For Kella Klinker-Simonin, life has come full circle.
But it’s been anything but a boring ride.
Kella grew up in Hartley, so she’s a northwest Iowa born and bred girl, but she spent most of her life far, far away from the area where she grew up. After graduating high school in 1964, she attended Northwestern College, where she made history.
“I was one of the first two people to ever graduate from Northwestern with a bachelor of arts in theatre in 1968,” Kella said. A degree in theatre was not the original plan. But, as Kella said, “you make plans and God laughs.”
Originally, Kella was going to be an education major, but she met a professor who would change her life forever.
“The second semester of my freshman year, I took oral interpretation from Dr. Theora England. Once Dr. E. got a hold of me she never let me go,” Kella said with a laugh. “She got me involved with theatre and choral readers. With theatre this whole new world opened up to me. I never was the same afterwards.”
In fact, Kella said that if she had to name one woman that she admired it would have to be Dr. Theora England.
“If it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t be who I am,” Kella said. “It was the confidence she had in me that gave me confidence in myself. It was a formative period of time in my life and she inspired me.”
It was Dr. Theora England who helped Kella get an assistantship teaching at Pittsburg State University in Kansas, where she also earned her masters in speech education. There she participated in two seasons of Tent-by-the-Lake summer theatre. She went on to teach at Ellsworth Community College in Iowa Falls, where Kella started a forensics program and a children’s theatre program. Then she was hired by Paul Walwick to create a program at The new University Center in Kingsport, TN. This was a community college program under the main East Tennessee State University. After five years, a staff reduction once again set Kella on the hunt for another job.
Kella then made her way with her then husband, Chuck Simonin, in 1979 to Louisiana where she had an assistantship at Louisiana State University. She earned her doctorate in theatre.
She taught students in grades 6-12 at the Special School District #1 at Greenwell Springs Hospital School for 25 years. Her classes included literature, language arts and English classes. Kella was also very involved with the local community theatre when she was living in Louisiana.
Then in 2005, a number of things happened which made Kella change her life plans once again.
No Child Left Behind was implemented, and Kella found herself spending more time on her computer than teaching her students, and the computer work ended up hurting Kella’s neck. Her doctor put her on a 12-week medical leave and Kella found her way home.
She spent the summer with her sister at their cabin on East Okoboji Lake. Then in August Hurricane Katrina hit.
“It was probably one of the most traumatic things I’ve ever been through,” Kella said. “I mean, it wasn’t my first hurricane, but the whole aftermath was just devastating to so many.”
Both of these events on top of everything else Kella had to deal with at the time, inspired her to make a change.
She decided to move back home.
Kella officially retired and moved to Spencer in 2006.
After the move, Kella quickly threw herself into her new community.
“I spent a few days out on the acreage and I was being bored to death,” Kella said with a laugh. “I drove into town and found the theatre here. I told them that I had a doctorate in theatre and that I wanted to volunteer. Connie jumped up and said, ‘Don’t move!’”
And that was that.
Ever since, Kella has been involved with the Spencer Community Theatre both onstage and off. She’s directed, stage managed and acted in a number of shows.
Thanks to some other people she met, she was invited to be an adjunct professor at Iowa Lakes Community College and teach a fast-track speech class. She continues to teach for the college.
Another activity that keeps Kella busy, as she prefers to be, is Third Age College through the Iowa Lakes Community College. Third Age College is for people 55 and older to learn about a wide variety of interesting topics.
“At first, I just started going to attend the classes and through that I met Kitty Conover and when she learned I was certified to teach fundamentals of speech, she had me sign up that day to teach speech,” Kella said. “And then, eventually, I also took over helping teach the Third Age College classes as well.”
In her classes, they’ve explored all kinds of topics including Alfred Hitchcock, the best 100 films of all-time according to the American Film Institute, and more.
“I learn a lot along the way,” Kella said. “There’s also a joy in teaching — even adult classes. That’s one of the ways to keep Alzheimer’s at bay — keep your brain active and involved.”
If all of that weren’t enough to keep Kella busy, she also has her own business.
About a year ago, she opened up her own retail space in Spencer, Klinkerbelle’s, after having a number of rooms where she sold her clothes and vintage items at Red Door Antiques in Spirit Lake.
“It’s been a really fun process and I love having this little shop,” Kella said. “If you’re going to do something it should be fun. As for teaching, I’ve been doing it for 47 years and there’s no end in sight. I love it and don’t want to stop.”
Even though it’s not the life that Kella originally had planned on, it’s one that she is living to the fullest and enjoying every minute of it.
“I love keeping busy. I feel sorry for people who stay home alone and don’t go out. I’m going to be 70 this year and I love all of my activities and being involved.”