It’s a rainy April day in Le Mars, IA. And as Basin Electric communications crew members finish their continental breakfast at the Baymont Inn & Suites, Angela Catton strolls in through the lobby with an outstretched hand and a smile.
Catton is the member relations and development manager for Northwest Iowa Power Cooperative (NIPCO), and she’s come to chauffer the Basin Electric crew around the community. The Bismarck, ND, group is in town for an ice cream-themed story, and Catton has the scoop. (Read the Basin Today story the crew was there to get: Sweet deal)
Basin Electric’s story revolves around how NIPCO and North West Rural Electric Cooperative played a key role in helping Wells Enterprises, Inc., known for making Blue Bunny® ice cream, remain headquartered in Le Mars.
If there’s anyone who knows anything about this effort, it’s Catton. She used to work for Wells, and she has a true passion for the ice cream culture that’s taken over the town.
Catton immediately invites the three-person group to follow her and Lyle Korver, CEO and general manager of North West REC, around town for a look at the different ice cream-related operations Basin Electric helps power.
The day’s itinerary is full of stops: numerous uniquely painted 5-foot-tall ice cream statues scattered throughout downtown; an ice cream cone factory that smells like heaven; and a dairy farm that smells quite the opposite.
But, the main draw of the day is the Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlor downtown. Oldies music greets the group as they enter the parlor, and they’re also hit with an array of color in an ice cream-themed world.
The group snags some cones, and Catton heads upstairs to a miniature Blue Bunny museum. She gazes around the room and recalls the victorious day when the town found out Wells had discovered a way to consolidate all of its departments into one new headquarters building, keeping the company local.
“So much is built around Wells’ presence being here in town. It just makes sense for them to be here,” she says. “It really is the cooperative way. This is a perfect example of the community working together.”
Catton’s attention shifts to a nearby flat-screen TV, which is still playing a video on the ice cream-making process, a production she spearheaded years ago. She grins as her son appears in a scene from the documentary.
It’s apparent the history of this ice cream town hits close to home for Catton. She moves to a window overlooking the street where the town celebrated Wells’ decision to stay 10 years ago, and remembers it like it was yesterday.
“It was a sea of people,” she says.
As Catton looks back on how much the town has thrived from this cooperative success story, she realizes it couldn’t have played out more perfectly.
Le Mars has since been dubbed the Ice Cream Capital of the World. Catton, along with everyone else at NIPCO, Northwest REC and the community, made that happen.
“Life is sweet,” she says.