The narrow strip of real estate between the Des Moines VA hospital and an administration building had been an eyesore for several years. And Veterans in the facility noticed the scruffy patch of weeds that could be seen from many windows in the medical center.

After discussing that a nicer, landscaped outdoor space might help brighten spirits and make Veterans feel better, two VA employees decided that enough was enough.

They were going do some beautification.

Shelly Rubel and David Rowell, who both work in the hospital’s radiology unit, started scheming right away.

Shelly Rubel waters new plants

“Many people walk through this area multiple times a day,” said Rubel. “There are picnic tables nearby and it just really looked awful. We then realized that patient rooms overlook this area and decided it would be nice to make it look a bit more cheery.”

Donations and volunteers

The two have some expertise. Both are experienced gardeners, and Rubel had an ace up her sleeve: her husband is a landscape designer.

With some help from their supervisor, Amy Dobraska, the two got to working on appropriating the resources though VA internally, getting donations from staff, and coaxing volunteers to supply the needed labor.

Including the landscape design, Rubel estimates more than 100 hours were donated to bring the new feature to life. The project included an assortment of perennial flowers which will spread over time, some flowering bushes, a few grasses, and a Japanese maple tree.

The goal of the design was to have several varieties of plants to provide color throughout the summer. Veterans will be able to enjoy the view for more of the warm weather months.

Joy Committee leading project

“We are very happy with the plan and feel like it is a great improvement,” said Rubel.

The work is being completed mostly by a radiology-based team known as the Joy Committee.

“Everyone, from staff to the Veterans we serve, will be excited about the work this group did,” said Darwin Goodspeed, the Central Iowa VA director. “This project lifts the spirits of everyone associated with the VA campus.”

Bringing this bright, beautiful display to an underutilized space was a huge improvement. And the group may not be done yet.

Plans to beautify other areas

“We have talked several times about improving different areas on the grounds,” said Rubel. “With the support we received from leadership and from all different service lines on campus, we are encouraged we may be able to do more.”

The plants are certain to spread joy and the staff hopes Veterans’ happiness soon take root.

Joy Committee members are Jessica Jordan, Scott Yates, Nicole Forburger, Donna Warwick, Brandon Broadwell, Phillip Jensen, Michelle Burnett, Michelle May, and Dr Lim-Yao.

Imaging employees helped cover duties while the team was landscaping. The project was truly a collaborative effort.

VA Central Iowa serves 42 counties in the state and two counties in Missouri. The main campus is located on 47 acres in Northwest Des Moines. There are several facilities on the Main Campus, including the main hospital, a domiciliary, and a Community Living Center. Off campus facilities include the South Des Moines Clinic opening this summer, a facility to support homeless Veterans, and outpatient clinics in Mason City, Fort Dodge, Marshalltown, Carroll and Knoxville.

By Dan Kuester is a public affairs officer at the Des Moines VA

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Published on Jul. 30, 2022

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