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Honoring a lost co-worker in Ankeny

07/27/2021

BrendaIn her 35 years with the Iowa DOT, Brenda McCuen was a friend and mentor to many, serving Iowans and her coworkers with pride. Brenda, who was well known to most at the Ankeny complex and others throughout the DOT, unexpectedly passed away on March 12.

Traci Sharr, who worked with Brenda said, “She was our calmness in the storm and we miss that every day The biggest thing that has stuck out to me since Brenda passed and that I carry daily with me is her ‘I can fix it or do it.’ attitude. This was not just her attitude but the way she lived her life. You would never see Brenda struggle or give up. She would always figure it out or get it done no matter what.”

Brenda’s attitude has inspired Traci to adopt that same approach to her daily work and life. “There are lots of situations at work that I would have gone to Brenda for help, but now I have had to remind myself that Brenda would have just figured it out. She wouldn’t stress about it. I can hear her saying, ‘It's ok, we will get it figured out!’ So I take a moment and take a deep breath and figure things out by process of elimination, just like she would have done.” Traci explained, “I know there are many more people that she inspired in the same way over the years. That’s one of the reasons we wanted to make sure her memory lived on around our office.”

To honor Brenda’s memory, a few coworkers reached out to her family to determine how they would honor her.  They decided to create a memorial flower garden at the Iowa DOT’s Ankeny facility where Brenda worked for so many years.  

IMG_6941Traci said, “Since there is a bench in our courtyard honoring another former employee, Dorothea ‘Dot’ Trotter, we thought a memorial garden would be a nice compliment to that. Brenda was an avid gardener and loved lavender plants and hydrangeas. We took the idea of the memorial garden to management and they encouraged us to come up with a plan. Our generous co-workers chipped in for the materials and labor.”

Brenda's garden planting
A crew from MVD gathered at the Ankeny facility to install a memorial garden to Brenda McCuen.

On a warm July Saturday, a crew of Brenda’s co-workers gathered to put in the flower garden. Brenda’s daughters, Brandie (also an MVD employee) and Kelsi, along with Brenda’s sister-in-law, Sharon Bunce, and Brandie’s daughters, Rylee and Nya, were on hand. Traci said, “When Brenda wasn’t at work, she was outside. Now whenever we are at work, we can go outside and enjoy the garden. To anyone else, it’s just nice landscaping, but to us, this is Brenda.” 

Group photo of completed garden
First row (from left) Sharon Bunce, Brandie McCuen, Kelsie McCuen, Ellie Sharr, Traci Sharr, Darcy Doty Second row (from left)-  Rylee Burgos, Nya Burgos, Desiree Burrows, Steve Stonehocker.  Absent from the photo: Melissa Gillett, Bryan Nguyen

It's been a very tough year for many of us at the Iowa DOT. We are more than a collection of individuals, we are a team and a family. One way we get through the tough times is to stick together and do things for each other. This memorial is just one way our Iowa DOT family found a way to cope with a loss and live one of our core values of “People Matter.”

As employees of the Iowa DOT, we are often faced with difficult and stressful situations both on the job and off. Whether you are having a tough time coping with the unexpected loss of a loved one, have experienced a stressful or traumatic event at work, or are dealing with a situation and you don’t know where to turn, please reach out to the State of Iowa’s Employee Assistance Program at https://das.iowa.gov/human-resources/healthy-opportunities/employee-assistance-program. The program has been put in place to help assure we all have the resources and support needed to be happy and successful.


Very nice! Events like this give us all reason to step back and focus on what is really important. Brenda is obviously missed and will be remembered with great fondness.

This is a wonderful tribute and wonderful way to remember Brenda.

That is AWESOMESAUCE!

That is just awesome!!

Beautiful tribute to Brenda. Thank you so much for sharing this.

What a beautiful and moving tribute to Brenda. May she rest in peace.

What a wonderful way to remember Brenda and to keep her memory alive. I wished I could have met her face to face but our phone conversations and emails were always fun and I do miss them and her.

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Iowa highway in the evening