WATERLOO — A celebratory winter spirit has descended on the Cedar Valley.
That spirit was brought by Santa Claus and his reindeer visiting Cedar Falls Friday night encased in a snow globe. Santa and Mrs. Claus then arrived Saturday in downtown Waterloo to help celebrate Small Business Saturday.
“Tonight is Santa’s big arrival,” Carol Lily, executive director of Cedar Falls Community Main Street, said Friday night. “Tonight is the night that the magic happens and Santa gets here and we get to kick off the season.”
Santa was certainly busy the weekend after Thanksgiving visiting children all around the area and tending to his workshops.
In preparation for the Claus’ arrival Cedar Falls kicked off Holiday Hoopla, and Main Street was packed with families as well as Christmas characters like the Grinch and Buddy the Elf.
Beach balls bounced through the crowd, and Main Street businesses kept their doors open late.
Crowds lined the street in damp weather, then followed Santa to the Main Street bridge for a fireworks show.
This is the 10th anniversary of Cedar Falls’ Holiday Hoopla. There was some rain, but spirits remained high.
Christmas music filled downtown as the crowd gathered.
The event is something for the children of Cedar Falls to remember when they grow up, Lily said.
“Plus it’s another way to remind people there are a lot of great things happening in our community downtown,” she said.
On Saturday, downtown Waterloo was bustling with shoppers and families attending Winter Wonder’Loo at the Black’s Building where Santa greeted children.
“Basically Christmas fun is happening today,” said Cindy Wells, Winter Wonder’Loo committee co-chair.
Craft tables were set up for children to use for free. Kids also could shop for gently used items for their families and have them gift wrapped by volunteers.
Across the street at Newton’s Park the festivities continued with a tree lighting at 6 p.m. along with Christmas music.
“We’ve had (the Wonder’Loo) for over 25 years, but it’s morphed from different things,” Wells said.
Several families have a tradition of attending both Holiday Hoopla and Winter Wonder’Loo.
Josh Verhagen was standing in line Friday night in Cedar Falls with his nephew, Anakin Seiger, 5, and his son, Mason Verhagen, 3, to ask Santa for Hot Wheels, crayons and Frank the Combine.
“We started coming down here about two or three years ago,” Verhagen said.
The events served as a lead-in for Small Business Saturday, which spotlights many downtown businesses in Cedar Falls and Waterloo.
“Its the first day for Shop Small Saturday,” Wells said. “That’s going to be going on every weekend until Christmas.”
Many small businesses saw steady crowds Saturday.
Miss Wonderful Vintage in Cedar Falls was packed with holiday shoppers.
“It has been phenomenal. I think it’s been our best Small Business Saturday yet,” said Ann Eastman, owner of Miss Wonderful. “We’re so appreciative of everyone that’s out shopping locally.”
In Cedar Falls, the downtown district offered swag bags to early customers Saturday.
Many newer businesses have benefited from the crowds, including Boujee Berries in Waterloo and Time Traveler, an antique store, in Cedar Falls.
Cindy Blow, owner of Time Travelers, opened in June and saw more than 100 customers in the early hours of Saturday.
Akisha Hill, owner of Boujee Berries, said sales were good Saturday. “It’s very helpful for the businesses because it draws in the customers down to this area,” she said.
She was almost out of strawberries by 2:30 p.m.
At least 80 volunteers helped make these events happen. In Cedar Falls at least 15 worked all year for the holiday festivals.
“This is all put on by volunteers. They work year-round to make this happen,” Lily said. “We want to thank them and our sponsors for making this happen.”
Lilly’s favorite part of the celebration is when Santa comes down Main Street.
“When we do the Magical March down Main Street and all the children see Santa for the first time there’s so much excitement in their faces,” Lily said. “The look on their faces, that makes all of the years worth of work worth it.”
WATERLOO — Bob Greenwood says Rabbi Sol Serber was his most constructive critic.
The late longtime leader of Sons of Jacob Synagogue would call the Waterloo pharmacist frequently.
During Greenwood’s years on the Waterloo City Council, Serber would urge Greenwood to improve his posture at televised council meetings so he looked poised and alert. Serber kept little turtle statues around his home, and urged Greenwood to follow their example and “stick his neck out” every once in a while.
Greenwood followed his mentor’s advice. Thirty years ago, Greenwood stuck his neck out when he left the pharmacy he’d been working at for a decade to run his own independent drug store.
Now, Greenwood’s done it again. He’s mentoring aspiring young independent pharmacists — not just the mechanics of filling prescriptions, but the nuts and bolts of running a business.
Over the last 18 months, he’s had pharmacy school graduates perform a one-year residency through the University of Iowa.
Greenwood’s first resident, Wartburg College and University of Iowa pharmacy school graduate Rob Nichols, now helps Greenwood mentor other young pharmacists.
Nichols, an Ottumwa native who played football at Wartburg, is working for Greenwood full-time and hopes to get his own independent pharmacy when the right opportunity presents itself. He also majored in business, and is saving for the day that can happen. With Greenwood, he’s also working with other fifth-year pharmacy and post-graduate students obtaining field experience.
Greenwood is trying to stem a decades-long decline in independent pharmacies by promoting entrepreneurship in the field. Nichols is one of his best examples of that effort.
“He’s surrounded himself with some of the best pharmacists around the state,” Greenwood said. “So he set himself up to be successful through hard work. And just paying attention. He knew who he had to meet. He was active in the student pharmacy programs both and Iowa and at the national level,” even starting a student chapter of the National Community Pharmacy Association in Iowa City.
“I would say in the last 15 years we probably lost 300 stores,” Greenwood said, where 850 independent pharmacies may have existed when he entered the field. He named at least a half-dozen independent pharmacies in Waterloo-Cedar Falls alone that no longer exist.
The University of Iowa started the pharmacy residency program. While Greenwood’s affiliation is a fairly recent development, over time he’s been very supportive. He’s hired about six to 10 graduates of that program.
Nichols said the program encourages talented students from Iowa “to stay in Iowa, and with that education, to understand the importance of giving back to the community.”
“We want to encourage entrepreneurship, ownership,” Greenwood said. “We have to train these (pharmacists) to backfill these rural communities,” Greenwood said. “Dyersville. Cherokee. Rural areas.”
Greenwood told of one instance in which a small-town pharmacist ready to retire searched five years to find a young qualified pharmacist interested in taking over his store.
Nichols said he decided to enter the pharmacy field late during his undergraduate education at Wartburg; He worked at Meyers Pharmacy in Waverly and became active in professional associations.
“I kind of fell in love with the profession,” Nichols said. “At that point I decided to pursue not only just being a pharmacy technician, but I wanted to pursue the path of being a pharmacist.” He worked as a technician during pharmacy school. He graduated from Wartburg in 2011.
Eventually, he was admitted to pharmacy school at Iowa.
“When I got on there I took on some leadership roles, kept me involved within the profession,” he said. He worked at a pharmacy in Denver operated by Greenwood.
Greenwood was president of the National Community Pharmacy Association at the time Nichols started a student chapter at Iowa. Nichols then worked with the university so Greenwood’s business would become an accredited site for the residency program, emphasizing pharmacy ownership.
“In pharmacy school, you learn everything there is to know about the medications. But in residency, you learn how to take care of people,” Nichols said.
He said his business background guided his decision to focus his residency on ownership.
“And having Bob as a mentor, learning the ins and outs of the business of running a pharmacy, managing a pharmacy, was just an added benefit of me being at this site for a residency,” Nichols said.
His residency concluded in June, and Greenwood hired him full time. He’s working with new pharmacists coming into the residency program at Greenwood.
He was one of just three African-Americans in his pharmacy class at Iowa, and pharmacy mentors who are minorities are rarer still, he said.
For his efforts, Greenwood and his business are receiving an Iowa Trailblazer award from the Coalition to Build a Better Community in Iowa, an organization created by local automobile executive Jeff Zaputil to recognize innovation and initiative in local entrepreneurship.
Greenwood “inspires others to take charge of their own destiny,” Zaputil said.
DES MOINES — Firefighters’ ever-expanding job duties are making it difficult for some departments to recruit and retain.
Long gone are the days firefighters sat around the firehouse waiting for fire calls only. Now firefighters deal with a wide array of crises, including health emergencies, natural disasters, hazardous chemical containment and myriad rescues.
“Obviously we still have the title of firefighter and fire department, but really the number of duties has expanded, and that’s pretty much nationwide, and it’s kind of come in phases over the last couple of decades,” said Cedar Rapids interim fire chief Greg Smith. “There’s a lot more duties than just sitting around waiting for a fire to happen.”
Those expanded duties have meant more calls.
Governing magazine reported in 2016, the last year for which data is available, fire departments in the United States responded to 35.3 million calls, which was more than three times as many as in 1981, even though the U.S. population increased by only 42 percent.
In the meantime, the number of fires departments responded to fell to less than half of the number in 1981. By 2016 fires made up less than 4 percent of all the calls to which fire departments responded, Governing reported.
“Our recruiting pamphlets for fire departments show people fighting fires in their bunker gear or pulling people out of vehicles,” Rogers (Ark.) Fire Chief Thomas Jenkins told Governing. “But the first thousand calls in a firefighter’s career may not involve any of those things. We save exponentially more people in emergency medical care. But we don’t do a good job educating people about what it is.”
The number of volunteer firefighters in the U.S. in 2011 dipped lower than it had been since the early 1980s, according to National Fire Protection Association data.
That number has increased since then, but not at the rate calls have increased — triple in past 30 years, according to the data.
Driving that dramatic increase in calls are the various types to which firefighters respond.
That has, in some places, made it more difficult for departments to recruit and keep firefighters.
“We have a very legitimate recruitment and retention problem for full-time fire departments. Almost every department is seeing a decrease in people testing and applying to be firefighters,” Jenkins told Governing.
Firefighters are just as likely to respond to a call for a health emergency like a heart attack or stroke as they are a fire. They also respond to spills at vehicle accidents, broken water pipes, natural gas leaks, hazardous materials, and in rare cases bomb threats or active shooter or terrorist incidents.
Firefighters also have become more involved in responding during severe weather incidents. Smith said the Cedar Rapids fire department was heavily involved in emergency response during the city’s severe flooding events in 2008 and 2016. During the 2008 flood, the department performed more than 400 boat rescues over roughly three days, Smith said.
And as opioid addiction has become a more severe public health issues, firefighters have found themselves responding to those incidents as well. Many departments now carry drugs designed to help individuals experiencing a severe health issue as the result of an opioid overdose.
Most of those expanded duties require additional training, adding another strain to departments and creating another challenge to recruitment and retention. The myriad certifications required to perform those duties require ongoing education and training.
“You have all of that type of stuff that you have to make sure you plan and prep for,” Smith said.
Other factors have made recruitment and retention challenging, according to the National Volunteer Fire Council: increased time demands, more rigorous training requirements and more two-income families whose members do not have time to serve as volunteer firefighters.
Not all departments are facing recruitment and retention challenges. In Cedar Rapids, for example, Smith said the number of individuals taking and passing the entrance examination has remained mostly steady in recent years, and the only drop in people passing likely can be attributed to newly approved and higher standards.
Smith said he believes that is partially thanks to a sort of family chain in fire departments in some Iowa communities.
“I surmise, and I don’t have any evidence to back this up, that a lot of people who test and apply to the fire department have come from fire departments where their parents are active on the volunteer fire service and got active this way,” Smith said, “and then they figured out, ‘Oh, I could make a living doing this.’”