For Karen Bartel, baking cookies is more about helping her church than indulging culinary interests.
Bartel, 71, of west Davenport, enjoys helping and doing. She attributes her energy to having ADHD, or attention deficit with hyperactivity disorder, and her mother's insistence, early on, that she use her energies constructively. A pacemaker implant in September hasn't slowed her down.
Bartel retired in 2010 as an accountant for the Defense Finance and Accounting Service on Arsenal Island, and she puts her math skills to good use as the treasurer for four groups associated with her church.
She also sings in the choir and keeps up with the comings and goings of her eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
"I believe she is the driving force, behind the scenes, in a great many lives," her daughter, Dawn Bartel, said.
Karen Bartel grew up in Davenport and attended what is now the University of Northern Iowa before leaving to get married. After nine years and the births of three daughters, she was divorced.
She raised the girls by herself while working at the Arsenal, getting in on the ground floor of computer technology and helping with programming until IT departments were established.
For 12 years — from the late-1970s until 1990 — she also attended classes at St. Ambrose University to earn two bachelor's degrees, one in business administration and the other in accounting. To make time for class, she sometimes scaled back to three-fourths time employment, but she always brought home a paycheck.
She and her daughters "made this contract," Bartel said of her return to college.
"You guys will help with the housework and not get into trouble, and I will make all of your events," she said. Along the way, she coached softball and soccer.
Bartel wanted a degree to better herself, as well as to set an example. In 1995, she earned her MBA (master of business administration), and all three daughters ended up with college degrees.
"Our deal was, as far as you want to go (in pursuing an education), I will stick with you. But once you stop, or fail, I'm done."
Shortly after she dropped off her youngest daughter at college in the fall of 1998, Bartel applied for an assignment in Germany.
In January of 1999, she moved to Kaiserslautern, Davenport's sister city, and began a nine-year stint that is one of the highlights of her life.
Looking around her living room, one sees that she put her time in Europe to good use, traveling to many sites. On the walls are pictures of the Roman basilica in Trier, the skyline of Prague and the tulips of the Netherlands.
The basilica in Germany was a favorite. "To go up and touch it and to know that it was been there for 2,000 years ..., " she said, her voice trailing off.
In 2005, Bartel returned home to care for her aging mother, then father, both of whom have since passed away.
Asked about her bucket list, she replies: "I've never been to North Dakota."
She envisions a grand tour of the American West, traveling north through Montana, then dropping down through California, then east to Arizona and back. "I would love to do Route 66," she said.