Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

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

The night before Election Day my husband came to bed and said, “This night eight years ago we had a beautiful house we loved, we both had good, stable jobs and we were happy.” In a sense, with the exception of our son who was born in 2002, we had it all in November 2000.

Brian Ray/The Gazette                                                                       President Barack Obama
Brian Ray/The Gazette President Barack Obama


Fast forward to November 2008 and we lived in a house half the size which we owe more than its value, we both had our share of employment ups and downs, and we continued to struggle financially as my husband pursues his masters degree in special education after being thrown out the businesses he started. Were we still happy? Let’s just say we’re happy we survived the past years with our marriage and sanity still intact.

The 2008 election provided us, as well as many Americans, a sense of hope and renewal. Barack Obama’s overwhelming win was a stark contrast to the drawn-out 2000 election which was ultimately decided by the Supreme Court. The sense of unity that our new President instructed us to have just didn’t seem natural.

Now I am not naïve or irresponsible enough to blame all of my maladies of the past eight years on the Bush administration. He didn’t cause my health problems or the changes in the newspaper industry. And I am of the belief that 9/11 would have happened when it did no matter who was President. As an American, I thank the Bush administration for the security it has provided us at home since that horrible day.   

But it is time for a change – in leadership and attitude. Throughout the primary season, Barack Obama was not my first choice. I thought he was too young and inexperienced and the “Yes We Can” chant seemed like transparent propaganda.  It wasn’t until the Democratic National Convention that I finally changed my mind and believed our country could thrive under his leadership.

Let’s face it – our country is a mess right now. With a tanked economy, drawn-out wars and a deterioration of the middle class, it’s not going to be a quick or easy fix. President Obama knows that and, hopefully, the American people will be patient.

Watching the inauguration, I got the feeling the tide is turning. Not just because of a new administration, but because of the reaction and attitude of the people. The emotion was evident on the faces of people of all races and age. We are ready to stand together and work hard to get our country back to its greatness.    

For everyone…who’s ever has been counted out but refused to be knocked out, and for everyone who has stumbled but stood right back up and for everyone who works hard and never gives up, this one’s for you.

Hillary Clinton’s speech after winning Ohio primary, March 4, 2008

Kurt Warner

Kurt Warner

 This very well could be Kurt Warner’s mantra as he has made another improbable comeback in his football career that has seen him go from discarded to glorified to forgotten and now on top of his game once again.

 Yes, I cheer for Kurt Warner because we went to the University of Northern Iowa at the same time, but I mainly cheer him on for his never-say-die attitude.  At the beginning of this NFL season, Warner was to be the backup quarterback of the Arizona Cardinals behind Heisman trophy winner and former Southern California star Matt Leinart. But Warner proved himself in the preseason and earned the starting spot.

 Now he has led the Cardinals, who are not known for their football prowess, to the Super Bowl. At 37 and considered washed-up before this season, this may be even sweeter than the two Super Bowls he led the St. Louis Rams to earlier this decade.

Since being the star quarterback at Regis High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in the late ’80s, Warner has had to prove himself every step of the way. He wasn’t always a starter at UNI (much to many fans’ dismay), but when he finally did start, he was allowed to showcase his talent.

The rest of his storybook career is cemented in history. He tried out for but failed to make the roster of the Green Bay Packers. To support his family, he worked as a stocker at Hy-Vee. He then turned heads while in the Arena Football League and landed a spot with the St. Louis Rams. When starting quarterback Trent Green was injured in a pre-season game in 1999, Warner was given a shot as a starter. What was to be a promising season for the Rams, was certainly over with this nobody QB.   

But, again, when given the chance, Warner rose to the occasion and stunned the football world with his performance which led him to the Most Valuable Player award and a Super Bowl championship. Sports stars are supposed to come from big, fancy schools and be drafted into the pros with pomp and circumstance. They typically aren’t nice guys from a small school who weren’t given a real chance until they were 28.

That type of perseverance gives the rest of us hope that we too can work hard, improve our skills and finally get noticed. As somebody who went to that same small school as Kurt Warner, I can relate with him. I didn’t get my college degree in journalism and didn’t work at large daily newspapers before I came to The Gazette. But with perseverance I have stuck with my career and plan to keep up with the new and exiciting changes ahead.

Thanks, Kurt. And good luck in the Super Bowl.

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