STANTON, Iowa -- "It’s a long ways from Red Oak to Washington," U.S. Senate-elect Joni Ernst told supporters Tuesday night.
Red Oak may be her hometown, but Joni Ernst, the first Iowa woman elected to Congress spent a big chunk of childhood down Highway 34 in Stanton.
At Stanton High School, 10 miles east of Red Oak, Ernst was valedictorian, a member of the cheer squad, and was elected band queen.
Marla Nelson, her former vocal music teacher says singing was one of her first loves.
"She was very talented as a musician. She was a very good singer. I remember taking her to an honor festival as a senior and she did very well,” said Nelson.
A nice voice and cheerful personality didn't always add up to a career in Washington for the small town girl who collected her first paycheck at Hardee's.
"I remember Joni working there. I remember going through the drive thru on Saturdays to say hi to Joni,” said a childhood friend.
"I figured she'd be a strong farm wife and help out on the farm. She loved the farm,” Nelson told Channel 13 News.
Ernst left the farm for an education at Iowa State University, a career in the Iowa National Guard, and local and state office refining her leadership skills along the way.
"Sometimes I think leaders are born and I think she's one of those people,” said Don Hicks, her former government teacher.