Mt Pleasant News
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Wash Journal   Fairfield Ledger
Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 20, 2018

Melinda Huisinga honored as one of KCRG’s ‘9 Who Care’

Feb 27, 2018
Photo by: Submitted Melinda and Al Huisinga stand with their two grandchildren at the “9 Who Care” banquet on Saturday, Feb. 24, at the Kirkwood Hotel. Melinda was honored as one of the nine recipients for her service at Old Threshers and her dedication to Mt. Pleasant.

By Grace King, Mt. Pleasant News

 

Melinda Huisinga was born the same year as the first Old Threshers Reunion. Not only has she attended almost every Reunion since, but she has volunteered with Old Threshers most of her life, serving more than 2,000 hours since she and her husband, Al Huisinga, relocated back to Mt. Pleasant after retiring in 2009.

Although Melinda has volunteered with countless organizations in the community and continues to serve in leadership roles, it is her dedication to Old Threshers that earned her spot as a finalist for KCRG-TV9’s “9 Who Care” program, which celebrates people who have completed outstanding public service in Eastern Iowa.

Nominated by her good friend Mary Elgar, Melinda was unaware of the honor until she received an email mid-December congratulating her on being selected as one of the nine recipients.

“I am very honored, very humbled by it all,” Melinda said. “You really are humbled when you get in a room with the other eight nominees and find out all the incredible things they are doing in their communities. It is really a very uplifting and inspiring evening.”

Melinda is believed to be the first resident of Mt. Pleasant to receive this award. The News reached out to KCRG to confirm, and they said that the program is 20 years old and their records only go back to 2014.

The celebration took place Saturday, Feb. 24, at Kirkwood Hotel at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids. The meal was prepared and served by students in their Culinary Arts program.

At the ceremony, Melinda received a plaque and a gold medal from the Jefferson Awards Foundation, which she thinks is very fitting right after the Winter Olympic Games concluded. Melinda was also given $500 to donate to the charity of her choice, which was The Fellowship Cup.

Executive Director of The Fellowship Cup Ken Brown and his wife were also able to attend the “9 Who Care” celebration. Although he didn’t personally know Melinda before this, Brown said that he knew of the work she does at Old Threshers.

“I’m happy someone nominated her and excited that she thought about The Fellowship Cup,” Brown said, adding that it was an awesome night of hearing what other people are doing in their communities. He plans on using the donation for their Building Bridges and Getting Ahead programs.

“They’re investing in people and that’s what the money is going to go toward — to change lives,” Brown said.

In addition to being honored at “9 Who Care,” Melinda was featured as a finalist on KCRG-TV9. KCRG reporter Ethan Fickau visited with Melinda in January, a “one man show” with a camera, Melinda said.

Because he came on a “really nasty cold, sleet and snowy day,” Melinda wasn’t able to put together any school tours, which typically take place in May, to show Fickau. She did, however, hop on a steam engine to show him how it operates.

“I looked back in the scrapbooks, and my grandparents took me (to Old Threshers) as a toddler, and I’m riding steam engines then with my baby shoes on,” Melinda said. “So it started quite young. I could barely walk, but I was riding steam engines. For whatever reason, I was fascinated by them.”

Melinda and her husband, Al, purchased their first steam engine when their son passed away unexpectedly when he was 21-years-old. Their son Chad was just as passionate about steam engines as Melinda, going to steam school when he was in junior high and running the engines throughout his high school and college years.

“We purchased our first steam engine in his memory and wanted to carry on his love of it as well,” Melinda said. That’s why the Huisinga’s are involved in Old Threshers school tours and steam school. “We’re trying to instill that interest so the traditions carry on at Old Threshers,” she said.

Not only does Melinda volunteer with the Old Threshers Reunion and various service projects throughout the year, six years ago, she and Al helped start Festival of Lights, the holiday light display on the Old Thresher’s grounds every year.

Growing up in Mt. Pleasant, Melinda remembered many people in the community getting in their cars and taking country roads to Yarmouth every year to see a light’s display put up by two farmers. She kept that tradition when her children would come home for Christmas, and she wanted to bring that tradition back to Mt. Pleasant.

“It’s been fun to see Festival of Lights grow each year, be successful, stand on its own,” Melinda said. “Four thousand vehicles came through this year. That’s pretty good for a community our size.”

Another big project Melinda undertook was starting a tourism booth for Mt. Pleasant at the Iowa State Fair. She said she loves the State Fair almost as much as she loves Midwest Old Threshers and never misses it.

Over the years, she’s noticed that 16 private colleges and universities from Iowa are present at the fair, trying to recruit students. Noticing that Iowa Wesleyan University (IW) wasn’t represented, she went to them and said, “You need to be at the Iowa State Fair handing out your information along with your 16 competitors.”

That was three years ago. Now, Midwest Old Threshers, The Mt. Pleasant Area Chamber-Alliance, The City of Mt. Pleasant and IW combine their resources to volunteer for 11 days from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

“It takes the whole community to work together,” Melinda said.

Melinda believes that, aside from the people and their willingness to volunteer and get involved in the community, there are two things that make Mt. Pleasant unique: IW and Midwest Old Threshers.

“The two together bring a lot to this economy,” Melinda said.

Melinda recently finished up a two-year term on the Mt. Pleasant Community School Board and is active in P.E.O. and T.T.T. Melinda and Al also just joined the Chamber as ambassadors, attending ribbon cutting events and Alive After Five.

Although she initially said that she has plenty to do right now without starting something new, she then added that she joined a committee to pursue the outdoor pickle ball court project at Mt. Pleasant Middle School, which is an effort to replace the dilapidated tennis courts for newly-popular pickle ball courts.

“I am a pickle ball enthusiast,” Melinda said in an email to The News. “We were first introduced to it when we spent our first winter in retirement in Arizona in 2009. Al then purchased the first three nets and equipment for The Rec Center so we could get it started here in Mt. Pleasant.”

Melinda doesn’t know what drives her tireless volunteering, but said she guesses she would be bored if she didn’t keep busy. “I don’t sit much,” she said.

“She’s like the Energizer Bunny,” Al said. “Just to get out and do these projects energizes her. She believes in giving back to a community, wherever we are, and making it stronger.”

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