That’s what friends are for

“Friends are the flowers in the garden of life,” is an old proverb that remains true today. We couldn’t get along without our friends to pitch in and help out from time to time.hiawathapic

Hiawatha residents know this, which is why the Friends of the Hiawatha Park and Friends of the Hiawatha Library groups were established.

Friends of the Library

The Friends of the Hiawatha Public Library is a volunteer organization dedicated to the support of the community’s library. Members include women and men who care about our community, provide access to information and technology, and encourage early childhood literacy

According to the Diana Flander, president of the Friends of the Library, the group raises funds for library activities not ordinarily covered under the library’s operating budget, such as child and adult programs

“Mary Mockler is our vice-president,” said Flander.  “Board members are Cindy Saur, Deb Leaming, Phyllis Jones, Erin Thomas, Jan Woods, and Nancy Anton-Jenson. Mary Mocklar serves as vice-president, Nina Lai is the treasurer, and Delaine Gall is the secretary.”

Flander said the main fundraiser is the group is the book sales.

“Phyllis Jones is in charge of the book sale room, where patrons can buy used books at inexpensive prices,” she said. “She has been doing an amazing job with the fundraising efforts,” said Flander.

Flander said she became involved with the Friends organization when Phyllis became sick.

“I could not believe all of the dedication she put into the upkeep and organization of not only books in the room, but also the books she sells online on our Friends Facebook page,” said Flander. “One of her finds was a Truman Capote signed 1st edition of “In Cold Blood” that generated over $400 in funds for the library.”

Some of the money raised by the Friends group goes to adult and children programs at the library, as well as library equipment, such as shelving and other items the board deems necessary.

“The librarians come to us with requests and the board votes how to spend the funds.”

The Friends of the Hiawatha Library will hold a fundraiser June 7 from 5-8 p.m. at Planet X, 4444 1st Ave NE, Cedar Rapids, next to Lindale Mall.

For $10, you have access to unlimited pizza and pop, mini golf, bumper cars, rock climbing, space ball, jumpshot, and an indoor playground. We will have balloon art, caricatures and face painting. And best of all, $5 of the ticket goes directly to the Hiawatha Library.

“Even if you do not have any little ones this is a good time to support the library and meet the board members,” said Flander. “We would love to meet you and listen to any ideas that you would like to see implemented at the library.”

Friends of the Hiawatha Library meets every third Tuesday of the month at 6:30 p.m., which is always open to the public.

“We are always looking for new board members and volunteers to help out with sales. Most of the board members have been on the board for many years now. I am very impressed with their level of dedication to this very important part of our community.”

Friends of the Park

The Friends of the Hiawatha Parks and Recreation’s main function is to raise funds to support the needs of the Hiawatha Park and Recreation Department, “above and beyond what the city budget can provide,” according to vice chair, Liz Neff.

“Funds for this group originated through the net proceeds generated during the 2004 Hiawatha RAGBRAI stop,” said Neff, who is the former recreation coordinator for Hiawatha and remains a volunteer with Friends of the Park.

“These funds continued to grow throughout the years with the creation of a much smaller version of RAGBRAI, called HiBRAI (Hiawatha Bike Ride Around Iowa), a 2-3 day bike ride across Iowa. In 2008, the Park and Recreation Director thought there would be a better way for these funds to support the department, and the idea of establishing a ‘Friends group’ or foundation was explored.”

Neff said in 2011, bylaws and articles of incorporation were submitted for the “Friends of Hiawatha Park and Recreation.”

“This started the process of becoming an incorporated nonprofit organization. It was at this time that an independent board was created, to make determinations regarding the support of the Hiawatha Park and Recreation department.”

Friends of the Park has grown to 20-25 members, but the group often asks for additional volunteers throughout the year for different events, according to Neff.

“You don’t have to be resident of Hiawatha…anyone can become a member.  If anyone is interested in being a member of this group, please contact the Hiawatha Park and Recreation department. Being a member of the group is a great way to be a part in providing support to your community.”

The group supports the Memorial Day Bike Rodeo, the 2015 Hiawatha RAGBRAI stop, HiBRAI, Movies in the Square, and Playing for Keeps, the group’s biggest fundraiser of the year.

“The purpose of Playing for Keeps is to raise funds for a new summer camp concept, called Adventure Camp,” said Neff. “This camp offered summer activities for children ages 5 – 12. This camp fills a need in the community for families at an affordable rate, and offers children the ability to do community service, go on field trips, and be active in the summer months. Since this program would not fit in the city budget, it was decided the camp would be fully supported by this external fund. It was at that point the funds had a reason to have an official designation.”

This is the 6th year for the fundraiser, which will be held at the Hiawatha Community Center Saturday, Oct. 24 from 6-9 p.m., and include food, music, and a silent auction.

“It has been very rewarding for me to see this group grow to what it is today.”



Woman’s desire to help others driven by own experiences

Losing a loved one can be one of the most difficult things anyone will ever have to go through. It may take months, even years, to fully come to terms with the loss.

Berlinda Owens is a Life Coach from Hiawatha, Iowa. (Photo by Cynthia Petersen)
Berlinda Owens is a Life Coach from Hiawatha, Iowa. (Photo by Cynthia Petersen)

However, there is someone who can help you turn that grief back into joy.

Berlinda Owens of Hiawatha, is a life coach, who specializes in helping people work through their loss, whether it is a loss of a relationship, career, or the death of a loved one, so they re-engage live with joy, a more meaningful life.

After graduating from Mount Mercy University in 2010 with a B.A. in Psychology, Berlinda said she realized she wanted to help others deal with the challenges of everyday life by becoming a life coach. She enrolled in The Life Purpose Institute and received her certifications in life and career coaching.

“People ask me all the time, what does a life coach do? Here in Iowa the profession is not well known, but in big cities like Chicago, the profession has become a household name.”

Berlinda said her desire to help people comes from the influence of the good and caring women in her life.

“I was born in a little town in Alabama, Panola, which was later changed to Aliceville,” she said. “We moved in with my grandparents after my parents divorced when I was 2, so my grandmother practically raised me. She was so kind and hospitable, that she would invite anyone in and put a plate of food in front of them. She had a love for God and a love for people. She was my rock.”

When Berlinda was 9, her mother remarried and moved to Cedar Rapids. Her stepfather was the assistant pastor of Gospel Tabernacle Church. She and her sisters grew up singing in the church, and when they weren’t in church, they were singing around the dinner table with their stepfather.

“My mother and I had a strained relationship when I was growing up,” she said. “I was short and overweight. I remember my mother saying, ‘Why can’t be more like your sisters?’ I felt like I had to be perfect.”

Though their relationship was sometimes difficult, Berlinda said her mother was a good woman, a replica of her grandmother.

“My mother was just like my grandmother, she loved people, too and had a powerful energy and lit up every room she walked into.”

Berlinda said her mom was very involved in the church, and would invite the college kids to their house on the weekend if they didn’t have any place to go.

“She would feed them, washed and pressed their hair, let them do their laundry. I was a little put-out because I felt like they were intruding, but I finally realized that she was caring for these kids. I still have people come up to me today and tell me how good my mom’s cooking was.”

Her mother also ran a daycare in their home, Stevens Daycare. “Her tagline was, ‘Rock around the clock’ because she would watch kids all around the clock, day and night. She would feed the parents and give the kids a bath, too, so all the parents had to do was take them home and put them to bed.”

Berlinda said her mom had suffered with health problems for quite a while, but it was extremely difficult for the whole family when she passed away last year.

“During the last six months of her life, I walked away from coaching, but I have no regrets,” she said. “I was able to spend quality, meaningful time with my mother and enjoy the time we had together.”

After she passed away, Berlinda went through a period of grief that had an effect on her own health. “I started trying to eat my pain away,” said Berlinda. “I was just eating to eat. I gained over 10 pounds, and finally went to the doctor for a check-up. My blood pressure had gotten high so that she wanted to put me on blood pressure medicine. I asked her what the alternative was, and told me to lose weight and reduce my sodium intake. I thought about my mother, and what she had gone through with her own health issues, what she would say. I became determined to lose the weight again, and I did. Three months later, I had lost enough that I didn’t have to take medicine.”

It was then that Berlinda realized that everyone who loses a relationship or a career grieves, and that everyone grieves in their own way. However, some people become stuck and need a little help. That’s where Berlinda comes in.

“When people grieve, they disengage themselves from their lives and are swallowed by their grief. I connect with them by sharing my own grief journey, giving them the skills and tools to help them move forward through their grief and find joy again.”

Berlinda said sometimes people just need a little help re-engaging their lives. She knows this from experience. Berlinda’s daughter was diagnosed with cancer when she was very young, and seven years ago, she and her husband, Ken, lost their jobs within two weeks of each other.  And if that wasn’t enough, her daughter, Jennelle was severely injured in a car accident a year before, and Berlinda underwent neurosurgery for a rupture disc between C5 & C6 six months prior to her mother died.

However, the painful experiences she has gone through has only made the desire to help others stronger.

“I’m building on what my grandmother and mother started,” she said.

Berlinda and Ken also have a son, Zach and two grandchildren.

When she isn’t busy with Life Coaching and spending time with her family and catering business with her retired husband, Berlinda serves as the Spiritual Care Director and Vice-president on the Board of Directors for His Hands Free Medical Clinic. She is the co-facilitator Grief Share at the New Covenant Bible Church, as well as a member of the Downtowners Watts of Talk, Toastmasters, and the International Coaching Federation.

“After my mother died, I remember feeling like I was only existing. It’s like I woke up. For the first time, I feel like I am really living.”

Little Free Libraries intention is to ‘take a book, leave a book’

Chris “C.J.” Flynn is a man of his word.

Chris and Jim Flynn install a Little Free Library in Hiawatha's Guthridge Park April 22. (Photo by Cynthia Petersen)
Chris and Jim Flynn install a Little Free Library in Hiawatha’s Guthridge Park April 22. (Photo by Cynthia Petersen)

The Hiawatha man spent the past year working on a plan to promote reading and literacy in the Hiawatha community. His hard work and determination is paying off.

A Little Free Library (LFL) is a wooden box that is filled with books. Members of the community can stop by and pick up a book to read. All that is asked is that they bring it back when they are done and perhaps place one in the box they would like to share.

Flynn said he first got the idea a few years ago when he was in Iowa City.

“I did some research and the more I learned about the LFL movement, the more passionate I became about wanting them here (in Hiawatha),” said Flynn.

Flynn said he sought the support of the Hiawatha Library Board and the Friends of the Hiawatha Library.  The idea was then submitted to the Hiawatha City Council and was approved to build fourLFLs.

The Little Free Library is ready to go.  (Photo by Cynthia Petersen)
The Little Free Library is ready to go. (Photo by Cynthia Petersen)

Creating them was solved through the generosity of the Makers at Makerspace, as well as a Hiawatha art teacher, who agreed to have a group of her 5th graders paint one, said Flynn.

“The director at the Artisans Sanctuary in Czech Village offered to have three of their local artists, Jennifer Ocken, Mary Swanson, and Carissa Starleaf, decorate the others and the whole project became a beneficial collaboration.”

The LFLs were installed April 22. Two were placed in Gutheridge Park; one near the 7th Ave. parking lot and the other near the 10th Ave. parking lot.  The third one was installed at Tucker Park near the parking lot by the splash pad.

Flynn said the fourth’s location has yet to be installed, and will be announced at a later date.

“I’ve been really excited about bringing LFLs to Hiawatha and I hope Hiawatha residents will enjoy them,” he said.  “Patrons at the Hiawatha Public Library have been asking when they will be available, so I think there are book lovers out there that are awaiting their arrival.”

Flynn said the Friends of the Hiawatha Library will initially supply the books and check the libraries periodically, but we hope the LFLs will eventually become self-sustaining and people will honor the “Take a book, leave a book” philosophy.

“Our LFLs will be registered with the national organization and will be added to a database and be accessible on their website,” said Flynn. “Hiawatha just might get a few more tourists looking for an LFL destination location.”

Flynn said up to 50 books can be stored in the LFL, depending on the size of the library.

The idea was first conceptualized by Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisc., who built a model of a one-room schoolhouse as a tribute to his mother, a former schoolteacher, who loved reading.

According to, Bol filled it with books and put it on a post in his front yard.  His neighbors and friends loved it.  He built several more and gave them away.  Each one had a sign that said “Free Books.”

Cedar Rapids and Marion already have LFLs in several locations, including NewBo Market and Lowe Park.

“I hope these LFLs enrich the lives of Hiawatha residents and visitors for years to come,” said Flynn

For more information about LFLs, go to

Hiawatha Today