Vandehaar honored for serving Perry’s community and economic growth

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Alan Vandehaar
Alan Vandehaar

Alan Vandehaar of Granger, rounding out his 29th year as a community and economic development specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach next week, was hosted — and roasted — Monday at a retirement reception at the Hotel Pattee in Perry.

Some dozen or 15 people gathered for light refreshments with Vandehaar, who has been a moving force since 2005 in the programs of the Town/Craft Center for Ideas and Strategies to Strengthen Small Communities.

Vandehaar has led projects and programs in biodiversity, food systems analysis, community redevelopment and many other topics.

Hometown Heritage Director Bill Clark arranged the reception for Vandehaar. As a dyed-in-the-wool Hawkeye fan, Clark was necessarily compelled to tease Vandehaar for his equally inveterate Cyclonism, with Hawkeye fan Butch Niebuhr piling on.

Overcoming their sectarian differences, Vandehaar, Clark and Niebuhr worked closely for more than 10 years in Perry, sharing and then carrying on Roberta Green Ahmanson’s vision of Perry as a center for town craft and heritage tourism, with the ISU College of Design, the Hotel Pattee and the Hometown Perry Iowa organization playing starring roles.

Vandehaar also made ISU Extension and Outreach a partner in the successful Bike Tourism Conference, now in its fourth year, which draws economic development specialists, urban and regional planners and bike trail enthusiasts from around Iowa and the Midwest to Perry for the daylong event.

The city of Perry and the Common Thread regional consortium are partners in the conference. The 2017 conference is planned for March 30.

Vandehaar was also feted Monday by his fellow laborers in the academic bureaucracy: Rosa Gonzalez, human sciences specialist in family life, Jon Wolseth, community development specialist in Latino community and business development and youth engagement, and Craig Hertel, regional extension education director for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Region 13, were among the well wishers at the reception who also shared stories.

Vandehaar took a master’s degree in urban planning from Iowa State University, and he brought real-world experience to his studies from his time directing chambers of commerce in Indianola and Hastings, Minn. He began his ISU career as a community and economic development specialist in Storm Lake in 1987.

He and his wife of many years, Donna Vandehaar, who is herself approaching retirement as longtime chief clinical officer at the Dallas County Hospital, said they intend to visit their grandchildren in New York as a start of their retirement adventures.

Vandehaar said his father used to ask him what he did for a living but would have a little trouble following his son’s answer after the first sentence or two and finally say, “That’s not a real job, my boy. When are you going to get a real job?”

The vitality of Perry’s economic and community life owes a debt to Vandehaar’s steady attention and care. His job duties might be hard to describe, but they have had very tangible effects in helping Perry avoid the decline seen in many rural communities.

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