"River Chicks" honor Friest and her commitment to rural Iowa

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The tenacious "River Chicks" dedicated ten years of their time and talent to secure grant money for the completion of the Guttenberg South Marina and Marina Center project. From left are, Lora Friest, M.J. Smith, Dolores Fishback, Kathy Lake and the late Julie Zittergruen. (Photo submitted)

By Caroline Rosacker

She stood in the storm, and when the wind did not blow her way, she adjusted her sails...Elizabeth Edwards. 

The above quote is a perfect description of the women involved in Guttenberg's South Marina and Marina Center project. What started out as little more than an unsightly ditch eventually became the Mississippi River's gateway to Guttenberg's historic downtown business district and friendly, supportive community. 

A vision for the future

Guttenberg transplant Dolores Fishback was responsible for the vision that would eventually come to fruition. "I was originally from Missouri. My first impression when I entered Guttenberg was Wow! Guttenberg has a 'Wow' factor that many communities do not have," she noted. 

Fishback let very little time pass before she became involved with civic groups in the community. "I was involved in several groups that supported growth in the community. Mark Mueller, a community member and avid boater, approached me with his vision for a downtown marina. Together we envisioned a downtown marina – calling mariners off the river into downtown Guttenberg.  Our hope was to draw people off the river and into our beautiful German community," she shared. 

Fishback was tenacious in her quest. "Anytime there was an economic meeting anywhere – I was there," she said. She eventually ended up in the right place at the right time. "I was attending a meeting in Elkader and Karen Merrick encouraged me to introduce myself to Lora Friest," she recalled.

Lora Friest, a woman of faith and executive director of Northeast Iowa Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D), shared, "My process started before that. I was praying that God would lead me to those individuals that needed help. I asked Him to show me what to do." 

Friest spoke of the many challenges of her job. "Anybody that is working in a larger region understands the challenges involved in deciding what projects need the most attention. I was not aware that Karen Merrick knew me or knew my work, but as a result of her suggestion Dolores and I were introduced. In the short conversation we had, I knew I had found my next project," she said. 

The two women of faith quickly became friends as they shared their convictions and Fishback's vision for the south marina project. Friest told The Press, "One of the strengths I have been blessed with is the vision to see great projects. I brought the idea back to my   Northeast Iowa RC&D Board of Directors and they enthusiastically embraced the project." 

The River Chicks

As a result of that meeting "The River Chicks" were constituted. M.J. Smith, Director of Affiliate Foundations for the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque, listed its members. "I have great appreciation for the members of our small group. The late Julie Zittergruen, Kathy Lake, Dolores Fishback, Lora Friest and I worked together over ten years to see the marina project through to completion. We had additional assistance and support from city managers Tom Blake and Barry Dykhuizen, and Russell Loven who was mayor during the final stages of the project."

While the project took a decade to complete and was an uphill battle, Smith recalled, "We had to jump through many hoops. We needed approval for the project from federal, state, U.S. Army Corps and tribal authorities." Fishback lightheartedly questioned, "I looked up one time and asked God if He knew all these people owned His river."

"We had to relocate 400 mussels, which I am delighted to report are very happy in their current habitat," Smith said with a smile. 

Friest reported, "It was the largest project Northeast Iowa RC&D had ever worked on at the time. The vision was clear –  opportunity was strong – and God's hands were in all of it. At one point the project had to be re-pitched due to its lengthy nature." 

Smith noted, "The marina project became an umbrella for many other long-lasting projects in the downtown area beyond the capstone of the marina including starting the revitalization of Big Springs, completing the North Overlook restoration, Keep Iowa Beautiful plantings in the downtown area, new directional signs at Schiller Street and on Highway 52, kiosk platform signs for interpreting our natural resources, sidewalk improvements on the riverfront, and opening up the wetland trail just south of the marina."   

The City of Guttenberg was in the beginning stages of a sewer project. Smith related, "Because of the marina collaboration, the city was able to utilize our project as leverage for a grant to complete their sewer project. Funders seek out communities that are leaning in and investing in themselves. Our success was made possible because partners could plainly see we were doing the planning and committing the local resources to improve Guttenberg."

Wading through  bureaucracy

Federal and state grants can be difficult to manage. Each time the group met up with an obstacle they were also rewarded with many who advocated the project. Fishback commented, "I recall State Representative Roger Thomas handing me a stack of grant applications. I spent several hours shuffling though paperwork trying to secure grant money. We were stymied when we were awarded the final grant money." The group worked together with former city manager Barry Dykhuizen to secure a federal $800k grant to complete the project." 

Friest retires

Friest's retirement plans are yet to be determined. "I would like to write, and I look forward to spending more time with my family. I have been blessed with the opportunity to work with many amazing people all over the state. I honestly believe God is helping us. We need to listen as He shows us the way. He puts average people in amazing places. You can’t not try because you might fail, because if you never try you will fail. Just try and then leave the rest up to God,” 

she shared.

Friest humbly glossed over her many accomplishments. To date she has secured $300 million for projects in rural Iowa communities. “We are grateful for Lora’s passion for rural Iowa. We could not have completed our project without her leadership,” Smith and Fishback concluded.

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