Jessica Dunker

CEO, Iowa Restaurant Association

If you opened your own business, what would it be?

I would open a second hand store.  I love everything about the hunt of a good deal—if it’s someone else’s throw away item, all the better.  One of my favorite things to do with my daughters is go “Goodwill Hunting.”  We love the play on words.

What advice would you give your younger self?  I promise you, someday you will learn to love that crazy curly hair.  In fact, embracing it, will be a large part of what defines you.  As trivial as hair may seem, for a girl who spent her middle school years in the 70s where everyone wanted to look like Marcia Brady, having a full head of incorrigible curls and a limited understanding of solid hair products was not easy.

Exceptional Skills— I’m a warrior at a heart. I charge ahead when I see injustice. I lead and expect people to follow. I make decisions and live with the consequences.  I communicate well on-the-fly.  I should have been a Valkyrie (sadly I’m not Nordic.)

What makes you feel fulfilled?  Being right in the center of starting something new.  My spirit animal is an entrepreneur (yes I know that’s not an animal). I like helping organizations –non-profits, businesses, anything, get off the ground.  I struggle to stick with them once they’ve gotten over the hump of start-up. I always tell my children, “some people are starters and some people are builders, some people get things off the ground, and others take the ball and improve things from there.”  I also love being a wife and mom.  As a woman with a great career, that comes as a surprise to some people -- but for me being a wife and mom truly would have been enough in this lifetime.  I was just blessed enough to be allowed to do other things too.

When asked to describe yourself, what’s the first word that pops into your mind?  Authentic. I am pretty much the same person in every setting.  That’s why legislators aren’t surprised to get notes signed by me with a hand drawn picture of a smiley face sporting wild curly hair (like I said—it’s become part of my persona.)

Favorite Book—  Only one allowed? I love historical fiction so in no particular order (rule breaking I know) Pillars of the Earth, Sarum, People of the Book, The Red Tent, The Eight. Common theme—fiction, strong women characters and a happy ending, particularly for the people in love who somehow were kept apart.  I’m weirdly a Pollyanna when it comes to book and movie endings—I expect happiness to win.

What makes your heart race?  My husband of 31 years-- Tyler. We met in the hallways of Mason City High School in 1982 and I still get butterflies.  

Organization or cause near to your heart- Ruth Harbor, KidSave, Zion Lutheran Church Refugee Outreach Program.

What keeps you up at night?  Worry about letting other people down. There is so much that I could do if only that darn need for sleep didn’t get in the way.

What is a belief you once held but no longer do?  You don’t always have to say something.  When there’s nothing to say, it’s not your job to fill the air with words.  This has been particularly helpful in my marriage where I’ve learned that just because I’ve thought of the perfect stinging retort, doesn’t mean I need to say it. Also, the world is rarely black and white. If you take the time to hear the other side, there might be an actual “other side.” Who knew?

What are you interested in connecting with other women about?   I am always interested in meeting people who are comfortable in their own skin and just hanging out with them.  I love a great conversation, a decent glass of wine, and tons of laughter.  There is so much unhappy in the world—if women could just choose to connect under the auspices of finding a little joy in their time together, that would be awesome.

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