Faces of the Chamber

Faces of the Chamber : Celebrating the stories of those who make Ottumwa extraordinary.

Over the last few months, we’ve been working with local freelance artist Isaac Campbell to create a photo series documenting a selection of Chamber members in Ottumwa. Each post will be accompanied by a quote, highlighting the unique stories of the people who work there. Our Chamber isn’t made up of buildings and storefronts, but by the PEOPLE who work so hard to cultivate a sense of community and pride in Ottumwa.

Starting tomorrow, we’ll release a new set of images from the series every Friday afternoon for the next 25 weeks, so be sure to like our page! We also hope you’ll join in this celebration by sharing these photographs on social media and commenting your own experiences with these great contributors to our community.

Double C - Cowboy Country

“This was my dream when I was young - to have a tack store. I’ll tell ya, when I was growing up in barrel racing, there wasn’t a leather breast collar to be found - you had to buy nylon. I always thought we needed a good leather shop. And so I’d go by this store and I was like ‘man that would be a great little place for a western store’ so I finally I stopped in when I saw the guy out mowing one day...I said ‘So you want to sell that building?’ and he was riding his lawn mower you know and he’s like ‘well I think my mom actually does want to sell it’...He shot me a price...So I came back with a counter offer and they thought about it a while and accepted it and so I was like ‘Well, I’m in business!’. It was funny because I had to sell my horse trailer to buy inventory; but it was worth it. It’s a pretty good feeling of accomplishment I think, that’s the big thing. You know, because you dream of it, and then eventually it happens; so it’s...a rewarding experience to own your own store.

- Chris Carnahan, Double C - Cowboy Country

Rhynas Jewelers

“I enjoy doing things with my hands - to turn that over to a computer, I think, is cheating. Anymore, the technology is there to do what’s known as computer aided design, or CAD, where things are done by the computer or the wax is carved by a computer. We’re more old school than that. From a young age, washing windows and cleaning sidewalks, oh, I just watched dad do his work. It’s kind of contagious to be around someone who has the skills to create jewelry from scratch. It’s kind of a rarity, even today to have those skills; most jewelers are actually just retailers. We’ve worked hard to cultivate those skills where we do our own wax work..actually we can make jewelry from sketches...from that to doing hand carving from wax and proceeding to make wax casting to finish, polish the pieces, and select and set gemstones. I learned a great deal from dad but he insisted we take professional training, not only in gemology but also in diamond studies...Judy is our certified gemologist with the American Gem Society and she is one of very few women in the state that have that title. We’ve got some gemstones you won’t find anywhere else in the state - it was my dad’s love, the colored stones. I have people coming in all the time, often times asking me ‘will my jewelry be sent away?’...we’re one of those few stores that do their own work right here. When you bring something in, it stays here. I’ll work on it myself or David will work on it. It stays here, and that’s comforting for people with sentimental pieces. It’s a wonderful business to be in..you get to meet people at the happiest times in their lives.”

- Kenneth Rhynas, Rhynas Jewelers

The Bridal Cottage

“I bought the business 14 years ago...My mom and I actually started it 28 years ago, we were in Bloomfield doing flowers and we got into doing bridal and then it became such a big business that we came to Ottumwa. I just did the bookwork from home and when my mom was ready to sell, I bought her out and took it over myself… I love everything about it. I love prom, I love the brides, I love everything about it. I love helping the customers, interacting with them; I love it when I help find the perfect dress. Everyone in the wedding party is just so happy and smiling..." - Kristie Durflinger, The Bridal Cottage

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M & J Art Gallery

“We were young pups; I was 24, he was 25, and we bit the bullet - that was 1984. We actually bought it in 85 but moved here [from Des Moines] in 84, and we’ve been doing it ever since. We’ve done it so long that most customers are our friends, you know? So it really is nice. And we’ve done it long enough that we know how to ask a lot of questions so that what we provide for them is what they want and need. The best teacher in the world is making mistakes right? Doing it. I’ve probably made every mistake in the book, you know! I think with most craftsmen they have learned by the school of hard knocks; I think you eventually figure out. The first few years I was just ravenous in terms of getting more information on how to do it better.

A lot the shadowboxes are pretty neat. When we do something for someone who is doing it memory of their dad or whatnot, and we put it together and the customer comes in to pick it up and you see tears of joy - those are pretty touching. We love selling artwork and it may be ‘worth a lot of money’ but to a family, where we have created a family heirloom, those are really special. To them, there’s no way to put a value on it.” - Bill & Chris Abigt, Mand JGallery

Donna's Gift Court

“I met my husband [in California]...he was in the navy out there and this was his home. We moved back here in 1963. I had children; I did JC Penney's decorating for years...I worked at their downtown JC Penney store - and then I went into real estate. I sold real estate for twenty some years...and did wedding flowers out of my basement and one day the kids said ‘mom, you should go into business’ - and so we opened a store and I’ve been doing it ever since. I love it. I’ve always been my own boss - except for when I worked for JC Penney. Even in real estate I was my own boss, and now here. It isn’t so much about being your own boss, it’s something I love to do. I love decorating. I love meeting the people - I always have.” - Donna Spurgeon, Donna's Gift Court

Elegance by Design

“I had gone to my aunt’s house and she was making jewelry; she had taken a class up at the Wisconsin Dells and I thought I could do it too. I started making jewelry at home and didn’t have an outlet to sell it, and so I just decided that Ottumwa needed another unique little boutique…With the improvements that the community was making on the facades and the efforts of Main Street, I thought that downtown would be an exciting place to be...this was a good move. It’s nice to own my own business because I have young children; when I need to leave and be with them, then I can do that. I’m not tacked down to a job that you can’t do those kinds of things and spend time with your family.” - Regenia Bradley, Elegance by Design

Jade Palace

“I tell all my employees the three things that represent us are: a clean atmosphere, friendly faces, and freshly cooked food...We cut our own vegetables, we cut our own meat, we peel our own shrimp, we put a lot of work into it. Freshness is a lot better for your body than frozen foods that need microwaved... I first have to thank my friend - her name is Yen-Ling Mulholland. I have another restaurant in Fort Madison with Chuong Garden…She knows how I like to run thing; she is an asset to Jade Palace. We are blessed to have her on the team. Yen-Ling has trained Stella on how to run the restaurant now - she’s a go getter.

This is pretty much like a family here. We have relatives that work for us and people who are in town - everyone fills in for each other. We want to respect everyone here, not just as a worker, but as the reason that we are successful….I know I could not be separated between the two restaurants because it takes so much hard work and time and heart - I have kids as well. There’s no point of running anything if you can’t spend time with your family. My son’s name is Jaden - yes, so that’s how we got the name Jade Palace” - Sharon Chuong, Jade Palace

The Stitch Doctor

“I wouldn’t make it without these girls. Tara has been in this business for almost 10 years now - she started with me in January of 2014 and then we moved over here [to Main Street] March 1 and we just keep growing. Tara’s forte is screen printing - since we’ve been here, we kept hearing more and more and more people asking ‘can you start doing screen printing?’...so I remodeled the upstairs just last year and that opened in August of 2015. Jennifer started with us as a graphic designer in July of 2015...without these girls, we wouldn’t be a business. We are a real team here. ” - Jackie King, The Stitch Doctor

Oak Meadow Delight Bed & Breakfast

“Marvin took me to a beautiful bed and breakfast in the Amanas for our first anniversary, 22 years ago. We have always gone to B&Bs - absolutely loved them...loved the hosts, the food, the atmosphere, and began thinking that someday that’s something we’d like to do. We are so blessed that God had us open it up, right here in Ottumwa, to bless our friends and family and it’s just a neat way to welcome people to the community.

Marvin and I - we love people. We just enjoy serving them and pampering them - making people feel special is a really neat thing to be able to do….sharing the experiences that we had in B&Bs and bringing them to our own city….We’re definitely partners in all this - I stay here and man it all day but he helps me in the morning and as soon as he gets home...We both get up; he gets going on breakfast and I’m getting the [dining] room ready - so we serve breakfast together and then he heads on to work, takes care of his Shelter Insurance office, comes home… takes care of all the beautiful landscaping. I always have a ‘Honey-Do’ list.

There’s just something about blessing other people - it blesses you...I am very excited to get up and have that honor of starting someone’s day off on a really good note. It’s exciting to see people thrilled about their breakfast, they are so happy about having such a great night sleep in the super comfy bed and just really happy to be here - that just blesses my socks off. And a cup of coffee really gets me going too.” - Marvin & Tracy Boyer, Oak Meadow Delight Bed & Breakfast

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