SIBLEY, Iowa -- After growing up in this northwest Iowa community, Kelcey Schroder was excited to head off to college in Chicago, Ill.

Now, she's excited to have her own business back in her hometown. Her life's journey may not have gone just like she has planned, but she's enjoying her adventure.

Schroder owns Kelcey Schroder Photography, which opened in downtown Sibley a year ago. The Sibley-Ocheyedan High School graduate had plenty of bigtime experience prior to starting her new venture.

Following her graduation from high school, Schroder began attending Columbia College in Chicago a few short months later.

"It has one of the best photography programs that I know of," she said, "My cousin actually went to that school. I had gone to Chicago on a youth trip in eighth grade, and I just loved it. I was born and raised a Cubs and Bears fan, so that just tied into it.

Columbia College also boasts a couple of fairly wellknown alumni, Schroder said. Among them: hip-hop star Kanye West and Jake Lloyd, who played young Anakin Skywalker in the "Star Wars" films.

Schroder earned her bachelor of arts degree in photography at Columbia, where she started gaining some experience working for the school as a teacher's aide in a photo studio for students. She then secured an internship with Tony Soluri, a Chicago-based architecture photographer.

"He shoots for Architecture Digest and Chicago Scene.... My internship was a semester, but when I was finished with school, he hired me on to continue assisting him," Schroder said. "I continued with him to make it a complete year, but then the economy went bad, and he fell on hard times."

That's when Schroder was let go, and the "lovely job search commenced," she recalled.

"I got this part-time job in a grocery store in a deli, about a block away from my apartment," Schroder said. "I did that for about three months, but after a while I just realized this was leading nowhere and that I needed to make a change. So, I came back here."

Schroder returned to Sibley at Thanksgiving of 2009. She was soon calling past high school teachers, acquaintances and good friends, doing what she could to find work.

"I got a job at the elementary school, and that helped because it transitioned very well for income," she said. "Teacher's aide, part-time -- I'm doing that to this day."

It wasn't long before Schroder was approached by Tim Nobles of Sibley about exploring an additional professional opportunity.

"Mr. Tim Nobles, he said, 'I found you a building.' I was toying with the idea (of my own studio), but I needed pushing.

"Obviously, opening your own business isn't like, 'Yeah, whatever,'" Schroder continued. "But I got a lot of support, and my brother especially helped me out a lot. ... I got in this building and started painting in the beginning of February 2010, and I officially opened at the end of March."

Schroder had been doing senior portraits and photographed a few weddings for friends before she had opened her downtown studio. She began her business with mostly children's portraits, and "from there it just blossomed." She'll still work weddings and take senior portraits, as well as take family and reunion photographs, along with pictures featuring motorcycles and cars.

"I have no limits to subject matter," Schroder said.

Schroder is also quick to point out that the possibilities are much more limitless to her in Sibley than Chicago.

"People say, 'Sibley and Chicago are complete opposite spectrums of each other,'" she explained. "But I can't imagine doing this in Chicago. I would fall flat on my face. People here know who I am, and many have known me since high school. Through word of mouth, people will support a local business."

Schroder is not the only young entrepreneur in downtown Sibley. Adam and Beth Grimm also opened The Lantern Coffeehouse and Roastery in 2010.

"Slowly and surely we became good friends," Schroder said of her relationship with the Grimms. "I said 'I want to help you guys' because I know how much work it is to start your own business. I helped stain the floor in their building and helped get things together ... and when they opened they had no employees, and I offered to work for little or nothing.

"It's good to know someone else embarking on a similar journey," Schroder added of the Grimms. "I've always said this town needed a good little hangout, especially for high school kids."

Schroder said she's pleased with how her first year of business has gone, noting that people have continued to spread the word for her and that she's open to professional suggestions. After enjoying shooting Halloween pictures last fall, she's considering Easter photos in the not-so-distant future.

"I've also been teaching some classes for kids," she said. "I did a summer class for kids in first through fourth grade, and then a class for adults, too."

Schroder's studio also features the metal sculpture of Henry Herrera of Sibley, a professional welder by trade whose artwork can both seen and purchased there.

The studio, located at 243 Ninth St., is usually open by appointment. To reach Schroder, call (712) 461-1113.