The West Liberty Chamber of Commerce presented three awards last week as part of their annual tribute to local businesses, unable for the second year in a row to host their annual awards banquet because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Director Stephanie Martin and President Kayla Stumpf handed out the trio of honors for Community Spirit, Resilient Business and Volunteer of the year. Liberty Dance Center claimed the Resilient Business Award, Jeff’s Market earned the Community Spirit Award Ron and Rhonda Jensen were named the Community Volunteers of the Year.
Martin said 2020 was a year of “so much hardship” for so many and “yet when we looked around us, we couldn’t have been prouder to watch our community pull together, unite, step up to the plate where needed and keep our businesses’ doors from being closed permanently and families needing help the means and guidance to keep going.”
Resilient Business Award
Cindy Padilla, the artistic director for the dance center, provided virtual lessons and, later, knocked down walls to provide more space in her studio for social distancing procedures to be put in place when students could go back to in person lessons. The business has been part of West Liberty life since 1994 and usually provides classes for up to 225 students annually from three-year-olds to high school seniors, although Padilla said classes were down about 25 percent this past year.
Martin praised the business, located at 325 North Calhoun Street, for “being creative to keep going” despite the pandemic.
Padilla said the award is a salute to the perseverance of the studio, having to create changes with the pandemic just to stay in business. “This has definitely been the most talented year we’ve ever had,” noting the studio invested in growing the business to accommodate students and abide for social distancing, adding more mirrors and more floor space.
The owner said they created small buckets for their younger dances to keep their props, taped off the floor to keep youths six feet apart and required students to wear masks.
Padilla said some of the students went the route of taking Zoom virtual classes after the business had to close in April and May of last year like many businesses, but said it’s all come together this Spring and she’s excited about hosting a May 14 dance recital for parents and the public.
“Oh my gosh – it’s been such a tough year,” said Padilla, who teaches dance along with Cami Jones and Alexis Wolfe at the studio.
“We never knew if we were going to be able to stay open another month. When we got going again, we started classes by Zoom and eventually in-studio classes,” Padilla said.
She said some parents “didn’t feel comfortable “ about in person classes and she had no problem providing virtual classes to keep up their skills. “Week by week, we were not knowing if we would still stay open or even be going to work. Being able to do it, it’s exciting. All the work we put in paid off.”
Community Spirit Award
Jeff’s Market earned the Community Spirit Award, stepping in with free lunches right away to feed local students until the school district was able to launch their lunch program last summer.
“They provided meals to those that needed it when they weren’t able to work and so much more,” said Martin. Accepting the honor for Jeff’s Market was store owner Aaron Thoma.
Volunteer of the Year
Ron and Rhonda Jensen were named the Volunteers of the Year by the Chamber.
“You will find these two almost always at the food pantry, running to pick up food, watering flowers downtown, working a blood drive and so much more,” said Martin of the couple.
The couple has lived in West Liberty all of their lives, both graduating from West Liberty High School. The couple lives on the family farm north of West Liberty, where they raised three children including Megan, Wade & Kirsten, also graduates of WLHS.
“We got involved with many of the school organizations while our kids were in school,” Rhonda Jensen said. Today, Rhonda is a member of the Aquarius Club and West Liberty’s 100 Women Who Care while Ron is a member of the West Liberty Lions Club and Muscatine Master Gardeners. The couple are also members of Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in West Liberty. Ron helps with watering the Chamber downtown plants during the summer while the couple also volunteers time at the historical Depot Museum.They help with the community blood drives as well.
“We have been involved with Voluntary Action Committee of West Liberty for many years,” said Rhonda Jensen, noting it’s been just in the last three years since their retirement, that the couple has become more involved with the West Liberty Food Pantry. Ron is currently the treasurer and the couples makes weekly/bi-weekly trips to RiverBend FoodBank in Davenport to pick up items for our local pantry
“We enjoy helping others,” the Jensens said, thanking the Chamber for acknowledging their volunteer efforts, while pointing out “there are many others who are deserving of this award.”
Martin said there were many other businesses and individuals that did “amazing things” as well that didn’t get honored and thanked residents for their involvement and investments into the community and local business.
Other members of the Chamber board include Kira Achen of West Liberty Foods, Mary Jo Lugo of Lugo's Gourment Popcorn & Lemonade, JJ Garcia of West Liberty State Bank, Carmela Lechuga of West Liberty State Bank, Cassie Rottink of Big Imprint, Kara Dennis of the West Liberty Community School District, Cassie Pluim of Liberty Communications and Mary Larson, of West Liberty Veterinary Clinic. Garcia served as president of the organization previously.
In an “overwhelming” second half performance, the host West Liberty High School boys’ varsity soccer team stunned their talented rival Columbus Junction Thursday, April 29, with a 10-0 mercy win at Memorial Field.
Coach Walton Ponce said his now team opened the game being “too slow with our ball movement,” although scoring three goals including a pair of scores in the first 10 minutes of action to help the Comets to their seventh win of the season in nine games and remaining unbeaten in Class 1A.
“We played with no urgency,” Ponce said of the first half, noting his staff asked the team to emphasize more on a quicker pace. “Combinations improved and opened up the game much more. The ball possession was even better in the 2nd half,” he said.
The coach pointed out ball movement has been a key to the team’s success, noting team passing was one of the Comet’s best assets two years ago when he first started coaching for West Liberty. He said although the team was known then for their ball movement, this year’s team “does it at a quicker pace and with the dangerous players in our attack, it makes us that more dangerous.”
One of those quick players is Jahsiah Galvan, a junior who opened up the game with a goal with just 2:30 gone, scoring his 20th of the season and leading all scorers in the state. Galvan would finish the night with three more goals, all coming in the second half, scoring the fourth, eighth and ninth of the game, the final coming at 12:43 on an assist by Juan Mateo after Ronald Guzman Lopez assisted on the eighth goal.
But Ponce put the spotlight on sophomore Juan Mateo, who scored three goals for the Comets including a pair in the first half to give West Liberty a 3-0 lead. The first goal came with just under 10 minutes gone in the game off an assist from Galvan before Mateo worked himself loose at 12:17 to rifle in another goal off a rebound.
The coach also praised the play of sophomore Diego Hernandez. A midfielder who the coach called “the base of our ball movement,” calling him “our pivot that gets the ball from side to side and is able to play balls into attacking space.”
Ponce said Hernandez’s “numbers aren’t relevant” but called him “one of the best players on this team.”
The West Liberty coach said Columbus Junction played up to expectations, giving the Comets their best game, but although he knew his team had the potential to win by the mercy rule, the Comets shined with an overwhelming second half.
The coach said the rivalry between the two schools, both with Latino backgrounds, has been a long history although West Liberty has dominated in recent meetings, winning 8-0 two years ago before taking a 2-0 win at substate.
West Liberty saw their fifth score come off the foot of junior Adrian Frausto on a penalty kick with 27:48 left in the second half while Joshua Mateo, a senior, scored two times in a row, the first coming with about 20 minutes left in the second half for the sixth Comet goal of the night off an assist by Galvan before he scored again about a minute later.
Juan Mateo put the icing on the cake for the Comets with the 10th score of the night, coming at 9:38 to end the game.
The coach said he’s pleased with the way his team is playing, noting there’s been improvement every week. “The objective is to play our best soccer every game that goes on and to peak that first week of June,” Ponce said.
The coach complimented the play of the back line, making things easy for goalie Ruben Meraz, a sophomore who didn’t have to make a big save in the game. He said Meraz plays a key role in helping the Comets keep possession, noting he is used wisely in resetting play. “We know that we can depend on him to make big stops when it matters,” Ponce said.
The Comets host Anamosa on Friday, May 14 at 6:30 p.m. before hosting Davenport North on Tuesday, May 18, beginning at 5 p.m.