LE MARS, Iowa | Steve and Barbara Collins recently invited a friend, a home-builder, into their home. The builder eyed their great room upstairs, the wide-open kitchen peninsula, the master bed and bath, the coffered ceiling and the living room with its second fireplace downstairs.
The builder's greatest reaction was saved for the utility room.
"The detail of the concrete in the utility room impressed the builder the most," said Steve Collins, stifling his laughter. "And yet, the utility room is carpeted."
If such quality and care was attended to in the utility room, the rest of the home must be all that. And then some!
Steve and Barbara Collins, 1969 graduates of Le Mars Community High School, are happy as heck to be home in the Plymouth County seat. The couple moved back to their hometown in 2014, after spending the past three-plus decades living and working in and around Boston, Massachusetts, where Steve, who holds a doctorate from M.I.T., toiled in the research division at Raytheon for 35 years.
Steve, a rocket scientist who has several patents displayed on a wall in the couple's home, studied phenomena such as the effect of radiation on electronics. He also collaborated with Ford Motor Company on the development of micro-electrical mechanical systems.
Barbara, meantime, served in the reference department and as an editor for Houghton-Mifflin for years. She edited and proofread children's dictionaries before becoming an interior designer 22 years ago, a profession she maintains to this day.
The couple also raised a son and took part in a variety of community activities and cultural opportunities, always seeking involvement and the chance to learn more.
That quest hasn't stopped in their coming home to Le Mars. It shows in their 2006 home just north of the No. 8 tee box at Willow Creek Golf Course. Barbara, after all, made an upper-level exercise room into her sewing and craft room. Steve took a downstairs bedroom and gave it new life as a music studio.
You read that right: A music studio. He plays saxophone, she plays flute and piccolo.
"The point of the music studio is to get an accurate picture of the sound," Steve said as he positioned himself at the computer, just in front of a pair of Near-Field speakers. "You control the reflections of sound waves. You want to be able to move around and get a consistent sound."
The old bedroom now features a half-dozen or so acoustic panels on the walls and ceiling. The closet door is permanently open, a detail that emerged as Steve tested sound quality. Having the door open positively affected the quality, leading to a fun "ah-ha" moment for the scientist.
Using his skill in computer program, Steve was able to lay sound tracks behind a flute solo written and performed by Barbara. He played all the saxophone parts, using software to shift his alto sax part down to replicate the baritone sax. Ultimately, he and Barbara produced a CD in this room.
"I didn't touch this horn for 25 years," he said. "I retrieved my sax for an all-school reunion in Le Mars in 2000. When I hit the first chord, I said to myself, 'What an idiot! I have really missed this!'"
He's making up for lost time, now subbing with the sax section in the Le Mars Community Band. Both Barbara and Steve play regularly with the Orange City Municipal Band.
Being retired has allowed Steve to dive into other activities as well. In recent months, he's overtaken Barbara's laundry room with supplies needed for his foray into making wine. His edition of "Maggie & Walt's Pie Plant Wine" is an outgrowth of a cookbook Barbara helped conceive, thanks to an "I Grew Up in Le Mars" Facebook page she started when they lived in Massachusetts. The Facebook site now has the attention of some 3,077 members.
"Pie plant in Amish means rhubarb," said Barb, who edited the cookbook.
The recipe, which features raisin, lemon and orange in addition to rhubarb, was handed down by Steve's grandmother, Maggie Collins. The 2016 version used rhubarb grown on the same plot as that used by Maggie Collins two generations ago.
Beyond the "winery" and the music studio, the house boasts many treasures, including two remote-control fireplaces, walls of 12-inch thickness, 9-foot ceilings in the basement, hardwood flooring of light maple upstairs and a dining room spacious for up to a dozen. The cabinetry, of dark maple, sets off modern appliances in a kitchen that looks to both the big-screen TV and the fireplace in the great room.
The coffered ceiling in the great room has a pick of lighting options, either LEDs or flourescent. The master bedroom, the only bedroom upstairs as the Collins have configured the home, has a tray ceiling.
And just off the master bedroom is the master bath, which also features options: giant shower or soaking tub, which rests on a heated floor beneath a pewter chandelier. There's a spacious walk-in closet that's part of the bathroom, and both his and hers vessel sinks.
The couple has painted each room on the upper level. There are minimal window treatments throughout a home that looks out onto the north side of the 27-hole golf course, which has Willow Creek zipping across the layout. It's the site of an annual fall tournament where residents of the Collins' neighborhood, the North Greenview Development, battle residents of the East Greenview Development in a friendly game on the links, a game that surely involves a mix of newcomers to the community as well as longtime Le Mars residents, people like, well, Steve and Barbara Collins.
"In the fifth grade, I drew her name in our class Christmas exchange," Steve said. "I gave her a book called, 'Nurses Who Led the Way.'"
That was 54 years ago. No matter. With time, like rhubarb wine, this "story" seems to get better. Or, so said Barbara, who smiled and added, "I still have the book."