I moved to the area known as the “Iowa Great Lakes” in 1992. I was 27 and beginning my 5th year as a high school social studies teacher and coach. I had started my teaching career at my alma mater, moving on after two years there. Though going back to my old high school as a young teacher had definitely expanded my perspective already, I sought new experiences in less familiar places.
I spent the next two years at a small consolidated school in east central Iowa, living in Brooklyn and working at BGM. I met wonderful people there; both students I taught and coached as well as adults I worked with. It was small town life and I appreciated it, but I also was looking for more opportunities socially.
I took a job at Spencer High School, in a community of about 10,000 people. It was the largest community I had lived in, other than my college days at UNI in Cedar Falls, Iowa. It was just miles down the road from lakes with names like East and West Okoboji and Big and Little Spirit, and communities with names like Milford, Arnold’s Park, Okoboji and Spirit Lake.
I arrived in Spencer and the Great Lakes region three years sober. I had connected, but mainly superficially, with other people in recovery. I wasn’t drinking, but my recovery was tenuous. The void once filled with alcohol was now filled with work. Things needed to change and my new home was a fresh start.
Work was still demanding, but I was also making new friends. I got more involved in the local recovery community, especially with people I was meeting in the Lakes region. Recovery blossomed in vital ways. My job was no longer all-consuming and I was making real progress getting more comfortable in my own skin.
I went to substance abuse counseling and came to terms with some difficult emotions that had held me captive.
My social life picked up and often included time with friends in and around Okoboji.
I saw concerts at Arnold’s Park, including favorites I had grown up with like Kansas, REO Speedwagon, .38 Special, and Pat Benatar.
I fell in love for the first time at 30, or at least with the idea of being in love. It didn’t work out with him, but it sure boosted my self-confidence and hope in an area where it had been sorely lacking.
The gratitude practice that remains integral to my overall wellness took root in Okoboji.
I started graduate school in the summer of 1997 at Buena Vista University. Some classes were in the Lakes area, as were some of my classmates.
I met my husband Darcy in November of 1997 at Village West, named for its location on West Okoboji Lake. We shared our first kiss a few weeks later on the deck of my friend Terrie’s house across the lake from where we met.
Things quickly fell into place by the summer of 1998, and Darcy and I got married. I moved to Sioux Falls, SD, beginning married life and my career in school counseling.
The six years I spent living in Spencer and near Okoboji were pivotal in my life. I embraced recovery and healthy habits with full faith for the first time. Wonderful and exciting doors opened up. I will never forget the windows on life that those six years allowed me, forever changing my perceptions of self and my potential.
Some of my Okoboji attire has long since worn out, but I have hung onto this sweatshirt, which I bought when I arrived in 1992.
Darcy bought the sign in the picture a few years later when we were back visiting. It usually hangs in our kitchen above the sink, a happy reminder of where we met. And also a happy reminder of a truly transformative time in my life.