Going Places. Here at Home: Bethany Duff

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Bethany Duff

Volunteer’s life in Volga is ‘Baked with Heart’


This is one in a series of articles highlighting the latest generation of innovators making a difference in Clayton County



By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register


“I’m coming home.” It’s not just a popular song but also a Midwest mantra—an open admission that no matter where you go, home is where you belong. 


Such is the case with Bethany Duff. Her father was originally from Volga, and though Bethany, was born and raised in California, her childhood is filled with memories of visits to the area, playing in the snow, summer fun, July Fourth festivities. 


Eventually, Bethany’s parents found their way back to Volga, buying and fixing up an old house when they retired. Soon, it was Bethany and her “Anne of Green Gables” dream of returning, teaching in Iowa and restoring an old house.


“There was always a part of me that longed to be in Volga, away from the hustle and bustle noise of the city,” she said. 


Before that could become a reality, Bethany was still in California, teaching—a 10-year journey that included teaching special education and fourth graders, as well as working as a resource specialist at an elementary school before arriving in a kindergarten classroom. One of her trademarks as a teacher was “always creating a warm, welcoming, encouraging classroom where students felt comfortable to grow, learn and try new things.”


It was during the final period when the Covid pandemic wrenched the system, becoming one of the “hardest things” Bethany had to face as an instructor. It was a challenging time with uncontrollable variables that included distance learning, live sessions, classroom via Zoom, instructional videos and copious amounts of packets. 


Inside, Bethany longed to return to the classroom, but she also longed to be closer to family and the “charms of the Midwest.” 


Even though her family’s history is in northeast Iowa, summer visits did not prepare Bethany for the “culture shock” when she returned in June 2021 after accepting a kindergarten teaching position at West Delaware School District in Manchester. There was, though, a sigh of relief at the lack of “heavy restrictions” and the ability to “resume back to normal, whatever the new normal was.” 


Bethany learned about late starts, snow days and early releases, and that there is “so much community involvement [and] homecoming festivities, even at an elementary level.”


She also looked for ways to get involved, immediately turning to VCTC and the Volga Opera House.


Her first brush with the VCTC was through her father, George, who wanted her to help him with sound during Mama Moon’s production of “Kitchen Witches.” 


“I was a little reluctant because I didn’t know how much help I could be for him, but we made it work. I remember being up in the balcony and telling my dad as I was looking down at the main floor, I want to be a part of this, but I just don’t know how/what that looks like. He said it will come in time and, boy, was he right,” Bethany said. 


It started last summer with a shift in the VCTC leadership. She told VCTC CEO Tom Klingman—and unbeknownst at the time her future husband—that she would support VCTC in whatever way she could, and almost immediately, her services were called in. At the time, Volga was prepping for the Truck Cruise, which needed some extra hands. 


“Tom was able to get some volunteers and extra support to help with admissions and running the event. We both looked at each other and said, ‘Wow! That was one heck of an event!’” Bethany said. 


It was the biggest cruise to date, and after that event, said Bethany, “that’s when things really started falling into place and made me feel as though I could help.” 


Initially, that help was given the title of chief of public relations, but it quickly evolved into CEO/COO alongside Klingman. The two eventually married in October 2022. 


The list of ways Bethany has helped is nothing short of impressive and shows a willingness to do even the smallest of tasks. She helped build the balcony bar reusing the old opera house floor and has set up for dinner and shows by ironing tablecloths, setting tables, stocking beverages, making supply runs and organizing for a smoother flow.  She thinks of the layout for events, guiding wait staff during dinner and shows to ensure guests are happy. 


Bethany has also sourced talent and handled marketing and creating fliers, menus and logos.


“Simply put, if something needs to be done, I’m not afraid to jump in and start,” Bethany said. 


Along the way, though, Bethany found it necessary to make a change that ended up being one of the hardest decisions she ever made. That was leaving the teaching profession in the summer of 2022. 


“After three tumultuous years of teaching during a pandemic and in a new state, I needed a breather,” she said. 


That breather brought some new developments aside from her involvement in the VCTC. One of them was venturing into the catering business with Baked with Heart, which specializes in deserts, cookies and baked breads. The idea overlaps with Bethany’s “Anne of Green Gables” motif, as she always imagined herself owning a bakery and coffee shop in downtown Volga. The love of baking stems from a copy of The Fannie Farmer Cookbook she found when she was 10. 


“One day, my mom had to take my sister to softball practice and I found a recipe in Fannie Farmer for macadamia bread. I discovered how baking brought people together,” Bethany said. “As I grew up, I started to really dive into recipes and wanted to make things for my dad that he grew up with. I realized that old recipes and dishes keep the memories of those who have passed on alive and with us. It connects us.”


It wasn’t until after Bethany was put in charge of desserts for Thanksgiving with Tom’s family that the venture really started to gain momentum. The taste of pumpkin cheesecake had Tom asking if she would cater an event at the opera house for February 2022.  


“I will never forget that first catering gig. I made homemade banana cream pie with fresh whipped cream and mini cheesecakes,” Bethany recalled. “I was not sure what to expect from patrons but was so happy to see how well received it was. I had no idea that I would need a name.”


When she was asked who catered dessert, “Baked with Heart” was born. 


“I knew I wanted a name that was simple but also one that highlighted how everything truly is homemade, baked from scratch, done with love. Baked with Heart just stuck,” Bethany explained. 


Baked with Heart continues to cater events at the opera house and, eventually, Bethany hopes to expand into an actual business location. The little coffee shop of her imagination, where “people can come and enjoy great coffee, delicious baked goods and share laughter and friendship.” 


She is also looking into sourcing more ingredients locally. 


“I have only been back in Iowa just slightly over a year, so I am still learning quite a bit on where/how to go about and get things. Supporting local and family farms is something that I feel strongly about,” Bethany said. “I believe it is so important to have a connection to where our food comes from, and if people were interested, I think it would be such an eye opening experience.” 


Even though she hasn’t been in Clayton County long, Bethany has immersed herself in the local culture, getting involved and working toward a better and brighter Volga through her work with VCTC, the Volga Opera House and Baked with Heart.


While Bethany offers up a humble personality, she’s a dedicated member of the community and has fully embraced the “culture shock.” 


“Volga draws you in. I don’t quite know how else to describe it, but there is a spirit. I love how often many people know someone in your family, which sparks a conversation and a story. You don’t get that in a big city,” she said. 


And yet, sometimes, Bethany’s impact isn’t even about doing things. Sometimes, it’s simply a smile that leaves the longest indelible image. 


“I think the light heartiness that I bring is something that has impacted people. They know that when Bethany walks in the door, there will always be a friendly smile and a kind greeting,” she said. 

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