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 shining stars 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 subscriptions to The Iowan & Iowa Gardening magazines

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 found at your local post office in May or can be requested by calling 515-262-3111 ext. 678 or 1-800-450-3732. 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!

 

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. 
 
 
 

Cole Mace

At just 19 years old, Cole Mace’s volunteerism within the Estherville community hasn’t gone unnoticed. Whether he is assisting with 4-H workshops, setting up flags for Memorial Day or making a visit to the local nursing home, Cole is constantly putting the needs of others before his own. One of his many honors includes the Presidential Award, which recognizes students for 100 volunteer hours in one school year. He was also named “Iron Man” by his high school wrestling team for both his hard work and “team player” mentality. But above all, Cole’s genuine spirit has turned the heads of many. Today, Cole attends Iowa Lakes Community College and is in the Wind Energy Turbine Technology program. He has recently become a member of the Estherville Elks Club. While working part-time in the summer months, he still makes time to assist the fair board with any improvements needed at the fairgrounds. It is for these reasons and more that Cole Mace is a truly deserving Iowan of the Day.

 

Steven Leinen

Go-getter, giver, energetic and servant are some of the most notable qualities that Steve’s family, friends and co-workers would use to identify him. Steve has been involved in Relay for Life, blood drives, 4-H, the Panama Fire Department and the Panama Athletic Association. Along with that, he volunteers his time to the Booster Club, church councils and has served as a religious education teacher. It is well known that Steve doesn’t volunteer to participate; he volunteers to make a difference. According to Harlan Community Activities Director Mitch Osborn, his leadership is the “crown jewel” of Panama, Iowa. As renovations of a brand new parish hall began two years ago, Steve was the first to step in. Among all of Leinen’s volunteer contributions, he was named Citizen of the Year along with his wife DeeDee in 2007. Together they have taken part in countless fundraising activities for the Fire Department, helped the Cattlemen’s Association grow to over 200 members and have kept the Panama Athletic Association alive for the past 15 years.

 

Sharon Juon

Sharon Juon has captured what it means to be loyal to the Waterloo community. She is involved in Cedar Valley United Way, Black Hawk County Gaming Association, Westminster Presbyterian Church and Opportunity Works Synthesis Circle. But her impressive resume is only a slight taste of how she has impacted those around her. “She is that community leader that every community wishes they had, but few are lucky to get,” said Geoffrey Grimes in his letter of recommendation for Sharon. Sharon embodies extraordinary courage not just in volunteering within Waterloo, but through her civic involvements at the city, state, regional and national levels. Perhaps battling and surviving cancer has given her this edge to make a difference everywhere. Much of Sharon’s work as Executive Director of Iowa Northland Regional Council of Governments, and elsewhere, has promoted the welfare of small urban counties in the area. At the beginning of July, she retired from the position but remains involved in various other organizations.

 

Dean Kluss

Dean Kluss is a jack of all trades. With a combination of his Iowa roots and leadership skills acquired from his time in the U.S. Navy, he remains a significant asset in the Clarion community. You can find him volunteering at the Church of Christ, Holmes Christmas Club, organizing Memorial Day services or serving as President of the board for the Wright County Fair. Dean is also the Youth Ministry Team Leader and Treasurer of Clarion Church of Christ.  Regardless of his busy schedule, he is always the first to lend a helping hand. “Dean has shown himself to be a man filled with compassion, humility and generosity,” said Warren Curry, Minister of the Church of Christ. “He has graciously given of his own time and money to assist both the group of young people and individual youth who may not have the financial resources at home.” According to Karen Weld, Dean’s nominator, “one of his best roles” is a role model to students. It is his constant enthusiasm that he takes with him to motivate and help the youth of Clarion. Dean will go out of his way to share his rags to riches schooling experience in hopes that others can relate and have hope.

 

Keith Sash

Keith Sash is dedicated to the betterment of his community. As the mayor of Gladbrook, he goes far beyond the typical job requirements. Not only is Keith a past Tama county Supervisor, but he has also served on the local school board, the Mid Iowa Co-op Board and the Tama County 4-H Board. Today, Keith remains involved in various other organizations. He is currently on the Tama County Economic Development Board, the Tama County Pork Producer Board and serves as Parade Chairman of the Gladbrook Corn Carnival Corporation Board. Sash is also a member of the Tama County Beef Producers, the Farm Bureau and the Gladbrook Commercial club. For all that Keith has been involved in; one of his biggest honors is being named a JCI Senator. This is an independent organization that mentors Jaycees and aids in college scholarships to graduating seniors. Being named a Senator is the highest international honor that can be given to a Jaycee. In fact, only 1 out of 1,000 receives the honor.

 

Shirley Stout Frederiksen

Under the leadership of Shirley Stout Frederiksen for Golden Hills RC&D, western Iowa has reaped the benefits.   Her areas of expertise have been in the conservation of natural resources, historic preservation, economic development and community attractions and tourism. Regardless of the project, she is constantly promoting whatever it is that needs to be done. “Shirley has been very instrumental in advocacy efforts locally, and on the state and national level,” said Kathy Dirks of Harrison County Historical Village and Iowa Welcome Center. “She has served on numerous boards taking on the leadership role, and is always one of the first to volunteer for tasks and committees.” Her passion in advocating these efforts have earned staggering results. For nearly 20 years, she worked diligently on establishing the Loess Hills National Scenic Byway. Shirley was successfully able to combat her biggest challenge of the project: documenting Native American cultures dating back to 1000 A.D. This is now the largest tourist attraction in Western Iowa to date, stretching 200 miles across 7 Iowa counties.

 

Beth Titman

From school and church functions, to fundraisers and putting her artistic abilities to use, Beth Titman will indeed do whatever it takes. She has led the Relay for Life program by finding sponsors, donations and people to make desserts. She has also volunteered for Project Mississippi- collecting and delivering books to the children of Lexington, Mississippi, one of the poorest counties in the United States. But her acts of service to the community do not end there. Titman has volunteered at McTeacher’s Night, a fundraiser for textbooks at McDonalds. She has also helped “beautify” Boone by volunteering her time and talents to paint the city snow plows before the arrival of every winter. These murals are done merely to spice up the long winter months- and for Boone residents to enjoy. As a member of the American Cancer Society, she finds even more ways to make a difference. “Beth is one of the many unsung heroes of cancer survivorship who tirelessly support those facing the disease,” said Joanne Hansson, a friend of Titman. Beth provides countless hours of volunteerism for events, generous donations and kind words of understanding for friends and loved ones with the disease.”

 

Paul Venner

Paul Venner strives to make a difference. He spends his time volunteering at Regency Park Nursing and Rehabilitation Center of Carroll and New Hope Village, being a member of the American Legion Post and mastering his own garden to donate his home grown produce to those in need. Paul is also an active member of St Anthony Hospice. New Hope, a non-profit organization that provides residential and vocational services to the needy, has especially valued Paul’s contributions. Twice a month, he assists with the loading and hauling of recyclables and helps maintain the upkeep of the organization’s grounds. Jodie Jansen, Director of Development for New Hope, says he does it all with “dedication and a smile.” Paul is also never afraid to stop by the home of a shut-in just to turn around their day. He and his wife Rita Ann often coordinate birthday celebrations for Breda natives who may not have family around to do so. It is because of genuine acts like these that he has been chosen as an Iowan of the Day.

 

Ellen Lemke

Seven days a week, you can find Ellen Lemke volunteering for the Bedford community. She sings in the choir, is a member of the Order of the Eastern Star and volunteers as a guide at the Taylor County Historical Museum. Lemke was featured in an Our Iowa magazine article where she shared her secret recipe to life and volunteering. “I try to stay busy,” she said. “I found out a long time ago that you can’t just sit around and twiddle your thumbs and expect to enjoy life- I don’t care how old you are, you can make life interesting if you try.” And that she does. Ellen has written humorous monologues and skits to perform at local nursing homes, churches and community groups. She is most famous for the one she calls “Putting on Panty Hose.” She not only has a knack for making people laugh, but expressing herself through poems and her weekly column for the Bedford Times-Press. Lemke has 7 published books of poetry. But Ellen is known for more than her skits, poetry and familiar face around the community. She was born in Newton in 1915 and has lived in Iowa ever since- with no intent of leaving. Her loyalty to the state of Iowa alone makes her a worthy candidate of this award.

 

Jack Finneseth

John “Jack” Finneseth’s unselfish support throughout Perry and Jefferson counties has been invaluable to the community. His children have been out of high school for nearly 25 years, yet he continues to announce at swim meets, time runners at track meets and organize all the Jefferson high school wrestling meets. Jack also volunteers his time to the Jefferson Public Library, Iowa Games Youth Swimming, the Iowa State Fair and Special Olympics. Jack does plenty of behind-the-scenes work, too. He has Co-chaired the Jefferson All School Reunion multiple times, taking the time to coordinate and contact all the graduates. He volunteers to put up Christmas lights at the library every winter. And he has made various improvements to Slininger Woods- 37 acres of outdoor fun donated by his family- over the years. His ability to make a difference has landed him several well-deserving awards. He is a two-time winner of the “Family of the Year” award and has been presented with both an Outstanding President Award and Super Booster Award.