Forey Fest urges peace in the Court
Avenue District after a brutal beating nearly
kills popular Des Moines icon Forey Jacobson
By Amber Williams
by John Bosley, Raygun
Moines is not known as a violent city. But occasionally,
tragic and violent things do happen to good
people — to widowed grandmothers, to children,
to business professionals, and on a lively night
on Court Avenue last November, to a 61-year-old
high school custodian.
Forey Jacobson is more than a janitor at Johnston
High School, though. He is a Des Moines icon
— a legend runner, a self-proclaimed witch and
even “Des Moines’ own Chuck Norris,” as some
have claimed. Most anyone who’s out and about
in the metro has seen him, on a dance floor
wearing torn jeans and moccasin boots, or running
barefoot wearing nothing but a kilt or loin
cloth. So the night he was attacked in Johnny’s
Hall of Fame came as a shock to hundreds of
people who know him as those things and more.
One word used by many to describe Jacobson is
“peaceful.” And although he still frequents
the bars and dances like an animal, Jacobson
hasn’t had a drop of alcohol in 19 years.
But, Jacobson doesn’t remember anything from
the night of Nov. 6, because he suffered a severe
head injury from a brutal beating, the cause
of which remains a mystery. He was bludgeoned
so badly that he was not only knocked unconscious,
but he lapsed into a coma and was near death
by the time he arrived at Mercy Medical Center.
For the last six weeks he’s undergone reconstructive
surgery to his eye sockets, cheek bones, nose
and jaw. He said his wife won’t allow him to
see pictures of what he used to look like.
“I don’t know what happened,” Jacobson murmured,
telling his story two months later from his
home in Des Moines, still suffering from a broken
jaw. “I can’t even tell you I was there for
sure. The last night I remember that I went
out — if it was that night — I remember I started
at People’s Court and saw a band. Then I went
to Johnny’s Hall of Fame to finish it out on
my way back to my car. That was the last night
According to police reports
Jacobson is out of the hospital and back
on his feet. He paid a visit to Raygun and
bought a few of the T-shirts they designed
for Forey Fest ($23 each). Photo courtesy
The bar was packed that night. The crowd was
thick, and the bouncer, Bojan Djukic, told police
he saw a man on top of Jacobson punching him
in the face. He identified Stuart Wholford-Wessels,
25, of West Des Moines, as the attacker. A witness,
Adam Wilcox, from Eldridge, confirmed Djukic’s
story. Wilcox reportedly pulled Wohlford-Wessels
off of Jacobson to end the beating.
“We captured it on our in-house video, which
we gave to police and the Polk County attorney.
They’ve had that from the very beginning,” Johnny’s
Hall of Fame owner Todd Millang told Cityview.
“Once the video becomes public, I think a lot
of that will become flushed out.”
Millang said Jacobson was a regular at Johnny’s
for years and that he never caused much trouble,
other than occasionally bumping into people
while dancing. But he was quick to apologize
and leave if necessary to diffuse any conflict,
he said. Millang said fights have never been
a common occurrence at Johnny’s, and they are
cooperating with officials as the case heads
to trial on Feb. 13. Wohlford-Wessels was arrested
and charged with willful injury, a Class C felony,
and assault causing bodily injury, a serious
misdemeanor. He continues to maintain his innocence.
“I cannot comment as to whether or not they
apprehended the right person, but I can say,
it was one single assailant, and there wasn’t
another fight going on (like the initial report
stated),” Millang advised. “We have a policy
on how we handle incidents like that. Our individual
at the front door who got involved, I believe,
did a good job. It was a very quick incident.
We shut down the bar 20 minutes early and escorted
people out the back door to give the personnel
coming in to help Forey more room.”
Friends of Forey
Jacobson has often been spotted out on the
town sporting a kilt and/or moccasin boots.Special
Jacobson was fed through a tube with his jaw
wired shut during his stay in the hospital.
The once fiercely fit competitor of just about
every racing competition held in the metro was
laid up on the edge of death. Emotions began
to stir among the Court Avenue community and
the running circuits, both of which were void
of an iconic character too colorful to be forgotten.
“Everyone was outraged by the violence. To know
he almost died and was going through surgeries,
and it was all very touch and go — he just means
a lot to a lot of people,” said Stephanie Tirrell,
who was one of the initial creators of the “Friends
of Forey” Facebook page (which has more than
1,515 fans as of press time).
Thanks to Facebook, the news about the assault
and Jacobson’s grave condition went viral before
the local media had time to react. Tirrell said
she learned the news when she saw it on Jason
Hoffman’s Facebook page.
“Jason Hoffman was a cook at Buzzard Billy’s
when Forey was a dishwasher and I was a waitress,”
Tirrell said. “I immediately contacted Andy
Massoth, of Full Court Press bars, and Melinda
Toyne (owner of In Any Event and Full Court
Press event organizer). Andy was an owner at
Buzzard Billy’s and I know he and Forey had
all been in contact in the last decade via Hessen
Haus and Oktoberfest. And I’ve worked with Melinda
Toyne in the past, so it all came together great
and then snowballed after the Friends of Forey
Facebook page was made.”
Within a few days of finding out about Jacobson’s
assault, Lori Williams (known as MusicMama Williams
on Facebook) also became motivated to help.
“I had a couple people pass away this year,
and I organized events like this for them,”
Williams said. “After this happened to Forey,
I immediately had people on my Facebook wall
saying, ‘Are you doing anything for Forey? If
so, I want to help.’ So, I thought maybe it
means I should be doing something.”
By the end of November, Williams had hooked
up with the “Friends of Forey” group.
“I’m a fan of Forey. He’s a great guy — very
gregarious,” she said. “He adds a lot of character
and flair to every event we produce.”
Jacobson is a staple of the annual Living
History Farms Cross Country Race where he
runs in nothing but a loin cloth and war
paint. Special to Cityview
Massoth, one of the Full Court Press owners,
remembers when Jacobson first started gracing
the Court Avenue bars, first as an employee,
now as a patron, a participant and a staple,
“He’s a big part of the identity of the Court
Avenue District and has been for years,” he
said. “He’s one of the icons of the area, and
he’s always been that way in a peaceful manner.
He’s one of those guys who just likes the social
aspect of it and has as good a time as everyone
else without drinking. We think it was pretty
tragic what happened to him and wanted to help.”
And so Forey Fest was born — an event that could
very well turn out to be a Full Court Press
party for the history books.
The event’s slogan is true to Jacobson’s nature:
“No shirt. No shoes. No problem!” Slated for
10 a.m. on Jan. 14, Forey Fest will begin with
a 5K run/walk, which Jacobson said he plans
to run; a bar crawl from noon to 6 p.m., which
includes Mullets, El Bait Shop, Royal Mile and
Hessen Haus; and a concert at People’s from
8 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Every person and business involved is donating
the time, money and resources it takes to make
the event possible. Raygun designed a Forey
Fest T-shirt, and they’ve already sold more
than 100 at $23 each — the proceeds of which
go to the Forey fund. Several businesses and
individuals have donated items and services
for the silent auction, including Johnny’s Hall
of Fame. People’s Court is donating the venue
for the concert, and more than 15 musical acts
will perform for free during the bar crawl and
at the concert finale, Williams said. (See sidebar
for event details.)
“I know Forey two ways — he runs the Des Moines
marathon every year, and he loves Truth Be Told,”
said Williams, who is wife to Ben Williams,
the lead vocalist for Truth Be Told. “I was
sick to my stomach about what happened to him.
What went through my head was ‘someone doesn’t
appreciate what is different about Forey.’ Forey
is very confident and very unique. It hurts
to think that someone would do something so
violent to such a peaceful soul.
“He’s very natural. He lives very naturally
and eats very natural,” Williams said. “Had
he not been in such good shape, he might not
have made it. I don’t think most people would
have survived something like that.”
A different kind of road
Jacobson plans on doing more than merely surviving.
And he plans on not only attending the festival
in his honor this weekend, but running the 5K.
When he was released to go home, he could barely
walk, let alone run. Due to the severity of
his head injuries, his equilibrium was so altered,
it made it difficult for him to balance and
remain standing. Now he’s back to running about
a half mile a day.
“I think I can run farther than that now, but
I’m not pushing myself too much — just enough
to maintain my stamina,” he said. “I’m recovering
remarkably well. I’m coming a long ways. I was
determined to get better, and I think that’s
what attributed to my healing.”
Along with the outpouring of support from members
of the community, especially his wife of 24
years, Susan, Jacobson also credits his healthy
lifestyle to his quick recovery. As he approaches
his 20th year sober from drugs and alcohol,
Jacobson has learned a lot about loving the
self, loving others and even loving your enemies.
He considers this latest struggle as just another
one of life’s challenges.
“I’m surprised it happened. When people drink
they sometimes get beer muscles, especially
around the holidays,” he said. “Alcoholics seem
to have more stress around the holidays, and
they don’t do as well. I hope people realize
what it is to have a good time in a positive
way and help each other instead of working against
each other. If everybody helped each other,
we wouldn’t have war.”
As for his attacker, Jacobson just hopes the
man learns his lesson.
“I have to forgive him and hope that he learned.
That helps me become more of a person of understanding.
I hope he gets help,” he said. “I don’t hate
him. I think he’s misguided.”
In the meantime, Jacobson spends his days exercising,
cleaning his house and cooking for his wife.
He’s eager to get back to work, and they’re
ready to have him back, he said. He’s taking
his recovery from the assault much as he did
his recovery from addiction — one day at a time,
drawing strength from a philosophy he borrowed
from World Champion boxer Muhammad Ali: “Impossible
is nothing.” CV
Jan. 14, 10 a.m. to 1 a.m.
Visit “Forey Fest” or “Friends of Forey” Facebook
pages for details
5K Barefoot Benefit Run/Walk, 10 a.m.-noon,
starting at Mullets, 1300 S.E. 1st St.
Entry fee $25, includes free koozie, admission
to bar crawl and concert. Register and view
course at RunningRoom.com, or day of race.
Bar Crawl, noon-6 p.m.
Entry fee $12, includes koozie and admission
Three bands at each bar play at noon, 2 and
Mullets — Truth Be Told; Mike Shriner, Rumble
El Bait Shop — Steve Kowbel, Mooseknuckle,
Royal Mile — Tina and Brandon Findley, Jamie
Grimm, Thankful Dirt
Hessen Haus — Dixie and Charlie, Tom Richards,
Hath No Fury
Concert at People’s on Court, 216 Court Ave.,
8 p.m.-1 a.m.
Entry fee $12 in advance/$15 at the door.
Tickets available at tikly.co or at the door.
Bands: J.B. & the Smoothsayers, The Workshy,
Tubabu, Truth Be Told.
Featuring comic John Bush to emcee the local
talent showcase and Forey Tales and silent auction,
along with local celebrity Tana Goerty.
Make donation or purchases at tikly.co. Proceeds
benefit Forey Jacobson.