Willie brings creativity, passion for storytelling to Mar-Mac Chamber

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In 2020, Mary Willie created the Soaring Eagle, Lifting Spirits mural on the Lansing Harpers Road. She’s excited to bring her creativity and passion for storytelling into her new role as director of the McGregor-Marquette Chamber of Commerce. (Submitted photo)

By Audrey Posten, Times-Register


Mary Willie will bring her creativity and passion for storytelling to her new position as director of the McGregor-Marquette Chamber of Commerce. 


A native of Iola, Wis., Willie earned a bachelor of fine arts degree in graphic design, with communications and art history as support areas, from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. That background led her to a career in photo journalism, including 15 years as senior photo journalist with the Des Moines Register. 


“I did some interesting stories,” Willie said. “I got to travel and meet people at their best and worst times, experiencing things first hand.”


Willie visited Africa twice, with Mali the most memorable destination.


“I went to Timbuktu and saw camels, sand and desert. I saw the Nile River and hippopotamuses,” she recalled.


Other notable travels were to Mexico, Finland and Canada.


According to Willie, those experiences made her thankful for what she had in the United States.


“But people in other cultures are always so happy,” she said. “They have each other, and that’s all they need. Those were good experiences for me.”


The highlight of Willie’s career was receiving the Pulitzer Prize for Best Breaking News Photography in 2010. The award-winning image captured a dramatic rescue at a Des Moines dam the previous year.


“I was kind of a Jack of all trades when I was in journalism,” Willie said. 


Now, her freelance photography largely focuses on nature and portraits. One can view it online at, or at The Left Bank Shop and Gallery in McGregor.


Willie is excited to translate her photography skills into her new role. She sees so much potential to highlight outdoor recreation—including hiking, hunting and fishing—as well as the area’s natural beauty. 


“It’s the most beautiful part of the state. There are so many opportunities,” said Willie, who moved to northeast Iowa seven years ago and currently lives in Elkader. “Everyone knows about the river, but I also want to highlight surprising spots I think are pretty, then get those things out on our website and social media posts. I want to work to attract people who enjoy that and work with the cities to attract businesses who support those types of people.”


Willie also plans to highlight history, art and culture and, of course, Ports of Discovery businesses.


“There are a lot of different things to jog people’s interests to come here. And we want everyone to also enjoy living here,” she said.


But it’s not just showcasing beautiful images of the McGregor-Marquette area. It’s about telling a story too.


“I’m a natural storyteller,” Willie said, “and I like getting to know people. I’m interested in what makes them tick.”


After most recently working at 3M, “it will be great to get my brain thinking creatively again,” she added. “It gives me a sense of purpose back to use my creative and digital skills.”


Willie’s first day with the chamber was March 6. Less than a month from that date, construction will begin on McGregor’s Main Street—a project Willie knows will be one of her major focuses.


“Construction will be a challenge,” she admitted, “but I’m also excited about all the development that’s going on in both communities. Once we get through that, there will be a lot of new growth and businesses coming in. I’ll be here to get us through that, then we can look at some other projects and adding events, which I’m excited about. I’m also interested in the artistic side of things to help with tourism and finding more ways we can help our businesses.”


Willie stressed she will be open to new ideas.


“I’m not afraid to try new things. I like wild ideas,” she said.


Most importantly, she’s excited to become part of the Ports of Discovery communities of Marquette and McGregor.


“I’m in love with the towns. For seven years, I’ve been close by, with my artwork in the gallery, going to the shops and getting to know people. Now, I’m excited to do my part and put in the work and become part of the community,” she said.

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