Amy Williams is undoubtedly proud and happy whenever she’s walking around her downtown Columbus shop, Valencia Salon and Spa.
“It’s been busy, it’s been rewarding. I love coming to work,” Williams said on a recent afternoon. “I always tell people I don’t work a day in my life. When you love what you do, it doesn’t seem like work.”
In her mind, she was destined to own and operate her own salon. It started when she was just a little 5-year-old growing up in Iowa, where she would go to the salon with her grandmother whenever she had the chance and help her mom with her hair at home.
“My mom still has a picture of me when I was putting perm rods in her hair,” Williams said. “I loved anything with the arts that required being creative. Hair was just one of those things.”
Fast forward a couple of decades later, Williams is a small business owner whose salon offers an array of services and is approaching five years of operation. It all happened “in the blink of an eye,” she’ll tell anyone, but it didn’t come without loads of hard work, heart and determination.
Those three qualities have played a tremendous role in all aspects of life for the mom of three, wife, cheer coach and community advocate, among other things.
Longtime friend Pam Discoe said Williams is someone who brings great joy to all who know her because she is so selfless and caring.
“Amy is just a unique individual because she is one of those who gives, gives and gives,” Discoe said. “Columbus is lucky to have her and her whole family.”
FINDING HER WAY
Williams’ strong work ethic could most likely be attributed to growing up on a farm in “the middle of nowhere” near Spencer, Iowa. There, her parents raised cattle. She got her hands dirty from a young age, cleaning out cattle pens, showing cattle and participating in Clay County’s 4-H program.
Of course, this was only one aspect of Williams’ young life. She said she had interest in being creative and the arts from a very early age, noting she took it upon herself to decorate whatever she could around the house.
She also had a fascination for hair styling, helping her mother or going to the local salon with her grandmother often.
Her fascination for the arts only continued as she got older. Williams was a member of the cheerleading squad all through high school but became even more determined to get into the cosmetology industry. By her senior year of high school, she was already taking classes through Faust Institute of Cosmetology in Storm Lake, Iowa.
“I finished 22 months later,” she said.
Of course, Williams being Williams, she managed to stay plenty busy while in school. She interned at the shop where she had gone to with her grandmother growing up, noting the woman who owned it had extended the invitation.
She also decided to coach her old high school cheer team after the head coaching position came open. That experience wasn’t exactly a picnic early on, she noted, as her being only a couple of years older than the girls she was coaching presented challenges.
“It was rough at first,” she said. “But I’m glad I stuck with it because I like to mentor, and now, some of those girls are my dearest friends because there really wasn’t much of an age difference.”
CALLING COLUMBUS HOME
While in college, she met the love of her life, Craig Williams. He was in the process of obtaining his master’s degree from Buena Vista University, also in Storm Lake. So after she graduated, she went to work as a stylist at the same salon she interned at for about a year-and-a-half. Soon Craig was presented two job opportunities: One in Tampa Florida, and the other in Columbus. Ultimately, they chose the latter, where Craig has been working at Columbus High School as its head football coach and strength and conditioning coach.
“Tampa was too far away from home,” she said.
They’ve made the most of Columbus since they moved to town in 2001. They were married in April 2002, and have since expanded their family by three. There’s 15-year-old Alyvia, 11-year-old Connor and 5-year-old Sawyer. The couple adopted their 5-year-old boy at birth, as Williams was inspired from her childhood.
“I always wanted to adopt ever since my pastor when I was in high school adopted two little girls from China,” she explained.
The Williams family is close, spending a ton of time together on the football field and beyond.
“They’re everything. We do everything for them,” Williams said of her and her husband's commitment to their children. “We’re a true Discoverer family. Craig is coaching, Alyvia is a cheerleader and Connor is a ball boy on the sidelines.”
Of course, nobody could forget Sawyer.
“Sawyer is somewhere in between. We just try to keep him off the field,” Williams said, laughing. “He has gotten on there a few times and we had to pull him off.”
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Like her husband, Williams is a coach at CHS. She’s been involved with the school’s cheerleading program since the early 2000s, serving as its head coach from 2002-2017. For the last three years, she has been co-coaching with Vicky Joseph. Coaching is a serious time commitment, but one that Williams quite enjoys. It’s even more special now with her daughter on the squad.
“It’s fun to see her evolve into this young lady since she was little,” she said.
For many in the Columbus community, Aug. 1, 2012, is a day that is talked about in grand fashion. That night, as how what is now considered a legendary story among several residents goes, Williams, and friends Kim Brandenburg and Mary Sueper, talked about what they could do to help another local family and friends, the Nahornys. The Nahornys’ 4-year-old son, Sammy, was battling cancer, resulting in the family traveling the country in attempt to get him the best treatments possible.
Williams said she, Brandenburg and Sueper were brainstorming ideas of what specifically they could do when she looked over at some laundry she had recently folded and noticed a superhero T-shirt – it was that easy. She held up the shirt and said they all instantly had the idea for the ‘Sammy’s Superheroes’ concept.
The trio created T-shirts with a Sammy's Superheroes logo and subsequently asked local Nebraska schools, including those in town, to support National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month that September by purchasing and wearing them.
“We just didn’t know what else to do, but we needed to do something,” Williams said. “At the time we thought we would raise money to give the Nahorny family.”
About $40,000 was raised to present to Erin and Chris Nahorny, which Williams today said was an accomplishment.
“I was just blown away,” she said of the community’s support.
The trio, along with the Nahornys, soon took that money and founded Sammy’s Superheroes - a 501 c3 nonprofit organization that donates funds to researchers and hospitals they felt were doing the most innovative research aimed at finding cures for childhood cancer. The nonprofit has flourished since its inception, having blossomed into quite a popular organization in Nebraska and helping hundreds of families along the way.
“Amy holds a special place in my heart. Sammy’s Superheroes would not exist without her passion and drive. She is one of the most driven, giving, selfless people I know,” said longtime close friend and Sammy’s mother, Erin Nahorny. “She is involved in so many things and so often behind the scenes. I am so thankful for her friendship.”
Nahorny said Williams is a true leader in the community, noting her commitment to helping others however she can.
“She is the first to drop everything for someone in need,” Nahorny said.
Discoe shared a similar perspective, noting Williams is a person people gravitate toward when they need help because of her generous heart.
“The only things she’s not good at are cooking, baking and driving, but everything else, she excels at it,” Discoe said, laughing. “She just gives everything – she’s a great mom, a great wife, business woman and a great coach’s wife.”
MAKING HER DREAM COME TRUE
After years of being an independent stylist, the building at 2507 13th St. in downtown Columbus became available in 2015. Williams had been hoping for a longtime to own a salon, and saw the potential in that specific space. So she opened Valencia there that March.
“I love the historic downtown and this building was appealing. So it came open and I took the leap,” Williams said. “It was exciting and overwhelming. I was hoping I could make a go of it and it would be successful.”
Things have worked out well. The business is approaching its fifth anniversary in just a few months and has expanded services. Williams has 12 staff members, including eight stylists, a nurse who offers HydraFacials, a nurse practitioner for Botox, fillers and more, and a person who handles microblading, a tattoo technique in which a small handtool made of several tiny needles is used to add semi-permanent pigment to the skin.
Williams also worked with Discoe and Paula O’Connell to open up Valencia Boutique, which has moved from a small room inside the salon to its own space in the basement below. O’Connell and Discoe own and operate it, but Discoe said Williams is highly supportive of it.
Williams is happy her shop is doing well, noting she’s proud of how everything has come together.
“The business has evolved,” Williams said. “I just want this to be a place people really want to come to, and hopefully, help revitalize our downtown. I love all the girls here – we’re a family.”
When Williams does have some spare time, she enjoys making unique furniture that can be found in her shop and places like The Broken Mug at her parish, 1C Church, and Blossoms Floral and Gift. She models her furniture after what she admired from Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware, noting she began making it because she couldn’t afford it as a college kid.
Columbus is home, even though the Williams stand out being Iowa State fans in a Husker-proud town and state.
“We just love the community. This community has embraced us,” Williams said. “We absolutely love our school and our friends, I don’t know what we would do without them. ... "(Columbus) is where we have put our roots, raise our children and do what we can to make this the best community possible."
Matt Lindberg is the managing editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.