Mango Trees and Motivation

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Photo by Tatiana Peña
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By Brianne Sanchez, Hola Iowa

When Marlen Maddux was a small girl growing up in rural Atlantida, Honduras, she shared her hopes for the future with an unlikely confidante: a mango tree on her family’s farm. Sitting in the shade of her favorite tree, she imagined herself someday pursuing a career outside of her home and raising two children she could shower with attention. “It’s important for little girls to have to have dreams,” Maddux said.

Now a successful mortgage loan officer and co-owner of Radio Iowa en Linea, a Spanish online radio station based in Iowa, she has two grown daughters and three grandchildren. During a break from meeting with clients, Maddux reflected on her early ambitions and how she’s overcome setbacks to achieve the professional and personal fulfillment that little Marlen craved.  

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“I think I always had an entrepreneurial mind,” Maddux said. “I remember selling cheese and mangos in my hometown when I was about eight years old. I’d put everything into a basket, go and sell. That was my personality. I always knew I wanted to be a woman that provides for the family.”

In her 2016 memoir, “The Fruits of Unyielding Will: A True Story”, Maddux wrote about growing up the third of eight children, surrounded by extended family. She has sweet memories of playing in the fields, fishing with her brothers, and tending to farm chores with her father. But tragedy and heartache brought on by hurricanes—first her father’s death and then the devastation of her home in 1998—set her on a perilous journey to the United States. Maddux had to leave her young daughters, aged 8 and 2, behind with an aunt until she was able to establish herself there legally.  “We have a very unique story: I didn’t see my kids for six years,” she said. 

Maddux’s oldest, Keilin Isaacson, followed in her mother’s footsteps to become a realtor. She and her sister joined the U.S. Army National Guard, remembering the United States relief helicopters that fed and kept them alive during the hurricane. Keilin is now a Captain. 

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Maddux says her children and grandchildren are her engine, fueling her to keep going. 

Photo by Tatiana Peña

The needs of her community, especially immigrants and Latinos, have also inspired her to take on new challenges. In 2017, Maddux shifted from helping people find their dream homes to demystifying the mortgage lending side of real estate. She saw the opportunity to pursue her passion for finance and wanted to help people better understand the impact of mortgages on their budgets. “I don’t like to say, ‘You’re approved, let’s go shopping for your home,’” Maddux said. “I like to educate people. Our people need to understand what they’re signing. They need to understand what their monthly payment is going to be.”

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Maddux’s drive to share information got a signal boost in 2021 when she and her co-founders, Adriana Soto and Maria Palma, launched their online radio station. Radio Iowa en Linea started as a response to the lack of Spanish-language information available during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Maddux estimates they had 30,000 listeners in their first month.  They continue to broadcast various talk radio and musical programming weekdays, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. On Friday mornings from 7-9 a.m., listeners can catch Maddux, Soto, and Palma hosting a call-in show where they chat about whatever’s on their minds, from menopause to dining. It’s the latest example of her entrepreneurial spirit prevailing. “Every day, every door that I knock has been opened,” Maddux said. “Every door has a surprise waiting for me at the other side. Never giving up is the key…You can run out of gas, you can run out of food, but your heart keeps going with the same vision every day. Nothing is going to stop you.”  

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