Nancy Mowery has helped dreams come true for more than 24 years.
Mowery is a longtime Make-A-Wish Iowa volunteer, having helped start the local committee for the nonprofit that provides opportunities for children with critical illnesses.
“It’s unbelievably rewarding to see a child, saying ‘What do you really want to do?’ and then they realize they’re indeed going to go on this fantastic trip, or have this fantastic play set in their yard or they’re actually going to get (what they request), after months and months of an awful situation,” Mowery said.
Mowery grew up in apple orchard country in Harrison County. Her maiden name is Worth.
“Worth apples from Mondamin, hill country” she said, “were world-famous once upon a time.”
She added with a laugh: “Only really old people remember the Worth apples now.”
A story Mowery loves to tell — “I actually rode a horse to a one-room schoolhouse from kindergarten through fourth grade. We had land adjacent to the school yard. I’d ride up and tie her to the fence.”
In high school, Mowery’s mother became ill, and she shifted her sights from going to Iowa State University in Ames to the Jennie Edmundson Hospital nursing school in Council Bluffs. That led to a nearly 50-year nursing career.
Mowery spent 41 years in pediatrics at Jennie Ed.
“I could see things were changing, and I was getting older. I went first to Dr. Mike Crawford’s ENT office and then Physicians Clinic pediatrics,” she said.
At 70 years old with a fulfilling career behind her and grandkids to spend time with, Mowery retired.
It was during her time at Jennie Ed that she got involved with Make-A-Wish. About 24 years ago, a vice president at the hospital had a meeting with a member of the organization’s Des Moines office who had broached the idea of a southwest Iowa Make-A-Wish committee.
“I thought that’s where I should be. I wanted to be involved,” Mowery said. “We had a meeting. And invited some of our friends that we thought would be interested, and love kids. That’s how we started.”
Mowery remembers the first child the committee helped fondly. Shayna Ellis of Red Oak was 9 years old at the time, battling leukemia. The organization helped send her and family members to Disney World in the spring of 1996.
“She was just the cutest little darling,” Mowery said, recalling driving with a friend to meet Shayna and her family.
Ellis recalled her leukemia treatments weren’t going well and she “needed a break.”
“That’s when Make-A-Wish came in and I met Nancy,” Ellis said. “She is a wonderful person.”
Mowery met her family at the airport before and after the trip. Ellis said she attended Make-A-Wish Christmas and pool party meet-ups afterward, staying in touch with people in the organization, including Mowery, as she continued her leukemia treatment.
“Make-A-Wish helped me get through my time being sick. They become part of our family,” Ellis said, noting Mowery would get off a shift at Jennie Ed and come to Children’s Hospital in Omaha to sit with her to give her parents a rest.
“Nancy holds a very special place in my heart,” Ellis said.
She went into remission in July of 1998.
Mowery said she’s enjoyed her time with Make-A-Wish, which included serving on the state board for more than one term about 20 years ago. She said the process involves the whole family — “Siblings go through a terrible time when this is going on,” she said — as the organization works to make a wish come true.
She recalled another family with three children that the southwest Iowa committee helped, who also went down to Disney World — delayed a week by a Midwest snowstorm.
“But they did eventually get to Disney World. There had been extended layovers trying to get there. The other wish granter and I met the family at the airport when they came back. I looked up the escalator,” as they came down, she said. “I went to the bottom of the stairs and immediately as they came down I had those three kids wrapped around my legs and body. It was like a movie, it was so wonderful.”
Mowery has a daughter, two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, with a third on the way. She lives in Council Bluffs and enjoys time in her backyard, planting and tending to flowers and herbs. During an interview, her basset hounds Belle, 11, and Bubba, 6 come up to say “hello.”
“I love animals,” Mowery said. “I have two basset hounds who are very messy and loud. And two cats.”
Mowery said she was writing her annual Christmas letter years ago, talking about her life and Make-A-Wish.
“Many people live their whole life and never know what their real point in life is — and mine is children,” she said. “I’m not a very big person, I’m short — I’m not frightening to them. I’ve always related to them very well.”
Mowery laughed in noting that her friends don’t want to go out to eat with her because she always attracts kids.
“A child’s smile lights my life up,” she said.