40 Under 40: Miss America Questions Answered!

Each year, the 40 under 40 nominees receive an email with 7 questions. We are told we get 45 seconds to make an impact on a room filled with community leaders and we won’t know which question we will answer in advance. AND GO. Since 45 seconds is never enough time, I decided to cheat and answer all the questions for you!

What is something you are passionate about?

Emily Steele, Nora Croswaithe, Me and Annie Woods at Brand Launch Headquarters celebrating our #dsmhummingbird charm.

Emily Steele, Nora Croswaithe, Me and Annie Woods at Brand Launch Headquarters celebrating our #dsmhummingbird charm.

I’m out passionate about building relationships. I see this as the common thread in all the work I do. When I’m photographing,  I strive to create a really powerful one on one connection where my client can be comfortable and confident in front of my camera.

I love relationship building in the community. Joining FemCity, starting Wednesdays with Whitney, growing, starting the #dsmhummingbird community, growing the Unapologetically Extra ideology, all of these platforms showcase my strong desire to create connection.

What is something most people don’t know about you?

Graduation day from RIT (2011)

Graduation day from RIT (2011)

Photography is the only job I’ve ever had. I actually went to school for photography twice. I received my bachelors of fine arts in Photography and BA in Journalism at University of Iowa and then went on to get my Masters at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, a really excellent photo school.

I’ve always worked in my field helping other small business owners achieve their dreams and run their businesses. So when it came time to branch out on my own, it was natural for me to move back to Iowa and start pursuing my first and only career path. 

Also - I’m an 8 on the enneagram chart. The Challenger. Most common adjective to describe and 8 personality type are self-confident, strong, and assertive. Protective, resourceful, straight-talking, and decisive and domineering. Sound about right? 

Who is someone you consider a mentor and what is one thing you have learned from that person?

Buz and Sue Brenton and Brenton Arboretum

Buz and Sue Brenton and Brenton Arboretum

Buz Brenton. Buz has been officially retired for decades but hasn’t stopped moving and contributing a day in his life. He always has a project and he’s always looking to improve the city we live in. He’s spearheaded the Greater Des Moines Botanical Gardens renovation and created the Brenton Arboretum in Dallas Center (my favorite place to take my dog Winston to roam on the weekends).

Buz has taught me what impact looks like. He’s taught me how to care for the city we live in and dive deep into passion to bring force all the good you can. And from our walks through Woodland Cemetery and Brenton Arboretum, he’s also given me a sincere appreciate for beauty of trees.

Please describe the significance of this photo.

Family Photos - Fall 2017

Family Photos - Fall 2017

Photos are my world. I believe that every intentional photo has significance. I happen to like to turn my lens on people. I truly believe photos are what we leave behind. They are the markers of a life filled with tons of gorgeous moments with special people. I am constantly documenting myself, my friends and family and my community, because I know what it’s like to loose someone, and I know how important those photos and those memories are after they are gone. I also know what it’s like to relive the joyful memories behind the photos over and over again. And I wouldn’t give that up for anything. 

If you could repeat one fun or memorable experience, what would it be and why?

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Most of my life is structured around giving me the ability to travel. My passion for new experiences and getting out of my comfort zone was ingrained from a young age. The most beautiful example I can think of was a trip I took with my mom during college. I had just gotten back from studying abroad in Europe. She wanted to spend some quality time together and said I could pick anywhere. I had just been on airplanes and trains for 8 weeks and couldn’t bare the thought of any more mass transit so I suggested an Iowa road trip. And that’s what we did. We spent four days driving around Northeast Iowa, stopping at every hole in the wall tourist experience and “best burger” joint we could find. We drove slowly and pulled over anytime I wanted to take pictures.

That trip taught that adventure is a mindset, not a destination. 

If you could give one piece of advice to the next generation of Central Iowa business leaders, what would it be and why?

Keynote speech - Dress for Success Luncheon 2018

Keynote speech - Dress for Success Luncheon 2018

Show up consistently. And when I say show up, I mean, physically show up at network events, put yourself out there in leadership positions, start things, organize events, join boards and create community on social media.

Pick people and organizations you find meaningful and give back to them. For me, it was Dress for Success, FemCity, GDMBG, the Food Bank of Iowa.

And don’t be afraid to be bold, hold out your hand to a new face and introduce yourself. If you want to make an impact, the first thing you need to do it be willing to put yourself on the line.  

Joyce Chapman

Joyce Chapman

What was the best advice you received when launching your career? 

Say what you do with pride to everyone, often.

One of my first social events in DSM was as the guest of Joyce Chapman to a DSM Symphony event. Joyce has been a Des Moines Symphony supporter for years and she bought me as a guest meet some of her friends fellow music lovers. This was in the first few months of my business, when Ivory House existed but I didn’t really feel like I “owned” anything yet.

I remember introducing myself to one of Joyce’s friends saying that I was a photographer. Just a photographer. As we walked away, Joyce looked at me and said, “Whitney, say the name of your business every time you introduce yourself to people. This is how they will learn to know you. This is how they will remember you.”

That shifted something in me. I realized I had to own my brand and what I was building before anyone else could get behind no board.

Learning to Be a Plant Parent

When I bought my new house and was preparing it to become both my home and work space, I realized that I needed to freshen the place up. To inject a little more life into these spaces that I was making my own, I asked Shylah, plant stylist at Des Moines’ Art Terrarium to come over and impart some much-needed advice on how plants can invigorate my space and, maybe more importantly, how I can be a good plant parent and keep them alive and happy.

Pictured: Andrea Metzler, owner and Shylah, plant stylist at Art Terrarium.

Pictured: Andrea Metzler, owner and Shylah, plant stylist at Art Terrarium.

When Shylah came into my home to begin our consultation process, I think she knew right away that this space would benefit from some greenery. She is, after all, a professional plant stylist: a career she began recently when she realized that many people coming into the Art Terrarium shop wanting more plants in their lives but weren’t sure what or where or how. And with a background in art and event facilitation, she decided to let her creative spirit guide this burgeoning consultation business.

“Plant styling is a title I made up to describe a role where I show up with plants for people, and put those plants in places,” Shylah says. “For Whitney, having just moved into a new house, I get to be a part of the creative process that brings her home to life. It’s so special.”

We started room by room, identifying whether each will be a personal or work space, and what my goals are for each. Shylah assessed the amount of natural light that would be reaching every corner. (The lighting proved to be a bit challenging because of all the gorgeous mature trees around my house. I love them, but they sure block a lot of sunlight.) We also talked about how often I’d be able to pay attention to them and water them. This particular factor made me want to lean more minimalist. I didn’t want the chlorophyll of dozens of dead houseplants on my hands!

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Shylah took down my goals and feedback on a notepad and returned to the shop to start pulling some plants that would be suitable for my space. “I worked with Whitney’s budget, picking out some specific things. Keeping her goal of moderation in mind, she wanted greenery in every space. This was a little tricky because they all had to live near the windows, but luckily there are many types of plants that thrive in lower lighting.”

She invited me to come check out what she had pulled and to bring in the few vases and vessels that I already had in mind to put plants in, plus pick out some more from the shop. I was so impressed by both their selection and by Shylah’s styling suggestions that my initial impulse to keep things minimal went straight out the window.

When she brought the plants over to my house to finally stage them, I could barely contain myself. The difference that a dozen or so fresh, green, lively houseplants made was unbelievable. I was totally hooked. And I might have mellowed out right then and there, but Shylah assured me so thoroughly that I can indeed keep these plants alive and thriving, beautifying my home and impressing friends and clients alike, and they looked so amazing in little groups, rejuvenating each room...well, I got more plants. I am now the proud parent of 33 happy plants, breathing life into every room in my house.

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How, you may ask, did I go from killing cacti to confidently raising so many houseplants? I have Shylah to thank for that. On top of her wonderful styling skills, she gave me some very simple, straightforward advice that seemed to take the mystery out of plant parenting.

Shylah’s Simple Tips for Raising Houseplants

  1. Most of the problems with plants come from overwatering them. People think that watering them equals caring for them, when in fact, most plants just kinda want to be left alone.

  2. Light = food, so pay attention to how much your plant is getting. South-facing windows get more direct light than north, so stage your plants accordingly.

  3. Plants are very resilient. If you notice them turning yellow, it’s most likely either from overwatering or not giving them enough light. Move them around in your home and find a spot that makes them happier.

  4. Having daily contact with your plants gives you a chance to check the soil, prune any dead leaves, and make sure they don’t have dust building up. This also ensures that you are watering them as needed, and not just when you think about watering them.

  5. Practice with your plants. Don’t be afraid of killing them, and don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. There are lots of great resources on the Art Terrarium website, plus the folks at the shop love sharing their plant knowledge!

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If you’re still unsure whether plants are right for you (spoiler: they are), or are looking for someone to come in and tell you exactly what plants you should get, where to put them, and how to care for them, Shylah is your gal. Check out this great new styling service here and start the process of elevating your home or office space. The best part is, their $75 consultation deposit is redeemable toward your plant purchase of $350 or more. Shylah also does plant rentals and staging work for parties and large events.


I can’t thank Shylah enough for her styling skills, advice, laid-back approach to plant parenting, and most of all, her confidence in me. If I can successfully care for 33 plants in the middle of my nonstop schedule, anyone can!

Ivory House's 2018 Eliminate Litter Challenge

I started my annual litter pick-up campaign in 2017 when I saw just how much trash ends up blowing out of downtown dumpsters and garbage cans by the often-chaotic spring winds. I wasn’t sure if anyone else would be interested in my campaign, but darn it if I wasn’t going to give it a try!

One of the people who expressed interest in my mini trash bash was my friend Jackie Horsfall. Jackie and I had met through mutual Des Moines connections, and we’d bonded over an interest in local artists. She’s one of those people who takes pride in her community and really steps up to participate and do her part. When she saw my Facebook post calling for volunteers to help pick up litter downtown near my Walnut Street studio, she was fully on board—until the weather turned foul and plans fell through. Not one to be discouraged, she picked up trash on a more pleasant day and committed to participating in Ivory House’s 2018 Eliminate Litter Challenge.

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“It was even more perfect because it happened to fall on Earth Day,” says Jackie. “I had planned to drive to a local park where I knew there was garbage lying around, but on my way, I realized that there was litter everywhere. You really don’t notice it until you’re looking for it. I drove one block and saw a ton of trash, particularly in a ditch near a Dunkin’ Donuts and some train tracks. I brought a few bags with me, but should have brought 800 more.”

Jackie and her fiancée, Adam, ended up using a large bin that they found discarded in the ditch as an extra container to gather more trash. The sheer amount of waste was a wake-up call for both of them. “I realized that simple steps can make a huge difference. You don’t have to go overboard with gloves and stuff. Just pick up one plastic bag, walk around the block picking up litter, and throw the bag away. You’d be amazed at what a difference one person can make in five minutes.”

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Jackie also thinks beyond simply picking up things that have already been discarded. “Reducing single-use items like coffee cups, straws, and Styrofoam takeout containers isn’t hard to do and makes a huge impact when it comes to sustainability overall.”

To top it off, Jackie and Adam had gotten engaged just a couple of weeks before this year’s Eliminate Litter Challenge! They had won a pair of tickets to see “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” in New York City, and Adam knew that this was the perfect time and place to pop the question. He carried the ring in his pocket through all of their sightseeing, on the subway, and halfway through the play. Finally, he got down on one knee and asked Jackie to marry him. I was lucky enough to be their chosen engagement photographer, and they did a fantastic job despite their nerves. “We’re both nervous, awkward people, so we were anxious about how this was going to go when we can barely even take a selfie! Whitney made us feel so relaxed and comfortable. It’s easy when you have a photographer who really knows how to give their clients what they need. Confidence is contagious.”

Congratulations to Jackie and Adam, and keep up the good work with the litter pick-up!

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Unapologetically Extra

Unapologetically Extra Sessions stemmed from my need to have a bit more fun with my photography. I also wanted to give my clients an excuse to show up for themselves - for 15 minutes in an outfit that makes them feel a little "extra." These are not headshots, but rather a beautiful moment in time, intended to show our most powerful, confident and radiant selves. Thank you for going on this journey with me. I can't wait to see the "extra" we create together.

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A couple of weeks ago, we held our second Unapologetically Extra photo shoot. The first session back in May was truly remarkable, with each woman showing up with their own unique, fierce attitude to be captured on camera. This second shoot was equally as special, and in some ways even more inspiring because we had a chance to speak with each person about what makes them unique. We asked them a series of poignant (and maybe probing) questions and since we asked this of them on the spot, I thought it was only fair to share my answers as well! Read on to see how these beautiful people opened up not only to my camera, but also shared their thoughts on their personal power, what makes them happy, what motivates them, and how they’ve grown into the individual I photographed that day - in all their “extra” glory.

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Whitney Warne

I feel most powerful when I have a camera around my neck and I’m directing a truly amazing shot of someone who had no idea of how stunning they are. I love teaching people that they have power and can make a difference.

When I’m feeling less than motivated, I count down from five...four...three...two...one...and force myself to launch into whatever it is that I’m conquering. Another motivating mantra is, as my mother says, “Hydration is the key to success!”

 Something I’ve learned since my early twenties is that I am very good at lifting others up in a supportive way, but I am better at elevating others by claiming my own spot in the sunshine and working on my own terms.

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Estee Roe

One of my favorite quotes is, “She believed she could, so she did.” It makes me feel confident and motivated. I feel most powerful when I’m at home with my family, in the kitchen, in my own space. I enjoy supporting others. Showing up for people, helping them, and just listening to what they have to say is something that makes me feel really good.

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Alison Stricklett

I like to tell myself, “everything happens for a reason.” That might not sound very positive, but I see it as a hopeful sentiment. It reminds me that I can take on more than I think I can. If I could tell my 21-year-old self one thing, I would say that the things I was so worried about back then are not relevant anymore, and they weren’t as big of a deal as I felt like they were at the time.

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Jessie Tobin

I’m a very decisive person, so I feel powerful when I make a decision because I’m confident in it. Confidence is something I’ve learned over the years, so looking back at my younger self, I wish I knew that the people around me were not as critical as I thought they were. Now, I tell myself “I am worthy,” whether that applies to a job promotion, love, success…it works in any scenario.

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Tricia Rivas

My personal mantra is tattooed on my arm: “Live the life you’ve imagined.” I have sparrows around it because they are extremely loyal birds. They only have one mate their entire lives. I’ve been with my husband, Jeremy, for 22 years (but we’ve been friends since high school!). My faith is what keeps me grounded in this mantra, and what keeps me focused, motivated, and happy. Things always get better, and negativity doesn’t need to control you.

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Kelsey Russell

I believe that physical and emotional strength go hand-in-hand. I am a firm believer that there is no “ideal” body type, but I truly find my power when I’m in the gym working on my physical strength. The more effort and energy I put into my workouts, the more confidence I have outside of the gym. I tell myself, “Why not you?” Everyone has dreams, but it takes courage and confidence to chase them.  

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Jennifer Canelos

I was in a professional women’s group a while ago, and one of our assignments was to write a personal mantra. I have it saved on my phone to read every once in a while to stay motivated. Part of it goes, “I use my spiritual gift of creativity to inspire and empower others, and intentionally seek moments of joy and gratefulness in my own imperfect, breathtaking journey.” I think it’s so important to be who God created you to be, and not what the world expects you to be.

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Rebecca Lake

When I can “be the light,” in either a personal or professional situation, it not only elevates others, but it helps lift myself up, too. I love my job as a chiropractor; when I have the opportunity to heal people from the inside out. Beyond that, simple gestures like complimenting a stranger have mutual repercussions that brighten my day as well as theirs. You just never know who’s having a crappy day, so you might as well spread that light.

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Ivy Boyd

When I’m going through a tough time, I remind myself that these experiences are all helping to shape me into the artist I’m meant to be. I am proud to be able to work around any obstacle—kids, heat, weddings, anything. I strive to be the best part of my clients’ day, the force of calm in what might be a very stressful situation. Sometimes I think back to when I was younger and would get sad or discouraged, and I wish I could go back tell myself, “You don’t even know how good it’s about to get.”

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Reed Rinderknecht

I think guys are especially bad at keeping in touch with their friends. There’s not a set infrastructure for these kinds of relationships that are based on emotional support. If I’m thinking about a friend, I’ll call him up, just to check in and see how he’s doing. More often than not, those spontaneous conversations come at a good time. I’ve learned a lot dealing with painful relationships in the past, so it feels really good to connect with a friend who might be going through something similar in his own life.
 

Wednesdays with Whitney: Kirsten Anderson

The road to rebuilding my self-confidence has been long and winding with plenty of bumps along the way. It has been five years since I was fired from my job as Communications Director of Iowa Senate Republicans, and one year since my very public trial against the State of Iowa. My life has changed in ways that I never thought it would, and now I am strong enough to know my worth and ensure that others know theirs, too.

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To understand what I mean by having low self-confidence, let me paint you a picture: Over the course of five years working for Senate Republicans, I went from optimistically and proactively doing my work (writing newsletters, press releases, talking points, radio scripts, and social media posts) to fearfully piecing words together, hoping I wouldn’t be noticed, keeping my head down awaiting the next verbal lashing. I was beaten down, crying daily, praying to make it through the day and hoping my family wouldn’t notice the burdens I brought home.

This is what sexual harassment and the subsequent retaliation did to me. The lewd, disgusting comments and jokes about me, my appearance, and my work broke me down. It led me to counseling, antidepressants, a strained marriage and the loss of a job. These bumps in my winding road were painful, but I want to talk about it in the hopes that it will resonate with others. I want to show them that my winding road is relatively smooth now and theirs will be, too.

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One sharp turn in my road was a decision to sue the State of Iowa for wrongful termination, retaliation, and sexual harassment. After my fourth complaint of sexual harassment and my bosses retaliating against me, claiming my previously stellar writing and work were substandard, I was very suddenly fired. My four-year legal battle against the state ended in a win for me and a huge sense of vindication that my work was NOT substandard. I could get a job (albeit not in politics) after my name was publicly dragged through the mud, and I could survive the nasty things people said about me (internet trolls are the worst!).

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I finally realized that I was mentally strong. I could handle a lot, and of just about anything! It was like a light bulb switched on in my mind. It helped me see that no one should go through a work situation like what I experienced. No one should be beaten down to the point of exhaustion at their workplace. No one deserves that. I want to help others realize their worth and help empower them to change their work environments for the better so they do not become beaten-down victims. That’s why I’m on a mission to end workplace harassment in my lifetime.

Advice to all: If you see something, say something. It is OK to say something, in the moment, after the moment, just bring it to light because if you don't draw the line, people will continue to cross that line and think it's OK.

Interested in talking to Kirsten more? Reach out her via politicchick78@gmail.com to experience her newest initiative: "The training is anti-harassment training, but in a more basic form, it's culture change training. What I offer is more than a 30-minute stodgy video. I offer comprehensive, positive change for an organization. I'm targeting organizations looking to invest in their workforce and foster positive change to boost productivity. Too early to tell about legislators at the Capitol - but my efforts are non-partisan. This is a non-partisan issue!"

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Watch our Wednesdays with Whitney chat with Kirsten Anderson below!

Retzlaff Wedding

A couple of weeks ago, I had the absolute pleasure of photographing the wedding of John Retzlaff and Mackenzie Hawk at the Rollins Mansion in Des Moines.

Click to watch their epic wedding slideshow

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The weather forecast was grim but the spirits were high. Everyone was constantly checking WHO’s weather map all morning to see when the rain would start. Despite our nervousness, there was one immutable fact that hung in the air with the Iowa humidity: Today was going to be a magical day.

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My first interaction with Mackenzie was a phone call during which we discussed her wedding details, including a rain backup plan. She said confidently that the ceremony was going to be outside, no matter what. “We’re getting married, and we’re willing to get wet doing it.” That’s when I understood this bride’s wonderful attitude, and that nothing could seriously go wrong with this wedding.

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And as fairy tales go, not a raindrop fell from the sky until all the festivities were over. This day was truly magical because of the people who gathered and the pure, joyful, overflowing emotion. Oh, and the dancing.

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Retzlaff Wedding Ivory House Photography.jpg

John and Mackenzie are two of the kindest most loyal dedicated people I have ever met. It has been my pleasure to become good friends with them and capture the most magical day of their lives. Thank you for choosing me to photograph your wedding, and for the dance party I’ll never forget!
 

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Retzlaff Wedding Ivory House Photography.jpg

Vendors:
Hair - Alexis Hawk and Kelly Fitch
Makeup - Alexis Hawk and Kelly Fitch
Wedding Dress – Modern Dress in Boone
Groomswear - The Good Fancy
Florist – Originals by Beck
DJ - Tony Bonekamp (ceremony), The Flashdance (reception)
Catering - Delmonico Catering
Chocolate Bar - Beaverdale Confections
Wedding Coordinator - Defining the Details
Venue - Rollins Mansion

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Retzlaff Wedding Ivory House Photography.jpg
Retzlaff Wedding Ivory House Photography.jpg