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Valley Junction’s Unofficial Matriarch Is All Heart, Honored For Rebuilding Iowa Town

Valley Junction’s Unofficial Matriarch Is All Heart, Honored For Rebuilding Iowa Town

(Photo courtesy of Beth Dalbey)  

Betty Hill-Swander will tell you that as a single mother back in the 1970s, she wasn't trying to change the world, or even her little portion of Iowa. She was just trying to provide for her daughter, and her best idea was to buy up property in Valley Junction, then a downtrodden slice of West Des Moines.

But Hill-Swander is, perhaps, the unwitting matriarch of Valley Junction and more responsible than anyone for its turnaround, which Monday made it a Great American Street Award winner with four other communities.

She owns 13 properties in what is now a quaint, turn-of-the-century, charm-oozing shopping district, a compact, eclectic mix of 120 locally and independently owned art, boutique and specialty businesses. That’s down from 18 buildings she once owned – her idea of slowing down at 85 years old.

At one point, she recalls, folks teased they should rename Valley Junction “Hill-ville.”

“It’s to me a very cozy little town in a big city, just a charming little place where people can come down and walk from one shop to the next and just have a wonderful afternoon shopping and stopping into a restaurant to have a bite to eat,” Hill-Swander says.

Her heart swells at her beloved Valley Junction’s national compliment.

“I fell in love with it,” she says, “and that’s why I started buying property.”

Historic Valley Junction Foundation Director Jim Miller says the title of matriarch is deserved.

“Betty’s cool, one of a kind – all business, but all heart, too,” he says. “I truly do not believe we would be the retail specialty district that we are if not for Betty stepping in 40 years ago.” (more)

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Article by Beth Dalbey, Huffington Post | Read full article here

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