Children’s book author and Nevada alumna, Lori (Early) Ferris, is a true Iowa native and "loves everything about the state." She also takes great pride in her country roots.
Growing up in rural Bradford, she moved to Nevada in sixth grade. "I graduated a year early from high school in 1987," Ferris said, "but celebrate reunions with the class of 1988."
Now 45, Ferris and her husband Scott live near New Virginia, which is located in south central Iowa. "My friends refer to it as ‘the middle of nowhere!’" Ferris said. They have five daughters, Katelynn, Brianna, Madelynn, Morgan and Madison.
Ferris is currently the regional director for 99Ways and focuses on after-school programming in south central Iowa, but over the years, she has worn many hats.
After high school, Ferris became a nurse, graduating from Mercy College of Nursing in Des Moines, and was a critical nurse for several years. When her youngest daughter was getting ready to enter kindergarten, Ferris took over a small retail store in historic Valley Junction called Heart of Iowa Market Place, which specializes in products that celebrate Iowa.
I love to do different things and encourage youngsters and adults to challenge themselves," Ferris said. "We are never too old to explore new things."
Ferris started exploring a new thing in 2008, when she started writing children’s books. She has written four published children’s books and a coloring book. Her children’s books follow the Iowa-based adventures of a colorful character named Pippy the Pig. A 40-page coloring and activity book is filled with fun facts about Iowa and gives children a chance to learn about the state. Sharing Iowa’s "bountiful attributes" through her books and classroom visits is one of Ferris’ greatest joys.
She sold her Valley Junction business in 2011, but that store continues to market Ferris’ books.
"I also have bought, renovated and sold three homes over the past couple of years," she said. "During the summer my family jokes that I am a professional mower. We live on 130 acres and I mow about eight acres."
Ferris continues to promote her books — in person and through her website, DiscoverIowa.com — while working for 99Ways throughout the year. "I love to stay busy," she said. "The nurse in me will never die. I still love to care for others."
Working with children, whether it’s sharing her books or working at an after-school program, is something that Ferris particularly loves. "I see such a great need in rural Iowa. Many kids are hungry and need more attention," she said. "When I spend time with a child and share words of encouragement and love, I also fill up my own heart."
Ferris has three daughters and two step-daughters. "Our two oldest girls are married and our middle daughter is getting married this fall. The two youngest girls are attending college in Des Moines," she said. "We are officially empty-nesters – and secretly admit we are loving it!"
Investing in children is what she loves to do. "My gift to our five girls is the offer to provide free childcare to the best of my ability when the grandkids start arriving," she said.
Ferris herself grew up with feelings of insecurity, and she tries to help children who may be feeling the same way. "I wore leg braces until I was 5 due to a congenital hip defect," she said. "Those insecurities of feeling different followed me through my school years and held me back. It wasn’t until I was much older that I finally started to like and appreciate who I am."
It wasn’t until she attended a high school reunion that she came to the realization that her perception differed from her classmates. "From that point on it was refreshing to let some of those distorted perceptions go," she said.
It’s important to help youngsters overcome false perceptions, Ferris said. "Too many years are wasted and too many life experiences go unlived. When I visit with schools and youngsters I enjoy sharing my story," she said.
Ferris has many fond memories of living in Nevada. "I loved music! I played the flute and was in band," she said. "My true love was singing in show choir with Mrs. Morrical!"
Her family’s house was by the fairgrounds, and it was always fun during fair time to go exploring. Scooping the loop was also a popular activity.
"Walking beans and detasseling corn every summer from age 12-18 taught me a lot. It should be a requirement for all Iowa kids!" she said.
Music teachers made a big impression on Ferris.
"My junior high chorus teacher, Mrs. Dodson, gave me my first solo and challenged me," she said. "My high school chorus teacher, Mrs. Morrical, was one of the most dedicated teachers I witnessed spending endless hours encouraging her students. It wasn’t until later in life I could look back and appreciate that type of dedication and passion. I was lucky to have many teachers over the years that encouraged me."
Ferris worked hard at getting good grades. "During my years in school I learned that you are responsible for your own successes — and failures for that matter," she said.
Her parents moved to northeast Iowa after she graduated, so Ferris doesn’t make it back to Nevada very often. But she still stays in contact with a few friends, including her old neighbors, Merv and Ilene Jennings. "Facebook has been a great way to stay connected to old friends and the community!" she said.
In recent years, Ferris has enjoyed flipping a few houses, and she continues to have her eyes open for her next "flipper."
"I love everything about being in the country and enjoying God’s perfect beauty that surrounds me each day," she said. "My current project is a yearling colt named Cooper."
Anything related to being outdoors, nature, animals and especially fishing in her ponds are her favorite pastimes. "I feel truly blessed to call myself an Iowan and enjoy every one of our seasons," she said.
Ferris encourages people step out of their comfort zones and challenge themselves to follow their dreams.
"We all have unique talents," she said. "I have worn many hats — mom, wife, nurse, business owner, author, publisher, speaker, house flipper, regional director … and even professional mower! But my story continues and I feel the best is yet to come. Who knows what blessing awaits around the next corner!"