Iowan of the Day

Since 1997, the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation and Cookies Food Products have come together in the search for outstanding Iowans to recognize at each year’s Iowa State Fair. We look for individuals across the state who personify the greatness of Iowa with a strong work ethic, loyalty to helping others, and an exceptional sense of Iowa pride.

Every year, 10 nominees are named Iowan of the Day, receiving a special day of recognition at the Fair. As Iowan of the Day, winners receive the following:

  • Four Iowa State Fair admission tickets
  • An introduction on the Anne & Bill Riley Stage
  • Four Grandstand show tickets for their day
  • Privilege to use the Iowan of the Day golf cart for the day
  • VIP parking
  • Accommodations at the Des Moines Marriott Downtown
  • $200 cash

View a full list of the past Iowans of the Day since the program's inception in 1997.

 

Randy Duncan, Des Moines
Randy is a Des Moines native who attended the University of Iowa on a football scholarship. Randy led the Hawkeyes to a Rose Bowl victory in 1959 against California, was placed second for the Heisman and broke a school record formerly held by Nile Kinnick. After graduating Randy was a first round NFL draft pick, later decided to call the football career quits and moved back to Des Moines to finish law school at Drake University. Described as humble, Randy raised a family and practiced as a lawyer in Des Moines with several pivotal cases in his career. In 2012, Randy was diagnosed with brain cancer with less than a year to survive. Four years later, Randy is still fighting and serving as an inspiration for others.
 
Aubrey LaFoy, Arnolds Park
Otherwise known as “Mr. History,” Aubrey has published more than 850 articles and six books about the history of Iowa’s Great Lakes. Aubrey is a fifth generation resident of Dickinson County who served during WWII. Aubrey taught history for 33 years and has been involved with the city council and served on the Okoboji Protective Association Board for 40 years, the Dickinson County Historical Museum and the Iowa Great Lakes Maritime Museum. Aubrey has also been a member of the Kiwanis for 16 years, former president of the Mason City Teacher’s Association and past commodore of the Okoboji Yacht Club. 
 
Cheryl Wessels, Anita
Cheryl has been an active member of the community serving as a past library board member, treasurer of her church and PEO member. Cheryl volunteers much of her time as the treasurer of the Cass County Memorial Hospital Auxiliary, working at the hospital coffee shop and blood drives. What Cheryl is most noted for in the community making 1,500 dresses for the “Little Dresses for Africa” in the first two years of her involved with the program. Since then, Cheryl has made 3,000 dresses and recruited the help of other communities to give to this organization that brings relief to distressed children in Africa and beyond. 
 
Steve Smith, Algona
Steve works as a meat department manager for Fareway and helped to start the Algona Police Reserve Unit. Steve also operates a small business that teaches self-defense and a concealed weapons permit class. What Steve is most noted for is his involvement with veterans. Steve is a member of the American Legion, Friends of the American Legion, Patriot Guard and the Civil Air Patrol and volunteers with “Hunting with Heroes,” a program that helps disabled veterans to hunt again. Steve organizes the “Avenue of Flags,” cookout held every year in the parking lot of Fareway on the 4th of July and volunteers with the annual ABATE rally. 
 
Curt Schwanebeck, Knoxville
Curt is known as a Knoxville jewel and helped to reopen the local theatre. The theatre has seen 14,000 guests since its doors opened in 2015 thanks to Curt’s work. The theater is just one of Curt’s many projects. Curt also helps every year with the Knoxville Community Easter Egg Hunt hosted by the Noon Kiwanis, makes dolls for children in hospitals and organizes community fun fairs and education presentations. Curt is also involved in his church and finds time to help at the Science Center of Iowa.  
 
Richard Vorthmann, Treynor
Described as a pillar of the community, Richard has served 35 years as a township trustee and clerk, co-chairman of the Treynor school reorganization committee and helped build the first tanker truck for the local fire department. Richard has also been extremely involved in his church and served as the president of the Town and Country Club. What Richard is most known for in the Treynor community is his long standing involvement in the Optimist Club where Richard has been instrumental in overseeing the Treynor Can Kennel, a can redemption center that has raised over $135,000 for local youth programs. Richard also served on the Pottawattamie County Fair Board when it purchased and built a new fairgrounds. 
 
Edna Schrandt, Decorah
Edna has served more than 40 years as a 4-H leader and volunteer for Pony Express Riders of Iowa, an organization that raises money for Camp Sunnyside. Camp Sunnyside enables children and adults with disabilities the full camp experience with canoeing, an animal farm, horseback riding and more. You can still find Edna today soliciting for donations, organizing dances and selling raffle tickets for Pony Express Riders. Edna has also volunteered over 25 years with United Way and has been recognized for her contributions through several awards. 
 
Willard Larsen, Camanche
Willard was an 8th grade history teacher for 33 years while coaching volleyball and basketball and serving as President of the Camanche Education Association. Willard is also a member of the Camanche High School Hall of Fame committee and active in his church. Outside of the classroom, Willard is a Master Gardener, serves on the Master Gardener’s advisory board, has held two terms as president, is currently co-chairman of three gardening events and chairs the Clinton County Fair Vegetable Contest. Willard has received several awards through gardening and educates area youth about horticulture through programs like Enviro Kids and Plant Partners. 
 
Bob Clark, West Des Moines
Bob was born and raised in Des Moines and is a graduate of Drake Law School. Bob is the only athlete of Drake University to receive five football letters despite taking a hiatus to serve during WWII. In 1950, Bob became the chapter president of the Des Moines Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees) and nine years later became the national president. Being a Jaycee introduced Bob to the world of volunteering and provided him with once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. Bob has volunteered with the American Heart Association for 48 years and served executive roles for the Principal Charity Classic, United Way and the Drake Relays. Even at 90 years old, Bob continues to volunteer and encourages those around him to do the same. 
 
Rosemary Beach, Cedar Falls
Although many people may not know Rosemary by name, they may be familiar with the event she started in 1976. Thanks to Rosemary, Cedar Falls has boasted the Sturgis Falls Celebration for the past 41 years where thousands of Cedar Valley residents and visitors pour into Cedar Falls every spring. Rosemary is involved in much more outside of the Sturgis Falls Celebration. She serves as the retired director of the Cedar Falls Historical Society and volunteers for the Cedar Falls Community Theatre, the Cedar Falls Tourism and Visitors Bureau, the Cedar Falls Questers and the Cedar Falls Representative Citizen Committee. Rosemary was inducted into the Iowa Volunteer Hall of Fame and continues to find new ways to volunteer. 
 
 
John and Janis Ruan, Des Moines
The Ruans represent Des Moines and greater Iowa’s interests locally and nationally. John serves on the board for the Greater Des Moines Partnership, the Iowa Business Council, the Downtown Community Alliance and served as chairman for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. Janis is best known for her community beautification, renovation and refurbishment efforts in the city. She also volunteers with Keep Iowa Beautiful, the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines and the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden. The Ruans are supporters of the Iowa State Fair and with their donation, created Ruan Plaza. 
 
 
Jary Quandt, Westside
Known for giving a helping hand whenever needed, Jary is dedicated to his community. He serves on the Westside City Council and is an active member in his church. He has helped with the local High School football program. In addition, Jary has been a volunteer firefighter for more than 25 years and serves as treasurer for the department. Overall, Jary is always willing to get any job done that others cannot do alone.
 
 
Richard and Juanita Schillig, Bettendorf
The Schillig’s started a 5K fundraiser to honor their son’s life and love of running. In addition to remembering their son, the event serves as a fundraiser to provide scholarships to Pleasant Valley and Bettendorf High School graduates. In the 20 years since the run started, more than 30 individual $4000 awards have been granted. Richard is active with S.U.M.M.I.T. – a program that aims to help young people make better choices by showing them different types of employment opportunities.  Juanita enjoys volunteering with their church and providing baked goods at special events. 
 
 
Bret Mace, Estherville
Bret plays a number of roles in his community. He is a member of the local Kiwanis, the Elk’s Club and serves on the board of trustees at his church. As foreman at the Estherville Power Plant, Bret works to be a leader and do whatever is needed to keep things running smoothly. He volunteered as a firefighter for 25 years before retiring from the position. Bret serves as president of the 4-H Youth Committee and vice president of the Emmet County Fair Board. He volunteers doing maintenance on the Fairgrounds and assists with events held in the off-season. 
 
 
Caroline Lehman, New London
Caroline is best known for her work with the Dover Museum located in New London. In her role as curator, she works to create engaging exhibits that show people the value of history. With her help, a railroad depot was moved across Iowa and put in place to house Dover Museum’s railroad collections. Caroline gives to her community in big and small ways. She was a part of the 175th anniversary celebration of New London’s founding. Caroline volunteers with her church, works with the local wellness center and acts as chairperson to the Henry County Historic Preservation Commission. 
 
 
Dennis Carlson, Hampton
Dennis wanted a way to educate kids about conservation and nature that would be available year-round. He created the Carlson Learning Tree Lodge on his farm. The facility can be used for education, no matter the season. Dennis is dedicated to educating and helping children. Before devoting his time to his lodge, he worked for a year as an educator in the CAL community schools. He also has given local FFA chapters unique opportunities to view his operation and gain some of his knowledge. 
 
 
Mike Quinlan, Iowa City
Mike knows community service; both his career and volunteer work have been dedicated to it. Before retiring, he worked as a parole officer for the Department of Correctional Services for more than 25 years and as a work crew leader for Americorps. Beyond his work, Mike supervised probationers and parolees on service projects in order to help them reintegrate into society. Mike served as West Branch Mayor and as the voice of West Branch football by announcing for the past 20 years. He also volunteered as president of the West Branch Lion’s Club.
 
 
Elaine Bohling, Greenfield
Elaine volunteers with Living History Farms, Iowa Machine Shed Thanksgiving Dinner, Legion Auxiliary, Des Moines Playhouse, Friends of the Library, 4-H and many more organizations. One of Elaine’s favorite volunteering opportunities is the Iowa State Fair, where she has helped with the Iowa 4-H Foundation, Iowa Egg Council, Iowa Tourism and Keep Iowa Beautiful for nearly 15 years. Elaine worked with a group of young people in Fontanelle to repair and improve the community’s ‘slab’. Together, Elaine and the group were able to give the community a better meeting place and recreation area. 
 
 
Steven Palmer, Urbandale
For over 20 years, Steve has worked with Special Olympics raising money and awareness for the cause. He currently serves as President on the Special Olympics Iowa Board of Directors and represented the organization internationally, attending the World Games in China. Steve is retired from the United States Coast Guard and Army, as well as from the Polk County Sherriff’s Department. He regularly volunteers throughout his community as a member of the Za-Ga-Zig Shriners.
 
 
Shawn Tait, Exline
Shawn Tait is best known for her work with her community’s 4-H group, the Exline Ramblers. One of her bigger projects was writing and submitting a grant for memorial benches on the Appanoose County Fairgrounds. Shawn and her group of 4-Hers were able to spread some joy with their Christmas program at a care center in Seymour. Shawn also teaches English at Seymour High School and volunteers with Boy Scouts, FFA and Exline Recreation Committee.
 

Do you know someone who commits their life to bettering your community? Someone who deserves to be acknowledged for their efforts? Be sure they receive the recognition they deserve! Nominate your shining star by July 1 for this year’s Fair.

Download a nomination form here. Forms can also be requested by calling 515-262-3111 ext. 378. All nominations are considered for 3 years.

Nominees must be residents of Iowa. Each nomination is evaluated on a number of things, including community involvement, volunteerism, personal achievements, and involvement with youth to name a few. Nominators should provide us with supplemental materials that emphasize these areas such as testimonials, photos, newspaper articles and letters of recommendation. Any information that shows our judges the greatness of your nominee is welcomed! A sample nomination application from 2010 is available here. Or, watch our nomination video to see what to include!

 

Download a poster to hang up in your community and help us recognize Iowa's finest!