The chance meeting between Alison Simpson and Cammy Hinkeldey in a cross walk led to a community-wide effort to make Spencer a selected Blue Zones Demonstration Site. Simpson and Hinkeldey's hard work, along with the community's can-do spirit, paid off when the city was the smallest of four Iowa locations selected to participate in the state's pilot project on May 4. Several Spencer businesses have since completed the steps to earn Blue Zones Worksite designations. Designed to help Iowans live healthier, longer and more productive lives, a kick-off event brought Blue Zones author Dan Buettner and community design expert Dan Burden to town and packed the Clay County Regional Events Center for an evening of Blue Zones fun Nov. 29.
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Spencer will be a Blue Zones Demonstration Site.
That announcement came at a special event conducted in Des Moines Friday (May 2012) morning.
Approximately 30 representatives of Spencer's Blue Crew departed from the Spencer Schools Administration Building at 4:30 a.m. to take part in the official announcement.
Spencer was among the four communities, chosen from 11 designated finalists, to become the first Iowa Demonstration Sites. Other communities selected include Cedar Falls, Mason City and Waterloo.
"I knew in my heart that we had earned the finalist designation, and I was so thrilled that the Blue Zones Project Team agreed," Alison Simpson, who teamed with Cammy Hinkeldey to lead the Blue Crew charge in Spencer, said.
"It has been a long process, and the Blue Crew was really ready to find out the end result of lots of hard work. It was a bit of a torture test trying to keep the news confidential for a week, and we are so excited to get the word out to the public so that we can move forward," Simpson added.
Hinkeldey credited the community support as a key to earning the distinction.
"Certainly our high citizen participation and the grass roots effort spoke volumes. The citizen response and participation in Spencer's efforts in becoming a Blue Zones Demonstration Site crossed all generations."
Dan Buettner, founder of the Blue Zones Project, agreed. Buettner said the city overcame the fact that it was the smallest of communities, in terms of population, to be competing for the designation.
"They have outsized enthusiasm," Buettner said Friday morning. "They have the biggest contingent here. ... We have Waterloo, Cedar Falls, but yet they have three times as many people, which I think represents the bigger profile of the city. People who have internal will. Internal enthusiasm."
He continued, "What put Spencer on my psychic map first was Katie Simpson and that video she did on You Tube, which was a huge hit. Instantly we started paying attention."
Buettner joined Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield chairman and CEO John Forsyth and Healthways President and CEO Ben Leedle Jr. at the announcement celebration.
"One of the things that Mary Lawyer, Iowa Blue Zones Project director, said when she called was that it was apparent at the site visit that Spencer was truly motivated and had so much support surrounding the initiatives that embody the Blue Zones Project," Simpson said. "She also mentioned that the grassroots effort truly set Spencer apart from the other communities."
Hinkeldey commented: "Certainly our high citizen participation and the grass roots effort spoke volumes. The citizen response and participation in Spencer's efforts in becoming a Blue Zones Demonstration Site crossed all generations. ... It goes to show that when we work together as a community and utilize our resources to their fullest potential, we can 'get the job done' - and that's what Spencer citizens do best."
Spencer Blue Crew representatives will be meeting with Lawyer on Monday to begin planning the next steps.
Healthways and the Blue Zones Project team from Des Moines are working to hire staff for each community, and interviews will be conducted on Monday. Once people are in place, there will be some training sessions, and the exciting part will be to start putting Spencer's plan together. Once that is accomplished, there will be a big community celebration to really kick start Spencer's effort to become a certified Blue Zones Community.
"Lots of preparation has already been accomplished, but the real work is only just beginning," Simpson said.