A 2004 Nevada High School graduate says the most important lesson she took away from growing up in Nevada, Iowa is about people. It’s the people in the town who make it your home.
To this day, Renee Ackerman Martin, now living in Waukee, said she carries the values learned in her hometown with her. “I feel like I have so many friends in my community that I can go to for help and support. I also learned (while growing up in Nevada) how important it is to support others. If someone needs help, you step up and help. No one should have to fight their battles alone.”
Renee, 35, learned what it is to have support from others when she had a health challenge over the past two years. “I have been recovering from a major surgery where my mandible had to be removed and rebuilt using a bone graft due to an ossifying fibroma. The entire process required having 11 teeth removed, a biopsy, surgery to resect and rebuild my lower jaw, and I am now in the process of having my new teeth implanted. It has been a long journey, but the amazing support of my family and friends helped me get through everything.”
Growing up in Nevada, Renee said incredible mentors surrounded her.
“In elementary school, Sue Lomp was the teacher who really helped me see the power of motivation. She pushed me to find my limits, and then to push past them,” Renee said. “No idea was too crazy. No question was too big. She helped me embrace my creativity.”
In middle school, it was Pat Sullivan who showed her that teachers are there to challenge students. “He taught me how to play chess…and how to make connections. More than anything, he helped me learn that failure is not an end, only a beginning.”
In high school, there were more mentors. “Mr. Mittman taught me to laugh at myself, and he taught me that I should never settle for anything less than my best. Coach Thompson pushed me as an athlete and showed me that my limits were only in my head and that hard work would help me push past them. Mr. Lawler showed me I could be a leader in the classroom just like on the ballfield. Finally, Mrs. Beauchene is the reason I’m teaching today. She showed me teaching is just as much about mentoring and loving students as it is about teaching content.”
Like all of her mentors, Renee is teaching today. She instructs high school English. “I went to the University of Iowa, and graduated with an English degree and a minor in Ancient Civilizations. After my undergrad, I worked a few years while I completed my master’s in the Art of Education. I graduated from the University of Iowa with my MAT degree in 2012. I took my first teaching job at Van Meter and have been there for nine years.”
Being a teacher is both fulfilling and challenging. “I love that each and every day is a new problem to solve and work through,” she said. She also loves how Van Meter reminds her of Nevada. “I have the chance to work with students in class, in sports, and in the fine arts… The best part of my job is when I see my former students and see the amazing things they are achieving.”
As far as the future, Renee sees herself teaching for her entire career.
She also sees herself raising a family. “My beautiful family has been the greatest accomplishment in my life,” she said.
Renee and her husband Ken, a financial advisor at Vision Financial in Des Moines, met at the U of I. They have two daughters, Nellie, 7; and Rowan, 5.
“I spend much of my time as a coach and director for high school activities,” Renee said. “When I’m not at work, I love to play with my daughters. We enjoy being outside, walking our dogs, and visiting the zoo and science center. My husband and I love to golf. I love to play sand volleyball, golf, sing and read books. My goal this year is to read 100 books, and I just finished my 40th.”
An amazing childhood
Renee is the daughter of Joe and Tammy Ackerman, who own Nevada Monument. She grew up with an older brother, Andrew, and a younger brother, Ben. Her grandmother, Kathy Valline, still lives in Nevada with Joe and Tammy.
“There are so many amazing things from my childhood. I remember the joy that Coach Kellogg gave us every time he pulled out the big parachute. There is no better PE activity to this day,” she proclaimed.
“I remember the little wooden coins that bought us rides and goodies at Lincoln Highway Days. I remember Mr. Sullivan reading us ‘Winnie the Pooh,’ and then following up with ‘The Crucible.’ I remember Mr. Foley’s epic Civil War project. And, I remember so many days spent on the soccer fields and softball diamond.”
Renee was very active during her youth. “It might be easier to list what I didn’t do in high school,” she said before trying to list the different things she took part in during high school. “I played volleyball, played basketball for a year — only for you Coach Thompson! I threw shot and disc in track, played softball, and I was a member of the state girls’ bowling team. I was in both choir and chamber choir. I participated in musicals and plays. I was active in high school speech, knowledge bowl, mock trial, National Honor Society, mentoring, principal’s cabinet, and I was co-president of the student council my senior year.”
When asked what her high school friends might remember most about her, she recalled being voted, “Most likely to be on American Idol.”
“While I never tried out for a singing show, I think people probably remember me for being very vocal. Whether it was yelling on the volleyball court or softball field, speaking or singing on stage, or singing the National Anthem at the rodeo, I was always loud. It’s probably not surprising that I am the speech and drama coach at Van Meter,” she said.
Renee is back in Nevada frequently to visit family. “My parents’ house is definitely the home base for our family, so we love coming back,” she said.
“We are now big supporters of Bricktown Bakery. My girls love their donuts. We always like to stop by Starbucks for ice cream and food.”
Nevada is a special place…It’s a home.
“I honestly believe that if I had not grown up in Nevada, I would not have become a teacher. The school district and the teachers are the reason I feel so successful today. My coaches, teachers, principals, mentors — they all wanted me to be my best. They offered me every opportunity to push myself. I am forever thankful I got to be a part of the Nevada School District.”
—Written by Marlys Barker, City of Nevada
*Do you know someone who would make an interesting Where Are They Wednesday feature? Please email Marlys at firstname.lastname@example.org with contact information.