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:

  • An introduction on the Anne & Bill Riley Stage
  • Four (4) Grandstand show tickets for their day
  • Privilege to use the Iowan of the Day golf cart
  • VIP parking
  • Accommodations at the Downtown Des Moines Marriott hotel
  • $200 cash
  • A 1-year subscription to The Iowan

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


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!



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.

Wilbur Cordes
The 4-H program has a very special place in Wilbur Cordes’ heart. Though he never participated in 4-H as a kid, he became heavily involved as an adult. A 4-H leader for five years, he advocated the goodness of 4-H and helped all five of his children with their yearly 4-H projects. He has been recognized for his work with 4-H, receiving two awards of appreciation.  Wilbur also took his Iowa spirit with him to Korea, where he was in the army and received a Purple Heart. Now he volunteers with the veterans’ medical van in his town and marches in the local parade. He has also traveled to Bluefields, Nicaragua with his church, where he did mission work for those in need. On top of all of his other commitments, Wilbur makes time to participate in many community organizations. He is involved with the school board, Amvet, American Legion, Lions Club and Butler County Beef Association. 


Governor Robert Ray
Robert D. Ray is known to many Iowans as Governor Ray, or to some, just “Governor.” He served Iowa for 14 years, 1969-1983. Serving as a well-known governor is just the beginning for Governor Ray. CEO of two Iowa insurance companies, an educational leader at Drake University and the national Republican Party leader are also on his list of past experiences. After leaving his governorship, Ray also served as an interim mayor of Des Moines and as the President of Drake. Governor Ray helped improve this level of appreciation in many ways. The Character Counts In Iowa initiative is well-known throughout the state.  He was instrumental in bringing this program to Iowa and expresses a great deal of pride in serving as chairman of the Character Counts In Iowa board.  In 1979, 3500 refugees from Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam relocated to Iowa. While acting as governor, Ray stood up for those refugees from Southeast Asia by helping them secure jobs and a place to live. He is also noted for helping raise over $500,000 for Iowa SHARES (Send Help to Aid Refugees and End Starvation).


Merlyn Feddersen

Merlyn “Mert” Feddersen is heavily involved in his church, Trinity United Church of Christ. Volunteering with the men’s fellowship group, youth group and governing board, Mert is not afraid to do anything the church needs. Multiple times he was found waxing the hallway and fellowship floors when the custodians were out or on vacation. Not only has Merlyn earned awards from the Lion’s Club, he also received the Community Service Award and the Melvin Jones Fellow award for Dedicated Humanitarian Service. He served as the Mayor of Hartley for one term, and was a member of the United States Army from 1953-1955. Mert is involved with the Kiwanis Club, American Legion and also gives his time to the Hartley Emergency Ambulance and Rescue Team (HEART). 


Bob Norris

From Russia, Slovakia to Shenandoah, Iowa, Bob Norris is known for making a difference. Bob travels to Russia where he does mission work in orphanages. He then visits the Shenandoah Community School District to share his stories with the second graders. Spending time with the youth of Shenandoah is one of his passions, as he also spends time reading stories and discussing plot points with the second graders. One program requiring much thought and detail is The Sister City program. The Sister City program in Shenandoah began as just an idea in 1999. In 2004, visitors from Tisovec, Slovakia came to visit Shenandoah and Norris was one of the hosts. He also planned community events for the Slovakia residents and a meet and greet for the youth of Shenandoah. As part of the Sister City program, Norris even traveled to Slovakia himself to help foster a relationship that is mutually beneficial for both cities. 
Joan Allsup
When Mitchellville’s local library needed some assistance, Joan Allsup was eager and willing to step up and make a difference in her community. Not only did she lead the summer reading program in 2012, she also raised over $3,500 to help with library programs. In 2011, Joan became Treasurer of the Library Board of Trustees, and in 2012 became Secretary. Though she was never employed by the Mitchellville Public Library, Joan Allsup put in countless hours of work, all to keep the library afloat. Joan’s passion for helping others does not stop when she leaves the library for the day. She and her husband have also turned their family farm into a kid-friendly place to play. Pumpkinville offers corn mazes for wandering, hay piles for jumping, and pumpkins for picking. The farm is available for visits daily and on weekends during the Fall. She is known around town as “Grandma Joan.”  
Cecil Rueter
Cecil Rueter is known around Grand Junction as the quiet volunteer. He is the guy that gets the job done without anyone knowing. He is also the “go-to” guy for community upkeep, providing the equipment and manpower for any and all tasks that need to be completed around town. Co-founder of Rueter and Zenor Implement dealership, Cecil has built his business from the ground up, and still works there today. What started as a small store in Grand Junction has turned into collection of stores in Iowa and neighboring states. None of which could have been done without Cecil’s hard work and determination. Cecil adds to conversations, and to the community, on a daily basis. He helps with 4-H, boy scouts, and church youth groups. He hosts a yearly golf outing for the Iowa State coaches and even helps out with the local gardening group, the Naked Ladies Garden club.
Karen Spurgeon
Under the leadership of Karen Spurgeon, Bloomfield County has improved tremendously. For 15 years, Karen was the president of the Davis County Fine Arts Council (DCFAC), and while she was president, the town renovated the Iowa Theater in the Bloomfield Historic Square. Because of her strength as a DCFAC leader, Karen was asked to be a founding member of Bloomfield Main Street in 1995. As a member of Bloomfield Main street Spurgeon has written numerous grant applications for the organization—among them an application for funding for the Bloomfield Square’s Christmas lighting display and another for the banners displayed in downtown Bloomfield—“Bloomfield, Worth Your Time!” A former Main Street president, she continues to serve as secretary and Image Committee chairperson for the organization.
Don Hinners
Don Hinners is the true definition of an Iowan. He served in the Army, works on a farm and is an active member in his church. In 1975, Don was on a committee that helped create the Halbur University Scholarship Fund. Now he spends his free time cleaning up local parks and raising money for the Iowa Beef Industry. To help make Iowa a better place, Don spends time with the youth and elders of Carroll. He is involved with 4-H by showing cattle with his grandkids at the county and state Fairs as well as serving as a county director and 4-H leader. Along with the youth, Don also enjoys working with elders by visiting the St. Anthony Nursing Home in Carroll, Iowa several times a month, and even taking the workers to his farm during harvest season. 
Devere Ganzer
Devere Ganzer depicts what it truly means to be an Iowan. He was an active farmer for much of his life, farming in three different counties. Now, at 85, he is still working part-time for Big Gain in Elwood, IA and also participates in 4-H. Since 1963, Devere has been involved in county fairs as the announcer of tractor pulls. He has announced at the Scott County Fair, Miles Thresher Days, the Grand Mound Tractor Pull, Clinton County Fair, Dubuque County Fair and Jackson County Fair. Another passion of his is square dancing, and he stays active by square dancing and also playing volleyball. A volunteer on top of everything else, Devere spends time visiting with seniors at some of the Nursing Homes in Cedar Falls. He also helps community members by getting groceries and running errands for those who are unable to drive themselves. 
Marybeth Jaggard
Baker and volunteer extraordinaire, Marybeth Jaggard is highly involved in the town of Oelwein. In a typical day, one can find Marybeth in the kitchen, baking breads and cookie bars for local clubs and organizations. She can also be found volunteering her time with the local Girl Scouts troop, or singing in the church choir. On top of everything else, Marybeth finds time to act as a member of the Friends of the Library board and the Public Library Foundation board. One of Marybeth’s favorite retirement activities is gardening. A master gardener, she is the president of the Fayette County Master Gardeners. She is also a nature center volunteer at Fontana Park. Not only is Marybeth an outstanding Iowan through her volunteer work, she has also made history. In 1949 she became the first woman to receive an advanced degree from Iowa in Pharmacy. She received her degree from the University of Iowa.