Active Ottumwa

Active Ottumwa will soon be led by the two Hy-Vees in town. Sandy Berto, former field coordinator of Active Ottumwa and UI PRC staff member, said she thanks Dr. Edith Parker, Dr. Barbara Baquero, Dr. Remi Affi, Rebecca Bucklein, Heidi Haines and Hy-Vee Store Directors Zach Jones and Dillon Murray for making the change possible.

OTTUMWA — The seasons aren’t the only thing changing in Ottumwa. Soon the two Hy-Vees will lead Active Ottumwa.

Active Ottumwa began as a research project in 2014 by University of Iowa Prevention Research Center (UI PRC) and their partnership with Community Advisory Board (CAB) and planned to change into a community-based organization if it was successful. Registered Dietitian Becky Graeve will be in charge of leadership, deciding to take on the role because of what it could do for residents.

“It started out as an idea I got pulled into those meetings,” Graeve said, “and fits well with what I already do as a Hy-Vee dietitian — the wellness activities, being at health fairs, holding classes, doing things for kids. All those wellness opportunities that Hy-Vee offers go hand in hand with Active Ottumwa. I see it as a platform to expand my services to be able to support an established community organization which has developed over the past five years. It’s a perfect partnership.”

Sandy Berto, former Active Ottumwa Field Coordinator and RN, Research Assistant, said initially the change was going to take effect Dec. 1, but said she may want to extend the date so Active Ottumwa can take the time to introduce the needs of the community.

Graeve said the extended date will also give her time to consult with Berto and CAB on the future of Active Ottumwa, such as making sure it will be a community-based organization and that the trained and organized Physical Activity Leaders (PALs) will lead the exercise programs.

“We want to make sure that all continues,” Graeve said. “It’s not starting over. It’s just making that next phase take a bit of time and work.”

Berto said Active Ottumwa used to get grants from the Centers from Disease Control and Prevention, which meant she had to follow grant guidelines and could not extend the program beyond physical activity. Now that grants don’t come in and Graeve will take on leadership, she will be able to go beyond physical activity.

Graeve will use the freedom to her content, wanting to develop more connections and pursue her “dietitian-related nutrition activities.”

There’s challenges ahead and a lot to be done, but Berto is looking forward to the new leadership. “Anytime you work with a community-based program,” she said, “you always have to be able to go with the flow. When you have the opportunity to work with people, then those challenges and rewards also come.”

“I am just delighted that Becky and Hy-Vee stepped up,” Berto added. “This has been the whole goal for me personally and professionally since I started was to make this sustainable in our community.”

After five years of time and dedication that went into the program, Graeve was in awe of the growth and development that shaped the program, hoping she’ll be able to emulate that as best as she can.

“The program has accomplished a very real change in a small group of Ottumwans,” she said, “and getting them from being sedentary to achieving more activity. We want to continue to help people be active and use the wonderful trail system that we have and other infrastructure that maybe people don’t realize is there, whether it’s walking in the mall or inside Bridge View. We have wonderful facilities in Ottumwa and we want that to continue and if it takes me to be the driving force to do that then I’ll say ‘sure.’ We can take it beyond that and it’s not done. It will be cool to see how it changes, maybe in ways we can’t yet predict.”

Chiara Romero can be reached at


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