Why Orange City: Julie Elliott

Julie Vermeer Elliott grew up in Orange City and graduated from Northwestern College. Following her college graduation, Julie moved away to pursue further education and career opportunities. Six years ago, she returned to Orange City and is currently the Vice President for Student Life at Northwestern College. Below, in her own words, she shares her journey back to Orange City and what makes the community a great place for her and her family to call home.

Why did you move to Orange City?

My husband, Greg, and I grew up in this area, but like a lot of twentysomethings, we left northwest Iowa after college for a bigger place and assumed we would never return. We first moved to North Carolina where I enrolled in graduate school at Duke. After five years, we moved to the Philadelphia suburbs where I served for 10 years as a faculty member at a college and Greg worked as a brand manager at an advertising agency.

In my 15th year after moving away from Orange City, I returned for several weeks to care for my mom as she was dying. I was struck by the depth of her friendships — by how many lives she touched in her nearly 80 years in northwest Iowa. She said to me at the time, “At the end of your life, all that matters is your faith and your relationships.” I was struck by the fact that our community was not nearly as deep or as broad as my parents’. When my mom passed away, my dad expressed his desire for us to move back to Iowa. Our initial reaction was, “that would be great, but what on earth would we do for jobs?” We returned to Pennsylvania with Dad’s plea ringing in our ears, but also with the belief that a move to Orange City would be professionally impossible.

Two months later, my dad became critically ill. With my siblings spread all over the globe, I felt a pull to return to Iowa to care for him. I called a former professor from Northwestern and asked him, “Do you know of anything that may be opening up at the college?” Much to my surprise, he informed me that he was leaving his position as Dean of Student Life. Around that same time, Greg learned of a job opening in the area that interested him. We both applied for the open positions.

Then, devastatingly, my dad died. Now we were left with the question: Do we continue to pursue these positions, knowing that our initial motivation for moving to Iowa is no longer present? After much conversation and prayer, we decided to continue with the interview processes to see where they would lead. Greg received an offer one day; I received an offer the next. We had no doubt: we were being called back to Orange City.

Fortunately, moving back did not mean giving up on our professional aspirations. Rather, Orange City has afforded us wonderful opportunities. I have grown a lot in my role as Vice President for Student Life and Greg has successfully launched his own branding/marketing/design company, Authentige Branding.

More importantly, Orange City has given us what we were lacking for many years: a deep and wide community of support. We had (and continue to have) great friends in both North Carolina and Pennsylvania, but the close-knit bonds that characterize this place are truly unique. And it is these bonds that make for a rich life.

How would you describe your lifestyle in Orange City?

I would describe our lifestyle in Orange City as full but easy. It is full because there is always something going on — kids’ programming at the library, a concert in the park, a speaker at the coffee shop, a sporting event at the college, and more. At the same time, our lifestyle is easy because everything is affordable and convenient. For example, one of our first nights back in Orange City, I had 30 minutes to spare while our daughter was in a swimming lesson. I wondered to myself: would it be possible to wash my car, check out a few books at the library, drop off letters at the post office, and get a few groceries? Much to my surprise, I completed all of those tasks and returned to the swimming pool with five minutes to spare. That’s when I knew that life in Orange City was going to be very different than life in the ‘burbs.

What has surprised you the most about living in Orange City?

I was surprised about how many enrichment opportunities are available for our kids. In the Philadelphia suburbs, there were many opportunities, too, but they were financially out of reach for the average family. Plus, you had to spend hours in the car to get to and from the opportunities. Here our kids can hop on their bikes and go to excellent recreational and educational programs that cost next to nothing.

What do you most enjoy about the community?

Besides the good people, our favorite thing about living in Orange City is the Wednesday night concert series in Windmill Park during the summer. The Orange City Arts Council brings in great performers and people of all ages stretch out of the lawn while kids play joyfully on the playground. It’s a beautiful scene.

What should others outside of Orange City or those considering a move to Orange City know?

If you value anonymity, Orange City is probably not the place for you. If you’re looking for a perfect place with perfect people, you won’t find that here, either. But if you’re willing to be open to others and immerse yourself in the community, this is a place where you can find real community and wonderful opportunities.