Citizen of the Year nominee finds her history in Spring Valley

Julie Mlinar
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Julie McBride was born, and the rest is local history.

Born Sept. 22, 1959, in Cresco to Anthony and Virginia McBride, she was number eight of 13 children living on a small Iowa farm. Today, she is known as Julie Mlinar, the most recent past director of the Spring Valley Historical Society (SVHS) and a very busy member of the community.

Her involvement in community activities has led to the Spring Valley Kiwanis Club choosing her as Spring Valley Citizen of the Year. The Spring Valley Kiwanis Club will honor Mlinar during a reception slated for Sunday, Oct. 7, at 1 p.m. at the Spring Valley Community Center in downtown Spring Valley.  The public is welcome to attend. 

Although Mlinar is steeped in local history, she took some time becoming a part of the community as she grew up and started a family before moving here about 22 years ago.

As a student, she started parochial school in Lourdes, Iowa, went to Elma, Iowa, for a few years, and then consolidation took her to Cresco, where she graduated in 1978. 

“The one story I remember most about school was when I was in fifth grade.  I was painfully shy — I know that’s hard to believe — but I had a music teacher, Miss Lease, that really believed in me.  She gave me a solo in the choir concert.  I was terrified, but wanted to do well for her, so I belted it out and will never forget the look of surprise and pleasure on her face when I did,” said Mlinar. “The shyness was a long work in progress at overcoming, and at times today, I still have to push myself not to shrink back from crowds and new situations.  Part of the shyness was brought on by some stuttering, or maybe the stuttering was brought on by the shyness.  Whichever way it was, for the most part, it’s gone in my adult life.”      

She became a part of the Mlinar family and Spring Valley’s theater history when she met and married Mark Mlinar, grandson of Joe Mlinar, the man who owned the State Theatre in downtown Spring Valley and the outdoor theater on the edge of town.  The two met in high school. 

“I was actually starting to date a good friend of his, and so we all hung out together most of the time.  When that relationship went nowhere, Mark and I dated mostly my senior year,” she said.

Mark was a year ahead of her in school. He left for college and ended up working in Minneapolis for Plitt Theaters.  She got a job in Minneapolis at Bachmann’s Floral after taking courses in Chicago for floral design. 

The two wed in February of 1979 and transferred to Grand Forks, North Dakota.  She became a mom a year later with their daughter, Patience.  When she was just 6 months old, the family moved to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and then they had a son, Justin, in 1981.  After Sioux Falls, they moved to Omaha, Nebraska, and then back to Iowa, ending up in Osage, where the two ran a restaurant. 

“When I got pregnant with Malachi and then a year-and-a-half later with Levi, I decided that I couldn’t run the restaurant, have two toddlers and homeschool the older children, so we sold the business,” she said. 

Shortly after that, Mark’s grandmother, Emily Mlinar, died and his grandparents’ house in Spring Valley became available.  Mark wanted to buy the house and he was able to transfer with his job, which brought the family to Spring Valley. 

“That was over 22 years ago, the longest we’ve ever lived in one spot,” said Mlinar. “It’s nice having a family connection here, being a part of the history, but also living in a small town where people know and help each other.” 

Patience, Justin, Malachi and Levi have ventured out to find their fortunes and make their own histories with families of their own, providing Mark and Julie with nine grandchildren and one more on the way, so far.  Patience lives in Milwaukee, Justin in Spring Valley, Malachi in Pine Island and Levi in Atlanta. 

“I am proud that they have all become strong, independent adults with great families,” she said.

A museum almost in the back yard gave Mlinar plenty to do once she began volunteering there as a result of people stopping by the museum and sometimes knocking on her door to ask questions about museum hours or other details. 

“Working at the Historical Society was my first job outside of the house living in Spring Valley.  I spent a total of 25 years homeschooling my children and then had the opportunity to work at the museum as we were facing the empty nest,” she said. “I can’t say enough about the convenience of working right here in town, and even better, just across the street.” 

This is also about the time her volunteer opportunities started changing to more civic-based efforts.  While the kids were home, she was very active in church as a Sunday school teacher, children’s program and play director, youth leader, Meals on Wheels deliverer, worship team member and other roles.  When she started at the Historical Society, she became involved with the Chamber of Commerce and Vision 21.  Over time, she added the Santa Supper, Ag Days Committee, REV, Making It Home, Brave Community Theatre board and plays, Fins and Films board, Bluff Country Singers Community Choir, the tourism board with the Almanzo 100, and the veterans’ home committee.

Though she resigned as director of the Spring Valley Historical Society earlier this year, she still spends her time lending a hand to preserving history of the historical society, volunteering there as a board member, making items for the gift shop, doing maintenance and making food for the Christmas tea and ice cream social.  She is also now the caregiver for Mark’s mother, who has moved in with the couple.  In her spare time, she also loves to read, quilt and bake.   

Being chosen as the 2018 Spring Valley Kiwanis Club’s Kiwanis Citizen of the Year took her by surprise, but she graciously accepted the honor to help the Kiwanis support its mission of helping children grow through a scholarship program that the annual recognition supports. Donations may be made in her honor to the Kiwanis scholarship program that supports Kingsland graduates. 

“I was a little taken aback when Rita Bezdicek called me to tell me that I was chosen as Kiwanis Citizen of the Year.  I am very honored — but a little blown away — to be included in a long list of outstanding volunteers that have been honored before me,” said Mlinar. “Serving and volunteering is just a part of who I am and just what I do.  I’ve been accused in my life of being intimidating and intense, and I probably am both, but when I have a job to do, I get pretty serious and intense and probably come off that way.  My kids always thought I was mad, but I wasn’t — just focused on doing my best.  I think I may have mellowed a little as I’ve gained some age and wisdom.”