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Davis’s future is in preserving the past


Until five years ago, Vicki Davis’ husband was in the Army, and the couple and their two sons moved from place to place in the United States and abroad. While stationed in Germany, they often spent weekends exploring the countryside and visiting castles.

“That’s where I first developed my sense of history,” she said. “Today there is a trend in tourism toward the charm of history. The thing is, people often try to re-create history, instead of preserving it. To appreciate it and not let it go is most effective.”

Davis speaks sadly of visiting the historic district of some declining towns. There is often a beautiful courthouse and a little square, but the surrounding buildings are run-down or empty.

“You try to picture how it looked and felt in the thriving days,” Davis said. “In Valley Junction, we’re thriving, and we want to keep thriving.”

Upon leaving the Army, Davis’ husband took a job in Iowa. Davis, who had done a lot of volunteer work for churches, schools and community theaters, joined Main Street Osceola as program manager. More than four months ago, she took a job as director of the Historic Valley Junction Foundation. Valley Junction is another Main Street Iowa community. It is Davis’ job to lead beautification, historic preservation, business improvement, promotion and event organization efforts for the historic business district.

The Main Street concept was developed in 1977 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Washington, D.C. In 1980, the National Main Street Center was formed, and ever since it has worked with communities nationwide to preserve and revitalize historic commercial areas. In 1985, the Iowa Legislature approved the establishment of the Main Street Iowa program through the Iowa Department of Economic Development. The program now has 34 active communities, including Valley Junction, which joined in 1987.

The Historic Valley Junction Foundation has been key to the success of the district, according to the Main Street West Des Moines Web site. The foundation works with West Des Moines businesses to promote Valley Junction. It sends out information on the area and plans and sponsors events, such as the farmers market, Music in the Junction, Antique Jamboree, Spring Art Market, Fall Art Festival and a craft fair in June.

“It’s my life experiences that prepared me for the job,” Davis said. “I’ve lived in many communities and experienced many different cultures. I learned a lot about non-profit organizations and working with volunteers through my volunteer efforts. It was a natural progression.”

Davis says the Historic Valley Junction Foundation is a volunteer-driven organization led by a volunteer board, but the organization will have to change as volunteerism changes.

“So much of what we do here depends on volunteers’ time, energy and talents,” she said. “Volunteerism has changed as more families need two incomes and have busy kids, and as this has become more of a working society. As a result, we have to celebrate our volunteers and change the way we operate for their schedules.”

Some challenges lie on the horizon for Valley Junction, including Railroad Avenue closing for widening this summer and competition from Jordan Creek Town Center, though Davis says that is a matter of perception. West Des Moines, the company that will be reconstructing the road, local businesses and farmers market vendors are already meeting to work out the details of the road widening.

“We are going on with all our activities,” Davis said. “It’s still a great place to shop.”

She isn’t too worried about the competition from the new mall, either.

“We’re a tourist destination and a local shopping destination,” she said. “We just have to do what’s necessary to stay in the forefront of people’s minds. You come here for a different purpose than when you go to the mall. Our galleries, stores and businesses offer one-of-a-kind services and products you can’t get other places.”

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