Archive for March 2009

When the National Czech & Slovak Museum and Library in southwest Cedar Rapids went under water during the historic Flood of 2008, Gail Naughton, the organization’s president and CEO, was devastated.

But then she got to work.

Gail Naughton     President/CEO Czech & Slovak Museum and Library

Gail Naughton President/CEO Czech & Slovak Museum and Library

“When you have a crisis, you need a leader who will stand up and communicate,” she told attendees at the Beyond Rubies women’s conference March 19 at Kirkwood Community College. “You have to have a strong person in front and fight. It’s been my job to lead this charge to carry this story.”

The museum had a disaster plan and it was implemented once word came that the nearby Cedar River would likely leave its banks. On June 10, 2008, furniture was moved and sandbags were placed around the immigrant home, one of five buildings owned by the museum.

The next day construction began on an earthen dam and critical library materials were removed. The museum sits more than 23 feet high and at that point workers and board members were cautious, but not worried, Naughton said.  The river was expected crest at 24 feet and Naughton was fairly confident the sandbags and levee would hold off flood waters.

Nobody could have predicted what happened overnight and Thursday, June 12 – the day of the epic surge. Pounding rain forced the Cedar well past the 24-foot stage and the river took over most of downtown, several residential areas and Czech Village.

The Gazette/The National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library in Cedar Rapids under several feet of water Friday, June 13, 2008.

The Gazette/The National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library in Cedar Rapids under several feet of water Friday, June 13, 2008.

Like most people, Naughton first saw the stunning image on television of the museum seemingly floating in the Cedar River.

“It rained all day; it was like the end of the world,” she said. “That was a pretty bad day.”

But unlike most stunned people watching TV, she had to compose herself and look toward the future.

“I called the staff and called a meeting to plan next steps,” she said “We needed to make the best decisions right away.”

The river crested at 31.3 feet on Friday, June 13, leaving 7 to 8 feet of water inside the National Museum. Naughton met that day with board members and put up a flood update page on the museum’s Web site so people from all over the world could find out what was happening. She also worked with media from the Czech Republic to get the word out.

“Before the water went down, we were working,” Naughton said. “Leadership is about stepping up, being visible and having the conviction to come out of it.”

They were allowed into building Tuesday, June 17, to assess the damage. A water line marked the pictures of the Homeland Exhibit. In the Petrie Gallery, the popular “1968” exhibit was destroyed. The force of the water was so strong, it actually bent a wall in half.

Outside, the scene was no better.

“Walking into Czech Village was like walking into a bomb site,” Naughton said.

The museum did have flood insurance for the library and artifacts collection. They were able to treat and handle artifacts immediately.

“We were more concerned to get to clean things than the damaged,” Naughton said. “The longer they sit in a wet building, the more we are concerned about mold.  We lost everything inside; the woodwork started to mold immediately, doors warped, the windows were gone.”

With all the damage and the long road ahead, there was never a question of whether or not to move forward.

“We knew instantly we would have to fight to save it,” Naughton said. “Once we had dealt with the immediate disaster, we had to keep our mission in mind and plan for the future.”

The Gazette/Petr Kolar (left) the Czech Republic's ambassador to the United States, surveys renovation progress at the National Czech & Slovak Museum and Library with president and CEO Gail Naughton on Oct. 29, 2008.

The Gazette/Petr Kolar (left) the Czech Republic's ambassador to the United States, surveys renovation progress at the National Czech & Slovak Museum and Library with president and CEO Gail Naughton on Oct. 29, 2008.

In July,  the board had an interim operating plan, which included setting up space at Lindale Mall. The board also worked with the city on a flood plan that included saving Czech Village and the museum.

“It’s a living plan, let me tell yak,” Naughton said. “There’s a lot still going on.”

Today, the main museum building is still gutted after being cleaned more than once. The heating and cooling systems have been restored enough to control the climate inside. Many of the artifacts and restored books are stored on wrapped pallets right under the chandelier in Grand Hall.

The main building will be repurposed for educational programming. “We are not going to able to do the same exhibitions as we did in the past because other museums won’t loan to us. It’s tainted,” Naughton said.

The total loss of the five buildings is between $8 million and $9 million. The price tag to come back is estimated at  $25 million.

“It’s a long, arduous, frustrating process,” Naughton said, “but we can’t afford not to save it.”

It would be easy to turn back and make everything the way it was, she said. But that would be a step back. “We need to take opportunities to make more out of this. I thought a couple of months ago that everything would be over and we would know more by now. The experience of this is something that will mark our lives and careers.”

To see The Gazette’s multimedia project about Czech Village’s recovery, go to

Today was as heartbreaking as any I’ve had in the 6 1/2 years I’ve been a parent. My son, Sage, has had his share of doctor’s appointments, therapy and difficult moments in the journey of being autistic and recently diagnosed with ADHD and anxiety.

He does have awkward social skills and tends to run from one place to another so quickly, you have to wonder what is going on that brilliant, yet busy, mind of his. But he is a sweetheart and loves all people without prejudice.

This morning when I saw his little neighbor friend outside, I told him to go out and play with him. After a long winter of being cooped up in the house, he was excited to see his friend again. Last fall the boy, who is probably 4 or 5 years old, and Sage were the best of buds.

But over the winter, the boy changed and Sage remained the same. His little friend is now buds with his older brother and his friend, who just last fall ignored him. Now it seems the threesome is a little too cool to play with Sage. Don’t get me wrong, I understand Sage can be difficult to play with as he tends to be in his own world sometimes.

But that does not make him devoid of feelings and the need for friendship. Each time Sage approached the boys today, they told him to go away. Even his best bud from last fall. Happy-go-lucky as he is, Sage went and rode his bike in the neighbor’s driveway.

I’m sure I am taking his rejection much worse than he is. I know this type of behavior is part of growing up, whether you are autistic or not, but I am worried that someday his cheerful spirit will be crushed. While the other boys have obviously changed, I hope Sage will not.

Here is a column my husband wrote about what is “normal” after he spoke to a class about Sage:

This week I had the pleasure of meeting Adriana Boettcher of Mount Vernon. I interviewed the 35-year-old single mother of two because she was named the Newspaper Association  of America’s adult Newspaper Carrier of the Year.

Adriana Boettcher

Adriana Boettcher

This is a national award and a certainly a great honor. Adriana is proud of the award but still seems a little bewildered that such a fuss was made over doing something she says anybody would have done in the same situation.

While on her early morning route in Mount Vernon, Adriana came across two elderly people in distress during winter 2007. These were separate occasions happening within a month of each other. She called 9-11 and stayed with the people until help arrived.  She then completed her route.

A customer on her route was concerned when his paper arrived later then usual. He called her to see if she was OK and she told him what had held her up. He nominated her for a state livesaving award, which she received last August, and her name was also put in consideration for other regional and national awards for newspaper carriers.

This is all flattering to Adriana, but her biggest reward is the way her young daughters are developing into model citizens. In 2000, Adriana began her paper route because it allowed her to spend more time during the day with her ailing parents and her daughters, who were then toddlers.

The time spent with her daughters, Catherine and Sarah, has paid off. One Christmas the girls donated their gift money to orphaned children. Another time they gave money given to them for a fun night out to local charitable organizations.

I, for one, would have a diffucult time getting up at 2:45 every morning to deliver papers until about 5:30 a.m. and then put in a full day. I struggle with the occasional night shift at The Gazette. 

I, along with the entire Gazette Communications organization, commend Adriana for her selfless dedication to her job, her family, and even to complete strangers.

To read more about Adriana’s lifesaving efforts while on her paper route, go to

Julia Theisen, co-owner of Body & Soul Wellness Center and Spa in Dubuque, opened the 2009 Beyond Rubies women’s conference this morning at Kirkwood Community College with a lively presentation:  “Seven Habits for Happiness.

Julia Theisen

Julia Theisen

The native of England who relocated to Dubuque with her husband, Scott, said everyone has a happiness set point which is determined by genetics (50 percent), circumstances (10 percent) and habits (40 percent).

Theisen said her adopted parents were leveled-headed but not overly optimistic. When she met her birth mother when she was 40, she realized that’s where she got spunk and positive attitude.

Here are several things that don’t create happiness:

  • Acquiring more material things.
  • Thinking “I’ll be happy when…”

A study shows 40 percent of people on Forbes list are not happy. And what about Oprah? She’s one of the richest women in the world but has struggled with unhappiness about her weight and other personal issues.

To sum up this point: No thing and no one can give you happiness. Learn to be happy from the inside out.

Happy Habit No. 1: Decide to be happy.

Practice being happy for no reason. Changes don’t have to be big ones; even if you focus on 1 hour of the day to be happy, it will change your life.

Exercise: Segment Intending

Close your eyes. Bring into awareness what you what like next hour together to be like. Then, you’re your shoulders and take a deep  breath. Be sure to let out a big “aahhh.”  

Happy Habit No. 2: Gratitude and appreciation

Gratitude = Relaxation. Being in a state of gratitude is best way to be in a state of relaxation. A study showed that nuns who were relaxed and happy lived 7 to 10 ½ years longer than their counterparts

 Exercise: Write down three blessings every day for three weeks and it should improve your positive mood for up to six months. Don’t think you have time? When you go to bed, think of three blessings rather than what all went wrong that day.

Need some help relaxing? Watch Brother David Steindl-Rast’s video:

Happy Habit No. 3: Pay attention to positive experiences.

We are genetically programmed to be negative to protect ourselves. In any given day, 80 percent of our thoughts are negative.  If you receive 100 positive comments and 1 negative one, you most likely will focus on the negative one.

Exercise:  Savor positive experiences and consciously pay attention to the good things in your life.  Set a goal each day to look for beauty in your world or signs of caring for you by others or good qualities within yourself.

Freeze frame technique (from the Institute of HeartMath): Close your eyes and concentrate on your breath. Imagine breathing through your heart . Think of a happy time and relive the experience in your body. Also will happen if dwell on negative things.

Happy Habit No. 4: Practice acceptance

Don’t believe everything you think, especially about yourself.  When you get a negative thought about yourself, ask if it is your evil inner critic at work or if it is true.

Exercise: Accept life as it is – stress occurs when we resist what is. Give that inner critic voice a name (Theisen calls hers Damien), say it to someone else ask yourself if you would speak to a child like that and then accept yourself as you are.

Happy Habit No. 5: Prioritize relationships

Those with solid social connections live longer than their counterparts. Since studies show we become the average of the five people we associate with the most, it’s wise to spend time with people you most want to be like.

Exercise: When somebody asks you to do something, say “thanks for asking, but that’s not going to work,” and walk away. Forget the excuses; they only leave the situation open for negotiation.

Happy Habit No. 6: Practice extreme self care

You may be a bit unpopular when you say no, but be firm, not wishy-washy. Increase your energy boosters and decrease energy leaks.

Exercise: Do something that makes you feel good, but nobody else notices such as polishing your nails. Choose practices to support your happiness and take time out to pray, meditate, sing and dance.

Happy Habit No. 7: Give of Yourself

What is it that makes you feel good and happy? Keep in mind, the more you give, the more you receive.

Exercise: Tune into your heartsong.

Happiness challenge: Give something to someone and don’t tell anybody about it.

On Thursday, I will be attending the annual “Beyond Rubies” Women’s Conference at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids.

I will taking my laptop and take my first crack at liveblogging. I’m not quite sure how I’m going to do it – whether it be short play-by-play reports of workshops as they happen or longer overviews after the workshops are done.

Either way, I am excited about going the conference and reporting on it. It is a two-day conference with a plethora of speakers and workshops. I am only attending Thursday’s session and obviously, can’t make it to all of the workshops.

That’s where you come in. If you are attending “Beyond Rubies” and would like to write about any of the workshops you’re attending, e-mail me at and I’ll post them on my blog. That way, we’ll have a more comprehensive report.

Here are the workshops I’m planning to attend and write about:

  • Seven Habits for Happiness: keynote speaker  Julia Theisen, owner, Body & Soul Wellness Center and Spa.
  • Surviving the Flood: One Woman’s Story: Gail Naughton, president, National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library
  • Personal Leadership Skills – Not Magic, Just Practice: keynote speaker Mary Kramer, U.S Ambassador to the Eastern Caribbean (ret.)
  • FOCUS – Making the Most Out of You!: Richard Dedor, Dedor Communications
  • OMG! I’m So Stressed!: Richard Dedor, Dedor Communications

What a crazy year it has been in the world of journalism. Newspapers all across the country are struggling; some are even shutting down.

My world has not been immune to this disruption. A year ago, my husband, Jeff, was relieved of his duties as editor and publisher of the weekly newspaper we created in 2005. It was done for “business decisions” (read philosophical differences).

When Jeff and I were all but thrown out of the building last year, the duties of carrying on the day-to-day operation were handed to our friend, Tom Lundvall. In the beginning of the business, Tom was our computer wizard. Eventually, Jeff hired him as sports editor and general reporter. He learned everything from scratch and did a tremendous job.

This week Tom was let go due to economic conditions. Jeff and I appreciate everything he did for us and wish him and his family the best in the future.

Here’s a tribute Jeff wrote to his former co-worker and forever friend:

So far, this March has been much more pleasant than last year’s, especially the weather. In 2008, I remember shoveling snow out of the driveway in the middle of March.

Orange placards have been placed on 16 properties in Vinton, deeming them unsafe and set for demolition.

Orange placards have been placed on 16 properties in Vinton, deeming them unsafe and set for demolition.

But Friday was perfect walking weather and so I headed down to the area in Vinton that was hit hard by last June’s flood. Something new had popped up on some of the most damaged homes since the last time I walked down there – orange placards declaring the properties were unsafe and slated for demolition.

These homes had been boarded up throughout the winter but the demolition signs really struck me, especially several on the corner of Third Street and Second Avenue.

Walls of sandbags failed to protect homes near the Cedar River in Vinton during the Flood of 2008.

Walls of sandbags failed to protect homes near the Cedar River in Vinton during the Flood of 2008.

When the floodwaters began to rise last year, I walked by the raging Cedar River and watched it overtake the fire station and creep toward downtown. After setting up 2-foot sandbag walls, the residents of the homes along Second Avenue sat on their porches and in lawn chairs and watched the efforts to protect the eventually doomed Benton County Enforcement Center across the street.   

By the next morning it was apparent any effort to protect anything in that area was for naught. National Guardsmen stood guard as driving rain made the floodwaters impossible to contain. Vinton’s electrical plant was knocked out and people were evacuated from their homes.


Zach Rogers tries to salvage items from his flood-damaged home in Vinton on Father's Day 2008.

I had been stranded at my parents’ house in Williamsburg for several days as the roads leading into Vinton either had been washed out or were impassable. I made it back by the weekend and went to survey the damage on Father’s Day. I spoke to Zach Rogers, who just five days earlier was one of those watching the activity, feeling fairly confident the sandbag wall would protect his home from any water.

The Rogers family had lived at 201 E. Third St. for eight years and loved their home. Zach knew the home was only several blocks from the river but had heard that during the great Flood of 1993, the water had only come up to the sidewalk.

Zach Rogers' home at 201 E. Third St., Vinton, is now slated for demolition.

Zach Rogers' home at 201 E. Third St., Vinton, is now slated for demolition.

The Flood of 2008 would not be so gentle. The water ravished their basement and crept up the first floor. Zach said they got a lot of their belongings upstairs, but not enough. One of the casualties was the Rogers’ wedding pictures.

As I asked Zach questions, took pictures and looked around their house coated with mud, his wife, Michelle, told me to be careful and jokingly said she hoped workers’ comp would cover my trashed shoes. Here she was, cleaning out her destroyed belongings and she was worried about my shoes.

John Haines spends his Father's Day 200 trudging through the muck the flood left in his home in Vinton.

John Haines spends his Father's Day 2008 trudging through the muck the flood left in his home in Vinton.

Next door, John Haines was also trudging through the mud that took over his home, trying to find anything salvageable. He also moved valuable items to the second floor but lost everything, including stored treasures, in the basement. He had been trying to sell his home for three months, trying to find a larger place for him and his children. At one point in the week, the for-sale sign in the yard was underwater.

He told me the neighborhood would stick together and make it through this. But the damage was too great. A few weeks ago, more than eight months after the flood, the city put up the placards, including on Rogers’ and Haines’ homes.

John Haines' home has been marked as unsafe.

John Haines' home has been marked as unsafe.

According to Vinton City Coordinator Andy Lent, there were 16 structures deemed structurally unsound and slated for demolition. The city council will consider bids at its meeting March 12 for the demolition.

Lent said 14 of the 16 are on a buyout plan through the city and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Once the homes are torn down, no other homes will be allowed to be built on the lots. The Vinton Parks and Recreation Department is working on a trail system that would turn the flood plain into trails and park land.  

The trails and parks will be a nice addition to the city, especially after the area and homes have sat empty and dilapidated for nearly a year. But it won’t replace all that these families lost when the Cedar River went into a rage one week in June 2008.

It was almost three years ago my son Sage was diagnosed with Pervasive Development Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified, which falls somewhere on the higher functioning end of the autism spectrum.

Sage learning how to walk at 20 months.

Sage learning how to walk at 20 months.

Then 3 ½ years old, Sage had always shown signs of developmental delays. He didn’t roll over or sit up the same time as other infants did, he couldn’t feed himself on his first birthday as his daycare-mates easily used forks and spoons to devour the cake I made, he didn’t walk until he was 20 months old and only said a few words by his second birthday.

By the time he was 3, it was evident his behavior was different than his peers and his social skills were awkward.  After a series of tests at University of Iowa Children’s Hospital, the doctors determined he had PDD-NOS. They said his case couldn’t be classified as Asperger’s because his speech was so delayed. This irritated me because what did they know about him or his speech after only a few hours?

Although I was in denial, I did agree to speech and occupational therapy. My husband, Jeff, has always been better equipped to handle Sage’s issues (he’ll be a great special education teacher once he complete his master’s degree this fall). It took quite a bit of persuasion from Jeff for me to agree to put Sage in special education preschool in 2007. In my mind, he was just a little behind and didn’t belong in that class.

But the individualized attention was good for him and now he is in kindergarten – on schedule. He is mainstreamed with several special education teachers working with him throughout the day. He is extremely intelligent – he has known his letters and numbers for some time now and can tell you the capital of any state. However, his inability to focus is detrimental to him and his classmates.

A couple of months ago we took him to our general practitioner for an evaluation. It is obvious to anyone that Sage has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. One of the most common treatments for ADHD is Ritalin, a stimulant. After three days and a minor increase in the dose, Sage became aggressive, hitting his head against the wall and taking swings at teachers and us. The Ritalin was stopped immediately.

Today, at the referral of our general practitioner, we took Sage to a child psychiatrist for further evaluation. Doctor appointments or any activity that requires waiting are always a challenge because of Sage’s hyperactivity. He is usually the loudest, most active child in the room and today was no different. I do get tired of the perceived dirty looks but I realize I’m probably more sensitive to it than I need to be.

Once in the doctor’s office (yes, there was a black leather couch), I was still tense about Sage bouncing off the walls and touching everything. He was in full throttle, which was good for observation. The doctor asked us questions and watched Sage play. At one point, Sage stopped what he was doing and realized we were talking about him. The look on his face nearly broke my heart.  He may be autistic, be he is very sensitive and empathetic.

Sage playing piano at Grandmas at Christmas 2008.

Sage playing piano at Grandma's at Christmas 2008.

The doctor concluded that yes, he does have PDD-NOS and is still not verbal enough to have Asperger’s. He also has ADHD like we suspected. But because he also has anxiety, she said, stimulants like Ritalin have an undesired affect on him. She suggested Strattera for his ADHD. She also suggested eventually putting him on Prozac, an anti-depressant. Again, my heart sank.  I have been diagnosed with clinical depression and have been on a form of Prozac for nearly 10 years. Did I do this to him? When I was pregnant, all I was hoping not to give him was my crazy curly hair. Now he has my anxiety?

We told her about Sage’s intelligence and his love for music, especially the piano. She could tell he is a funny, sweet young boy who, with continued therapy, has great potential.

With time he should develop more skills and learn to focus on pace with his peers. When I asked her about eventual independence, she said that wasn’t outside the realm of possibility. That was music to my ears.

A year ago in March my husband and I once again had the rug pulled out from under us.  Thinking he was entering a meeting to discuss printing options, my husband, Jeff, was told by his business partners that they had voted him out as publisher of the newspaper he and I created in our spare bedroom in 2005.

Our income was instantly cut in half (there is no severance when you get voted off the island), our stuff in the office was boxed up and the locks were changed. More significantly, we felt we had been betrayed by Jeff’s hometown. Again.

When we moved back to Iowa from Kansas in 2004, we thought we were instantly going to have a happy, peaceful life. I got my job at The Gazette and Jeff was offered the head coaching job of his hometown wrestling team, a post his father held some 35 years earlier. Jeff was substitute teaching, planning on finishing his certification.

Somewhere along the line, Jeff had the idea to start a weekly newspaper to take on the daily he had once worked at which had been stripped of its quality after a large media holding company bought it shortly after we moved to Kansas in 1997. He wanted to bring back quality journalism to his hometown and knew just how to do it.

We secured funding through a business partner and were on our way with a used Mac and a camera. The first issue came out June 1, 2005, and by August, there were more than 2,000 paid subscribers. By all accounts, it was a success story. Except for the revenue. People loved to read it but were somewhat wary to advertise in it. By Christmas, our business partner got fed up and wanted out.

We, rather accidentally, found new partners to buy out his shares and felt relieved it would live to see another day. As the money troubles continued, we were still convinced we could make a go of it. To top off the stress, Jeff was asked to step down from his wrestling coaching job due to a few impatient parents, assistant coaches and relentless fans. 

While subscriptions were steadily increasing, the paper continued to struggle as ad revenues couldn’t keep up with the competing shopper.  Jeff was told he didn’t do enough and didn’t care enough. I was struggling at my job at The Gazette as well. Our son’s special needs took their toll and we quickly realized this wasn’t the dream life we had anticipated.

When Jeff was released from his duties at the paper and our opinions were rendered worthless, we were devastated and had enough.  First the wrestling job, now this. He decided to give up journalism for good and enrolled in a program to get his master’s degree in special education. Because our trip back home wasn’t what we expected, we made plans to move back to Kansas once he finished his degree. He was in contact with the school district down there and I was in contact with my former newspaper company. In May we took a trip to look at houses and continued to plan our move.

Then, in July, something happened to both of us. On the same night, I went to the “Moving Home” performance at Brucemore and he went to a regional softball game. I was touched by the program which documented the epic flood in Cedar Rapids and the determination of the community to recover. He was touched by his softball team’s determination, only to fall one game short of going to state.

When we both got home, we had the same thing on our minds. What if we try to make it work here? Would we really be happier moving our son away from his friends and family? We were disappointed and hurt by a few people here, not everyone. So that night in July we changed our mindset and decided to stay.

Jeff is now the swimming coach and loves it. We have no regrets about completely ending our involvement with our former paper, especially through the recession. And while things at The Gazette have been trying lately with layoffs and reorganization, I’m glad I stuck it out.

Nothing is life is ever guaranteed, but I’m pretty sure in a year we’ll still be here in Iowa and finally peaceful and happy.

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