also supported three veterans for the Brushy Creek Area Honor Flight.
Last year, $20,000 was raised for the Puppy Jake Foundation, which trains service dogs for veterans.
This year, Ahlers said Rally 4 Veterans wants to get to the “heart of Iowa.”
“We want to work with the counties working for us,” she said. “The three veterans from the Honor Flight were from counties that supported us.”
As of now, six counties are supported by Rally 4 Veterans. Ahlers said she wants to expand it to all 99 counties in the state.
She has reached out to either the VFW or Amvets in every county to find a veteran that needs assistance they aren’t receiving.
“Let’s say a veteran needs a ramp of some sort,” she said. “We would try to go to the places in that town that sell that type of equipment to build that and see what kind of deal they would give us.”
Rally 4 Veterans members also help the volunteers out.
Once they find what the veterans need, Ahlers said the group will set its fundraising goal for the year.
“We will help a veteran in each county as far as our funds will take us,” she said. “And in 2018 we want to continue with other counties coming on board.”
She would love to see Rally 4 Veterans expand to other states as well.
“It would be a neat thing because it’s bringing counties within your state together to help one another for common good,” Ahlers said.
Those interested in helping Rally 4 Veterans should check out the group’s Facebook page.