‘That’s where I started’
Baton twirler, world-class motivational speaker credits rural upbringing for her success
By Caleb Nelson, Creston News Advertiser
Joyce Rice was named the best baton twirler on the planet at 17, and if you aren’t aware, she’s from rural Greenfield. However, she now calls Las Vegas “home.”
Rice graduated from Greenfield High School in 1959, and at this time 60 years ago, she was wrapping up an eventful prep career as a baton twirler and getting ready to head to Iowa State University to be their featured twirler, where she would graduate with a Home Economics Education degree, thanks to a full-ride scholarship she received.
Rice was in high demand as a baton twirler, because of the prestige that came with being named the best baton twirler in the world, – an honor she received after defeating over 20,000 other young women. Rice then appeared as the national champion on the show “I’ve Got a Secret,” which featured a panel of celebrities who had to figure out what a contestant’s secret was.
The daughter of Audra and Maizie Rice of the Stanzel vicinity, Joyce looks back on her lengthy journey in show business that continues to this day and said she’ll never forget her farm roots. She credits her parents, the one-room country school she attended and rural neighbors as a great foundation of support and wisdom.
Rice, who speaks on elevating human potential and performance levels, said her secret to success is focusing on her strengths rather than her weaknesses. Unlike her baton competitiors, she had no dance training, so she focused on how high she could toss and then catch a baton, and it paid off.
“We had a silo, and in the background [of a picture the Des Moines Register printed] was that silo, and I would practice tossing my baton higher than the silo,” Rice said.
Later on, Rice received further confirmation that she could indeed toss her baton higher when she saw a picture that had been taken of her leading the Drake Relays Parade, and her baton was equal to the height of a sixth-story window in downtown Des Moines.
“A 60-foot toss, to stand down there and catch it, audiences loved it. They understood the difficulty,” Rice said.
As she recalled returning to Iowa from New York City, after appearing on “I’ve Got a Secret,” Rice fought back tears as she remembered the support she recieved.
“It was so touching to me, because I landed at the airport and couldn’t see anything except my parents and a few people at the outside gate — you landed on the ground and then you unloaded and went into the tiny reception area,” Rice said.
But, what Rice didn’t know is that beyond the doors of the terminal were Greenfield school buses loaded with students, the governor and other Iowa State representatives to welcome her home.
“Two thousand people were crowded into that little terminal. That was the thrill. With so many people behind you, you want to make them proud,” she said.
Rice has performed at professional football games, festivals, World Fairs, and as the opening act for the Harlem Globetrotters – an engagement she took very seriously because she knew she served as the audience’s first impression of the evening entertainment.
“Of all the things I’ve done, I keep coming back to what I love, inspiring people to do their best and dream big. That’s kind of what my speech is about,” Rice said. “I just do a little bit of baton [as part of my presentations], demonstrating the importance of perfecting the basics in your given field of endeavor. Then you can create and innovate.”
Rice states that she’ll never forget that her roots are here in southwest Iowa. She’s excited to return to Greenfield and the Warren Cultural Center, August 2, when she’ll do a talk which includes a bit of baton twirling, rope spinning and whip-cracking. A book signing of her new book, “Think it! Do It” will follow.
In the meantime, Rice has many good things to say about her rural upbringing
“That’s where I started,” she said. “By the grace of God, I was planted in Iowa among people who taught me and supported me to go as far and as high as I desired. My speech has stories of life lessons that lifted me and all who hear them. Life lessons I learned in Iowa.”
Rice has also been known as “America’s Favorite Cowgirl,” doing whip-cracking, lariat spinning, juggling and comedy at places around the world, sometimes performing with her daughter, Rhonda, who is a fiddler and yodeler. Together, they’ve created and presented “Thank a Farmer”, an educational program for kids, teaching the importance of farmers and agriculture.