Finding Stories in Woodland Cemetery: A Walk with Buz Brenton

Woodland Cemetery Des Moines

Today I took a tour of one of the most historic places in Des Moines: Woodland Cemetery. I was joined by my mentor and friend, Junius (Buz) Brenton. Currently 83 years old and thriving, Buz is responsible for initiating some pretty amazing projects around our city, such as the revitalization of the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden and the Brenton Arboretum. He is passionate about history and passing along knowledge to the next generation.

One of his current passion projects is restoring the headstones in Woodland Cemetary to their proper upright position. This cemetery was established in 1848, before Des Moines was even the state capitol. This makes it the oldest cemetery in the city, and as a result, parts have fallen into disrepair. Many of the deceased no longer have relatives routinely checking on their gravestones. The ground has also shifted over time, causing some of these stones to lean and occasionally tip over. Buz commented that after five generations, there is usually no family left who are connected to the namesake. 

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Buz believes in the legacy of Des Moines in both big and small ways. He is also interested in dendrology (the study of trees). In fact, he loves trees more than anyone else I've ever met! While touring around Woodland Cemetery, Buz pointed out his favorite tree to me. He described this particular tree as "flamboyant but modest." Its sturdy trunk rises and splits evenly into beautiful, even branches that reach upwards as if honoring the people buried beneath its canopy. We stood marveling at its complexity and symmetry, the beauty of its branches dividing into themselves in some effortless, majestic pattern that only nature can accomplish. As Buz dove into the topic of trees, he anthropomorphized them, talking about their longevity, their lack of frivolity, their ability to weather the storm. "Trees embody so many qualities that men should, but so rarely do." 

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As we walked underneath the tree, it struck me how true these words were. Underneath the ground, the roots of this tree and others nearby had been growing together for decades, sharing nutrients in the warmer months and standing solidly through the colder ones. It's something similar to a community: On the surface, we are all individuals living our own lives. But underneath, and where it really matters, we hold each other up. We share resources and depend on one another. We shape the landscape. 

As Buz and I strolled around the cemetery, he explained that most of the trees in this cemetery were planted at the same time, which you can see by their similar size and shape. He also pointed out the oldest stone building in Des Moines: the cemetery's Receiving Vault, where the city stored the remains of those who passed away during the winter when the ground was too frozen to bury them. He pointed out the gravestones of prominent Des Moines leaders of the past. Familiar names like Savery, Hubbell, Frankel, Crocker, and Sherman are scattered across the 69-acre plot. The people who built Des Moines, who started this journey and laid down the foundation for what has become such a vibrant city, are lying so close to us, and I feel like I know so little about them.

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I am guilty, as many of us are, of being obsessed with the grind, the trends, the latest events and social gatherings. Of being "in the know," of knowing the people in the know. But how much do we actually know? Where would we be today if these brave men and women had only forged their own paths without regard to where their city would be in 100 years? And is that any less important than understanding where we were 100 years ago?

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This trip to Woodland Cemetery with my dear friend Buz opened my eyes and my heart to the rich history that's often lying right under our feet. It's a privilege to live in a city with so much to learn, and it's our responsibility to take an interest and pass on that history, these feelings, and this knowledge to future generations. 

Dress for Success: The Gift of Confidence

I am so lucky. 

This is what I kept repeating to myself all day on Sunday, March 4th, 2018. 

I am so lucky to have this team of talented, generous people showing up to donate their time and talents to Dress for Success clients. I am so lucky to have a job and the flexibility to give my time and passions. I am SO LUCKY that I've never experienced true hardship. My privilege. 

Recognizing that, I jump at any chance of passing that luck and privilege on to others who might benefit from it. This event was one small way of providing confidence and support to women in our community who may not have always been so lucky. They say that when you can give a piece of yourself to someone else, it comes back to you tenfold. Never have I found this to be more true than with these portraits. I feel the love from that day every time I look at them, and I hope the feeling continues for a long time to come.

A note from Lucy, Ivory House Photography's Studio Manager: 

The day began the way I expected: rushing to set out snacks and bottles of water, unlocking the doors, answering last-minute emails about the event. What’s the parking situation? Which street is the door on again? The stylists arrived with their ring lights and curling irons. Is there another outlet in this corner? No problem, I’ll set up in the kitchen. Jody White, Executive Director and Co-founder of Dress for Success, was all smiles as she introduced herself to everyone, warmly thanking each person for donating their Sunday to a great cause.

The Glam Teams, clockwise from top left: Ashley Maree Harvey (hair), Violeta, Natalie Gendle (makeup, ACADEMIC Lash & Beauty); Ivy Boyd (makeup, Ivy Boyd Makeup Artist + Beauty Blogger), Africa, Stacy Syroka (hair, Elevencherry); Desi Thompson (hair, Desi at Dolce), Jenny, Natalie Gendle (makeup, ACADEMIC Lash & Beauty); Kelsey Ziemann (makeup, Kelsi Ziemann Artistry), Jasmin, Kearra Chester (hair)

The Glam Teams, clockwise from top left: Ashley Maree Harvey (hair), Violeta, Natalie Gendle (makeup, ACADEMIC Lash & Beauty); Ivy Boyd (makeup, Ivy Boyd Makeup Artist + Beauty Blogger), Africa, Stacy Syroka (hair, Elevencherry); Desi Thompson (hair, Desi at Dolce), Jenny, Natalie Gendle (makeup, ACADEMIC Lash & Beauty); Kelsey Ziemann (makeup, Kelsi Ziemann Artistry), Jasmin, Kearra Chester (hair)

Whitney’s idea for a campaign to benefit Dress for Success originated before I came to work at Ivory House. Selling discounted headshots to her regular clients seemed like a great way to generate revenue that would allow for her to donate portraits to the clients of Dress for Success, an organization that empowers women to thrive professionally. She first mentioned this undertaking in my job interview back in January. Hearing her talk about the importance of elevating every member of the community made me realize that working at Ivory House was going to be much more than a nine-to-five job. Coming fresh from the corporate world, this was very appealing to me. 

My role on Sunday as Whitney’s studio manager was to manage the flow and make sure everyone was getting what they needed. I was anticipating a fast pace and lots of last-minute problem-solving, but as soon as the women began to arrive, it was clear things were going to go much smoother than I anticipated. The "Glam Teams," compromised of incredibly talented hair and makeup artists, were matched with a Dress for Success client. As anyone who’s been to a salon can attest, once the women were seated in their chairs and the pampering began, their stories began to pour out. 

There was Violeta, a legal assistant at Drake, who told me about the lifelong romance with her husband that started in their hometown in Mexico and brought them all the way to Des Moines.



There was Sharon, who works in the crafts department at Walmart and who boasted that she has 13 great-grandkids. She honors the memory of her late husband, her sweetheart and the love of her life, by wearing their wedding rings around her neck. 



After 10 years in school while also raising three kids as a single mom, Jasmin is going to graduate next year with her master’s degree in social work, and is currently working as self-sufficiency counselor.



Kimberly brought so much attitude and energy to the day. She kept us laughing the whole time, and her confidence shone through in every single photo that we took of her.



Angela, who I told that I would definitely ask for her ID at a bar, told me she’d been married for 14 years and has nine children. (Angela also told me an incredible story about her dog Capone, who’ll be receiving a medal of bravery next month.)



Africa opened up about her history of domestic violence and the strength it took to take her children and leave her husband to start over in a country where she barely spoke the language. 

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Our interactions were brief, but the energy in the “glam room” was that of support and love. 

In the studio, Whitney was working her magic with each woman, making them feel confident and beautiful. Your hair is flawless! Oh my gosh you have the most perfect jawline. Yes, those eyes! You’re killin’ it! It wasn’t anything out of the ordinary for her when it comes to shooting any client who walks through the door, but today was different. These women have overcome obstacles and carried weight on their shoulders that we don’t know about, that maybe is only seen in their hesitance to meet the camera’s eye. Whitney took the time to make them feel beautiful, radiant, and cared for, and the proof is in their stunning images. The person who entered the studio was not the same person who emerged. 

The day came to a close with smiles and hugs of gratitude, exchanged phone numbers, and more than a few happy tears (my own included). Giving the gift of confidence to these women who have overcome so much in their lives, and providing them with a gorgeous portrait that they can share and keep forever, means just as much to us as it does to them. It's unbelievably rewarding when we're lucky enough to have the opportunity to share our skills and talents with others in the community. I'm so grateful to be with a company that values lifting each other up whenever we're able. As our stylist Kearra said, it's why we're on this planet.

We couldn't have done this without the support of our amazing collaborators:

Jody White and Nicole Roe Sickels of Dress for Success Des Moines

The Glam Squad:
Kelsi Ziemann with Kelsi Ziemann Artistry
Ivy Boyd with Ivy Boyd Makeup Artist + Beauty Blogger
Natalie Sanger Gendle with Academic lash & beauty
Stacy Syroka independent stylist at Elevencherry
Ashley Maree Harvey independent hair stylist
Kearra Chester independent hair stylist
Desi Joelle with Desi at Dolce

And our kind and patience videographers (video to come): 
Caleb and Joe Stevens

And lastly, a huge thanks to the Ivory House team: Megan, Rachel, and Lucy.

Shane Hefty: Your Designated Dapper Dude

Meet Shane Hefty, Your Designated Dapper Dude


I met Shane the day he walked in for his photoshoot. I was so impressed by how prepared he was for the experience, especially given the lack of resources I had provided. He brought several suit and tie options that fit his personal brand and business goals. He had a fresh haircut and neatly trimmed beard.  

On top of being organized, he knew exactly what he was looking for in a successful photo, and together, we achieved his goals. When I started designing a Men’s Style Guide, I knew Shane was the best choice for advising on men’s fashion. The following pages are filled with great advice, not only on how to prepare for your headshots, but useful knowledge on where to get started in the wide world of men’s styling. Happy reading!


People often ask if I own any clothes other than suits; many can’t recall ever seeing me in anything else, and in a number of cases close friends are shocked the first time they see me in a pair of joggers. A large part of my personal brand is being suited up at all times; even though I may be over dressed more often than not. My mantra when it comes to my personal attire is, “Dressing like the place you’re coming from or going to is more important than where you currently are.” 

Regardless of your profession, you need to look like you’re the best at what you do, whether it’s a server at a restaurant or the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. For some, that simply means clean clothes that fit well and are in line with the dress code of your employer. For others, that means a suit and tie, and for a broad swath of people, it’s somewhere in between. 

In the coming paragraphs, I’ll share a few key items every man should have in their closet, some grooming and tailoring tips, and finally, what you should wear to a headshot session with Whitney. Let’s get started!

10 Closet Essentials


A Navy Suit

Navy suits are a great alternative to traditional black and are perfect for everything from job interviews to dates. Bonus: It’s versatile enough, you can wear the jacket as a sportcoat or the pants without the jacket.  

A White Collared Shirt

You need one perfect dress shirt to go with your perfectly tailored navy suit. If you’re of average build, always get a slim fit shirt. I buy most of my dress shirts online from Charles Thywhitt – great prices, quality and fit.

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Brown and Black Lace-up Dress Shoes

You can buy the same shoe in different colors.  Brown will go with your navy suit and the black are more formal. This is an opportunity to invest, as well-made shoes can be repaired and last decades. I suggest leather soles and sticking to a classic style like a cap toe or wing tip.

Dark Blue Denim Jeans

Dark denim looks great with sneakers or dress shoes, t-shirts or dress shirts, cardigans or sport coats.  I prefer J. Crew’s or Levi’s 513 jeans – good quality, great fit, and they’re not $300. 


White V-Neck Undershirt

If you’re wearing a dress shirt without a tie or a polo shirt, select a v-neck tee.  The sleeves should hit your mid-bicep – if they don’t, it will affect the fit of your shirt. 

A White Pocket Square

A white pocket square is conservative and simple, but also shows that you pay attention to the details.  YouTube has great tutorials showing how to fold it in a square.  

A Grey Tie

A grey tie goes with everything from your suit to your jeans; it works for weddings and job interviews or on a first date with your white button down and dark jeans.  

A Gray Polo Shirt

A gray polo shirt is the short sleeve version of the white button-down shirt – it goes with everything.  You can dress down your navy suit or wear it to Sunday brunch. Try to find one without logos and try numerous brands on until you find one that fits perfectly.  A good fitting shirt hits mid-bicep and if you wear it untucked, it should hit just below your belt. 

Jack Purcell Sneakers

Jack Purcell was a badminton star who had his own converse sneakers, which looked similar to the ubiquitous Converse All-Stars.  The difference is the “smile” on the toe of the shoe.  These sneakers are simple and incredibly comfortable.  The colors are fairly subdued, so you can get them in navy, white, and grey.  I like white or grey, as they provide a nice contrast to the jeans or the navy suit. 


A Cardigan

You can wear a cardigans like a coat in the spring and the fall.  It’s like a sweatshirt, but dressy; if you get hot, it’s easy to take off.  It’s also a great substitute for a sport coat.  

Leveling Up: 

Invest in tailoring. I can’t emphasize this enough. It will make your investment in the suit and shirts that much more valuable. A good fit just as important as good quality material and construction. I recommend building a relationship with a tailor. J.D. at Frederick’s Tailoring in Clive is the best.  Tell him Shane sent you.

Table 128: Fall Menu Reveal

I sat at the bar at Table 128 enjoying the company of owner Sarah Pritchard after our Wednesdays with Whitney session. I watched a full house arrive for lunch. Everyone who passed the hostess counter on the way to their table grabbed a famous chocolate chip cookie with sea salt, an aperatif to the delicious lunch to come. These cookies, along with amazing food and warm, responsive service are trademarks of this local West Des Moines resturant.


This winter, Table 128 catered the grand opening and one year anniversary of my business. Sarah showed up at my door with trays of delicious, pipping hot food and a smile, ready to serve in any way she could. I had fully expected her to drop off the food and head to her next event. This is the only time I would underestimate Sarah and Lynn’s immense call to host and help. Sarah stayed at the opening, pouring wine and greeting guests, making sure the trays were filled and details weren’t dropped. Her presence made that party a true success.


I desperately wanted to return the favor of hospitality to the Table 128 team and months later, I was finally able to convince Sarah and Lynn it was time for updated headshots. Like so many of my clients, they bulked. Excuses like, “I don’t photograph well,” were spoken aloud. But I am known to be very convincing and finally got this dynamic duo in front of the camera. Of course, the photos were just as beautiful as they are. Their love of people, food and wine, and each other stand out in every image. 


Yesterday, I had the pleasure of photographing the new Fall Menu. The smells and views laid before me were impeccable. I loved capturing the beautiful food, lovingly prepared by amazing people. I personally got to sample the Scallops, Cured Zucchini and Sweet Potato Panna Cotta. Every bite was an experience. The scallops were seared to perfection, laid over a nutty wheat berry concoction that had me singing praises to the fall weather. The cured zucchini had me begging for the recipe. How the heck does a person make a zucchini taste THAT GOOD? I sat protesting as the panna cotta was served with hot coffee. How could I possibly eat another bite?!  But of course, it was rich, creamy and just the right amount of sweet. I polished off the whole dish without hesitation. It was a perfect example of another amazing meal at Table 128. 


dsm Magazine: Advisors and Navigators

Thank you to dsm Magazine for inviting me to photograph these lovely humans. Below are my published photos and comments on my participation in the project:

Out of all the beauty in the world, I find myself most passionate about photographing relationships. Being a photographer allows me to bear witness to people's unique interactions. One of my greatest joys is capturing those moments in a real and authentic way. 


I found photographing the mentor/mentee relationships particularly compelling. Since returning back to Des Moines this year to start my own business, I've experienced so many small and large kindnesses from the greater Des Moines community. The mentor mentality appears deeply ingrained in the culture of our strong city. I am awed by the generations before me, who lead Des Moines into the thriving urban center we now take so much pride in. I've observed and benefited from the selflessness with which Des Moines' mentors share their diverse knowledge. The duos and trio photographed for this piece are nothing short of impressive together and separately. Each grouping presented an engaging personal history, filled with mutual respect and admiration for each other's impressive qualities. Hearing their stories, capturing their moments and honoring each or their relationships was truly inspiring.