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Exclusive: New Iowa DNR Director talks about her time growing up in Decorah

Posted: Mon, Sept 2, 2019 3:46 PM
Kayla Lyon (right) with Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds

Iowa's new DNR Director, Kayla Lyon, fondly recalls growing up north of Decorah.  Well, maybe she doesn't fondly recall all the time she spent milking cows at her parents' farm.  "I hated it, but it instilled a lot of good values," she says in an interview with  Still, she says she has lots of fond memories from Decorah.

Kayla grew up as Kayla Hotvedt, the daughter of Dan and Sondra Hotvedt. She remembers spending time on the Upper Iowa River and in the woods around Decorah.

She attended Decorah High School, taking part in band and choir and other activities.  It was her time in the Decorah FFA that left the biggest impression on her, though.  She says everyone in FFA respected teacher Rick Twedt because he taught students "how to be leaders."  Kayla took part in leadership competitions and learned about how to run meetings, a skill she says caused her to hate disorganized meetings.

She and her friend, Aric Yaw, both earned their American FFA degrees at the FFA national convention in Louisville.  Only 18 Decorah HS students have achieved the degree in the history of the school.

After graduating in 2002, she headed to Iowa State University in Ames.  She enjoyed her time in Ames because she was "surrounded by people who were into agriculture."

Following Iowa State, she worked for the Western Iowa Dairy Alliance and then for the Iowa Institute for Cooperatives.  The job with the cooperatives group required her to talk with state legislators.  That opened the door to a job in the Governor's Office when Terry Branstad was governor.  When Branstad resigned to become U.S. Ambassador to China, she stayed on staff for Governor Kim Reynolds,working on all sorts of issues, but mainly agriculture and natural resources.

Kayla tells she was "pretty surprised" when Reynolds began talking to her about becoming DNR Director.  But she knows Reynolds well and knows former DNR Director Chuck Gipp also.  She says she also knows the importance of natural resources from growing up in Decorah.

Since becoming DNR Director two months ago, she has spent time digging for mussels and time at the Iowa State Fair.  She says he has also met a lot of Iowa DNR staff members and has been impressed by the fact that they "are a lot of passionate people."

She may visit Decorah soon, but it might be a weekend visit to spend time with family members in the town in which she grew up.