Photo by Duane Tinkey
Photo by Duane Tinkey

Though MD Isley has left Des Moines a couple of times, he keeps coming back, attracted not by his many job opportunities but more by the city itself. Still, his list of achivements include serving as the founding executive director of the Des Moines Higher Education Collaborative, where he took the organization from concept to an operating budget of $750,000 and helped build the John and Mary Pappajohn Education Center. He is currently serving as interim director of Living History Farms and will join Bravo Greater Des Moines as its first executive director this summer.

What are you most excited about with this new position?

So much good work has been done on the development of Bravo over the past several years. Coming in as the first executive director, I can begin to focus on our mission and our purpose and basically have a face or ongoing point of representation that I think will help Bravo grow and in a sense, move the organization to the next level.

Is there a theme to your non-profit work?

I think there is, probably from a development perspective. Many of the projects I've worked on in the last 15 years have been taking something that is either conceptual or in the early stages of development and growing it and making it more operational and expanding it from there.

What did you do before the Higher Education Collaborative?

I left (Des Moines Area Community College) as an associate dean with the west campus. I also was responsible for the development of DMACC's first presence in West Des Moines. I came to Des Moines in '95 as a human resources administrator of training with Des Moines University. Prior to that, I taught business, marketing and entrepreneurial courses at North Dakota State College of Science.

Have you always lived in Des Moines?

I was born in Des Moines, but I did not grow up in Iowa. I spent my first eight years of school in the suburbs of New Orleans. I graduated from high school in western Kentucky, started college in Indiana and earned my bachelor's and master's degrees in North Dakota. My father was with Archer Daniels Midland Co., so as I grew up, I followed him around, of course.

What brought you back?

I've always loved this area. My grandparents were still living here at the time and I had always wanted to live near them and be a part of their lives. I am grateful that I did. Des Moines has provided me with many professional career opportunities that have tended to build upon each other. I did leave for a short while after the Higher Education Collaborative. I moved to Phoenix for about a year and worked for Maricopa Community Colleges as an economic development specialist with their Center for Workforce Development. I knew within eight months that I absolutely missed Des Moines. It's interesting that the organizations that I'm now serving and supporting are those very organizations that helped attract me back.

Do you have specific goals for this new position?

One of the things I want to get started on right away is getting input from our existing arts and culture organizations as well as representatives from the different communities that help fund this initiative. Use that to develop a comprehensive community cultural plan, so we know what we have, what the public wants and what the leaders of this community want and begin developing a plan that will help us reach those goals.

What do you do for fun?

I have an acreage between Norwalk and Indianola, and I raise Arabian show horses. That's been a passion of mine for 25-plus years.

How did you get into that?

I was horse crazy as a kid. The Arabian horse is, in my opinion, the truest form of living art.