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Duffy returns to Belle Plaine as community development director

BP native looks at strengths and challenges for Belle Plaine



As the new executive director of the Belle Plaine Community Development Corporation, Jeanne Duffy has fond memories of growing up in Belle Plaine.

Now, after a 46-year absence, she’s returned from Arizona and is determined to help invigorate her childhood community. She was drawn back by a desire to again experience four seasons and her interest in grant funding the city received for downtown improvements. She began her new duties March 17.

“I hope to revive the energy that was here when I was a child,” Jeanne said in an interview last week. “There was nothing as exciting as Mom and Dad saying, ‘We’re going into town.’ It was natural to go store to store and have all the merchants call you by name and talk to you.”

Daughter of the late Max and Juanita Stanerson, Jeanne recognizes that times and people are different now, but she thinks Belle Plaine has great potential to become a vital area once again. She’s impressed with downtown revitalization efforts, as well as overall community improvements and enhancements championed by individuals and volunteer committees.

“I think its great the people have taken an interest here and have made so much happen already. I see so many people willing to look forward and be progressive in their thinking,” Jeanne stated.

Jeanne moved from her family’s rural Belle Plaine home to Cedar Rapids after she graduated from high school in 1961. After three years working in purchasing at Collins Radio, she and her roommate decided they were fed up with Iowa winters and headed to sunny, warm Arizona.

There, Jeanne was employed at Motorola’s government electronics plant and later as executive director of Scottsdale Focus, a non-profit group representing Scottsdale merchants and property owners. She coordinated a number of large activities, including an event for Sen. Barry Goldwater in 1993 and Super Bowl XXX related events that drew approximately 25,000 visitors to Tempe, AZ in 1996, as well as the Fiesta Bowl Art Walk.

With degrees in general studies, marketing and a master’s degree in business, Jeanne is a certified grant writer and has worked as a realtor. Her last position was with a private foster care agency. She has a passion for foster care and worked with foster children, recruited foster parents and found adoptive homes for qualifying children.

Jeanne believes progressive-thinking citizens who love their community are Belle Plaine’s greatest strengths.

“I’ve heard so many times how proud people are of their town, and they wouldn’t live anywhere else,” she stated.

Among the city’s biggest challenges are inadequate downtown parking and a number of poorly maintained residential properties, as well as the condition of some Main Street buildings, the new director said. She also sees a need for more rental properties and housing for the elderly.

Hopefully, grant funding will alleviate many of the problems in the business district.

“I would like to be able to drive down Main Street and not see any broken bricks or peeling paint. I want that warmth that can come from the buildings, knowing they’re occupied, in good condition, and the community came together to make that happen,” she stated.

Jeanne has a heart for the young and believes a community must take care of its youth. She would like Belle Plaine to have an indoor facility where teens could buy sodas, hamburgers, hot dogs and ice cream, just as her generation did at The Mixer, a popular local teen spot of yesteryear. “A place to hang out where they’re monitored, yet they can bond,” she said.

Jeanne’s other community priorities include a hotel or motel and a good restaurant, which she believes should be a renovated Lincoln Café. She would like to contact owners of successful area restaurants to see if any would be interested in taking over the Lincoln Café.

Getting settled into her new position has kept Jeanne busy the last few weeks. She’s organized her office, met with merchants, made a presentation to Rotary and been to Des Moines twice for training with the Iowa Department of Economic Development and Main Street Iowa.

Belle Plaine residents have been very welcoming, Jeanne said. “I do appreciate their friendliness. I’m still in the mode where I really don’t look around a lot at people – I’m lost in thought – because that’s how you are in the big city. But all of a sudden I might catch a wave or look up and see somebody smiling and I think, ‘That kind of gift is priceless.’”

The mother of four grown daughters, two grandchildren and two adopted grandchildren in the Philippines awaiting completion of paper work to come to this country, Jeanne is getting settled in her rental home in Belle Plaine. She likes working outside and looks forward to warmer weather. Her other interests include motorcycling, NASCAR and Indy racing, monster trucks and watching ice hockey.

Jeanne welcomes the public to visit her at the Belle Plaine Community Development Corporation office at 826 12th St. She may be reached at (319) 434-6481. An open house for Jeanne will be held Thursday, April 8, at the Belle Plaine Community Center from 5 to 7:30 p.m.

UPDATED April 10, 2010 10:50 AM

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