True Grinnellian: Stephanie Dillon

Stephanie Dillon, the manager at a Casey’s General Store, poses for a photo at work. Photo by Ying Long.

Stephanie Dillon, the manager at a Casey’s General Store, poses for a photo at work. Photo by Ying Long.

Living in a town that houses an undergraduate college, the community members of Grinnell are great supporters of today’s youth and education system. However, there may be no larger fan than Stephanie Dillon. The manager of Casey’s General Store, located at 217 W. 6th Ave., is a strict believer in the motto, “Leave it better than you found it,” and not only has a large heart for the community members of Grinnell, but also generously invests a lot of her time in supporting Grinnell’s youth.

Most Grinnell students don’t venture out to Dillon’s Casey’s, located on the west side of town, but Dillon gets her fair share of college students from Iowa Valley Community College and Marshalltown Community College. However, Dillon really connects and develops relationships with students from Grinnell-Newburg Middle School and Grinnell-Newburg High School, who she has watched grow up over the years.

Dillon moved to Grinnell 21 years ago from Marengo, Iowa with her husband and children. Dillon, then training to become a nurse, left the practice after her mother-in-law fell ill and passed away. While job searching, she came across Casey’s General Store, and has been working there for 19 years.

“It was really tough to watch her die. I wasn’t sure I had what it took to finish [nursing school]. I wasn’t sure I could continue to take care of people if I knew they weren’t going to make it. I like to fix things. I like to make things better … I could make her days better, but I couldn’t fix her,” Dillon said.

Working for Casey’s has allowed Dillon to invest time in what she is truly passionate about: supporting today’s youth. Dillon’s efforts in helping out the community are humbling because although her actions may seem small, they are numerous and effective in making a difference. Utilizing her position as the manager of Casey’s General Store, Dillon goes out of her way to host pizza parties for the sports teams of Grinnell-Newburg Middle School, deliver donuts to each meeting of Grinnell-Newburg High School’s Future Farmers of America club, supply breakfast to the high school’s Freedom Alliance club and much more. Most of these efforts are funded out of Dillon’s own pocket. 

“You, as a member of the youth, you are my future. I love children … and I absolutely encourage anything they can possibly do,” Dillon said.

A mother and grandmother who served as a foster parent for 14 years, Dillon has worked to raise her children with her values.

“I’ve raised my children to live in an absolutely bigot and racist-free home. There [are] absolutely no lines amongst us … it doesn’t matter. So you come from another country. Tell me about where you came from—I want to know. I want to know about your religion, I want to know about your culture, your people. I want to share with you my [culture],” Dillon said.

Though Dillon is committed to today’s youth, her generosity for services in the community extends beyond working with children. 

During last year’s arson of town residents Walter and Mary Barnes’ home, Dillon, along with other community members, spearheaded community benefits to raise money to support the family after their loss.

Dillon also elaborated on the story of a Grinnell high school female who is currently diagnosed with cancer whose family Dillon has helped before. Dillon explained that it was essential for community members to go out of their way to ensure the happiness of others, no matter how large or small the effort.

“Why do they have to wake up in the morning and worry about whether or not they have enough gas in the car? Whether or not they have someone to take care of their son when they’re at their daughter’s chemotherapy treatment? The only thing they need to worry about is their daughter getting better. So why can’t I take that burden off their shoulders by maybe donating some pizza [to them]? Maybe I can help them with their gasoline. It’s simple. Being kind to others is such a simple concept,” Dillon explained.

In her free time, Dillon enjoys reading and visiting Ahrens Park with her grandchildren. 

Grinnell is fortunate to have a resident like Dillon, who leads by example through acts of kindness.

“I feel like I am a better person at the end of the day if I’ve made someone smile, and I’ve made someone’s day just a little bit easier,” Dillon said. “Because maybe if my kindness today can be paid forward tenfold tomorrow, how much happier would the world be?”