The Paulson and Smith families take community service to heart

Left to right: Sarah Smith, Dustin Smith and Paul Paulson of Grinnell enjoy serving their community and region.

It was July 1980. Paul Paulson and his wife, Debby, lived in the Quad Cities where Paulson ran Head Start preschool programs on the Iowa side of the two-state area.

“It was a social work program and I wasn’t making a lot of money,” Paulson recalls. “My wife and I have decided to move to be closer to family.”

The couple, who met at the now-closed Ottumwa Heights College, had been in the Quad Cities for about 10 years, moving there after getting married.

They considered Ottumwa, Paulson’s hometown, but settled in Grinnell where Debby grew up and had family.

They loaded up the moving truck and headed west. At the time, Sarah, the couple’s daughter, was in kindergarten and remembers riding in the front seat of the moving van with her father.

“She was right next to me,” Paulson said.

The couple also have a son, Scott, who lives in Vermillion, SD, where he works as the dean of enrollment and admissions at the University of South Dakota.

Once they settled in Grinnell, Paulson took a job in the insurance industry.

“And here we are,” he said of his work in insurance and finance more than 40 years later. He has also remained active in community service in the Grinnell area over the years with his entire family.

Sarah attended Grinnell High School where she swam for the Tigers. After graduating from GHS in 1994, she landed at Luther College in Decorah, where she swam and sang in the Nordic Choir. She went on to earn degrees in psychology and biology, graduating in 1998.

It was at Luther that she met her husband, Dustin, a native of Rock Island, Illinois. The couple met at the college catering department.

“We had to do the dishes together many nights and it did, on the dishes,” Sarah said with a chuckle and a smile.

The couple also worked on Sunday mornings to serve brunch to guests.

“I broke eggs and Dustin made omelettes,” she said.

Dustin and Sarah married in 1999 and moved to Chicago to work. Sarah worked at Lincoln National Insurance Company and Dustin was a financial advisor for Thrivent Financial for Lutherans. They spent eight years there before returning to Grinnell in 2006.

They have two children, Alex, who will be a freshman at Luther this fall where he will play baseball for the Norse, and Josie, who will be a sophomore at GHS in the fall.

Sarah said she and Dustin were pretty proud of their kids. They were both on the GHS swim team and Dustin played baseball for the Tigers.

This fall, said Sarah, Dustin and the Norse will play a baseball game against the Briar Cliff Chargers on the original Field of Dreams movie set in Dyersville. The game is scheduled for September 16.

“We are so excited for him,” she said.

Sarah remains involved in coaching the GHS Women’s Swim Team, where she will have the chance this fall to work with her daughter and the rest of the team.

“She spends her fall with her mom,” Sarah said of Josie’s workout.

Sarah started coaching with the Grinnell Tiger Sharks Swim Club in 2008.

“A position opened up in high school,” she said. “And I like it.”

This fall will mark her 11th year in high school and her 15th overall as a swim coach. In addition to her work with the swim team, Sarah spent several years as a volunteer board member of the Grinnell Newburg Community School Foundation.

“Now I just get involved,” she said.

Sarah currently works at Grinnell College as Director of Programming and Outreach Events.

“I connect campus and community through events and programs,” she said.

She also remains active on the Dollars for Scholars Board of Directors and helps young people get a head start in college or trade school. She is in her seventh year on the Unity Point Health – GRMC Board of Directors.

In addition to her community service, Sarah is running for House District 53 on the Democratic ticket in November.

When asked what led her to seek political office, Sarah said that a few years ago, while attending the Poweshiek County Leadership Program, she spent a day at the Capitol. of the state and had caught the virus.

“I felt inspired to run one day,” she said. She returned home to Grinnell and let Poweshiek County Democrats know she wanted to run someday.

That day came a little sooner rather than later.

She said that in 2019, Rachel Bly, who ran for office, encouraged her to consider running. She contacted the state Democratic Party and it all went from there.

“After coffees and phone calls with the House Truman Fund (a political fundraising arm of the Iowa Democratic Party), current Minority Leader Jennifer Confrst encouraged me to run in 2020,” she said.

After losing to Dave Maxwell that year, who she says is a big man, Sarah chose to run again. She will face Dean Fisher, a Republican from Tama County, on the November ticket.

Dustin is in his second term on the Grinnell School Board where he is Vice President. He also sits on the Grinnell Hotel – Motel Tax Committee, as vice-chairman.

Paulson is involved alongside Sarah with the Dollars for Scholars Board. He also sits on the board of Iowa Valley Community College and proudly said, “I helped build the new Drake Community Library.

“What a great place for the Grinnell community,” he added.

Debby is also active in community arts and history, having recently directed Frozen Jr. She has acted in other community plays and in recent years has played Peter Pan.

“She currently sits on the board of the Grinnell Historical Museum and has done many musical shows with a band called Shults and Company,” Paulson said.

Debby is currently Chair of the Board of Unity Point Health – GRMC Foundation.

Additionally, the family attends St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Grinnell where, at one point or another, they parted ways with the church’s governing council.

Asked about the importance of serving the community, Sarah thinks we need more opportunities to come together and listen to each other.

“It’s important to give back to the community and be part of the community by getting involved,” added Dustin, who spends his weekdays at Ceirk Agency in Grinnell, a business specializing in insurance and financial services.

Paulson, who is seeking a seat on the Poweshiek County Board of Supervisors, currently works for Truax Agency, a Parkersburg-based insurance agency, and also as a consultant for True North Agency in Cedar Rapids. He said people have been good to him in business and he has enjoyed spending time listening to the needs of people in the Grinnell community.

“It’s time to give back and keep listening to people,” he said.

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Norma P. Rex