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March 22, 2012
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Where are they now?

We tracked down some of Iowa’s iconic faces from years past

By Jared Curtis

We all love nostalgia. Whether we’re having a beer with friends or chatting with co-workers around the water cooler, the phrase, “Do you remember…” brings up fond memories. Thinking back to those times offers an escape from reality and a trip down memory lane, which is why we wanted to know “Where Are They Now?” After brainstorming on a number of candidates who were once well-known figures, we came up with a massive list that included politicians, writers, athletes, entertainers, local TV personalities and other, all of whom have Iowa roots. Although we asked a number of people, some, surprisingly, just didn’t want to be found. Even so, we discovered others still residing in Iowa and some who have moved on. Regardless of where they call home today, these updates will bring back their glory days, even if just for the moment.

Chuck Offenburger

Des Moines Register “Iowa Boy” columnist

For 21 years, Chuck Offenburger amused readers of The Des Moines Register four times a week with his “Iowa Boy” column. The stories Offenburger told were unforgettable. 

“The paper gave me incredible freedom to go hunt up and tell the stories that most appealed to me. I did a lot of varied stuff from twice following Simon Estes to concerts in South Africa, to covering the Persian Gulf War in ’90 and ’91, to leading a campaign in ’94 to persuade the Bass Shoe Co. to start making black and white saddle shoes again by signing up 675 Iowans to buy them with me, as well as serving as co-host of RAGBRAI from 1983-98,” said Offenburger, 64, from his home in west central Iowa known as “Simple Serenity Farm.”

Although the column was well read, Offenburger called it quits after working 26 years for the paper.

“By 1998, I’d done most of what I wanted to do at the Register. I was wearing out on watching the paper cut back from what had been its statewide base, and I was charmed hanging out at Simpson College when my wife Carla was finishing up her degree and teaching there. So I resigned from the Register and started doing some teaching at Iowa colleges,” he said. “I’ve done four Iowa books including a biography of Kum & Go co-founder Bill Krause, the history of high school girls’ sports in Iowa the history of high school boys’ sports in Iowa, and the biography of Iowa State two-sport All-American and broadcaster Gary Thompson.”

Offenburger is a semi-retired freelance writer and still pens news and opinions daily for his website, http://www.offenburger.com. He also writes for http://www.raccoonrivervalleytrail.org, which he loves, because “Carla and I remain avid bicyclists.” Offenburger participates in Friday morning chats on the air with morning show co-hosts Chuck Morris and Don Hansen on KMA radio in Shenandoah, and writes an e-newsletter for KMA that comes out every other Friday.

Although Offenburger is rarely at a loss for words, the last two-and-a-half-years have been rough on both he and his wife.

“Carla and I both have had major cancer battles. Two bouts of lymphoma were about to kill me when the doctors decided I was a candidate for a stem cells transplant, which I had in November 2010. It has saved my life, and I’m now feeling great and getting good reports,” he said. “Earlier in 2010, Carla was diagnosed with cancer after a tumor was found inside her lower jaw. Surgery and radiation proved successful for her, and she’s now back to normal and getting clear reports. Believe me, we both now value every bit of life that comes our way.”

Mary Brubaker

KCCI television and community activist

From 1967-1995, Mary Brubaker worked for KCCI wearing many hats including those of a producer, news reporter and talk show host. Some of her work included “Midday,” “Time Capsule” and “Straight Talk.” She also served as the host of the local telecast of the Muscular Dystrophy Association Telethon (MDA).

“Meeting and interviewing thousands of people, famous and unknown, all with a story to tell or wisdom to impart was a dream job come true. I worked with notables like Russ Van Dyke, Paul Rhoads, the Cooneys, Pete Taylor, Dolph Pulliam, John Pascuzzi, Connie McBurney and so many others who made KCCI a success,” she said. “It was an education and a joy to be part of a noteworthy group of journalists, as well as working with the behind-the-scenes team including engineers, executives, photographers, salespeople and office staff.”

Although Brubaker is retired from KCCI, she keeps herself busy volunteering for and serving on boards of numerous organizations

“I’m still on the go with art and yoga classes as well as currently serving on the boards of 1000 Friends of Iowa, Heritage Art Gallery and Gay Men’s Chorus. I’ve also served on many other boards including Friends of Drake Arts, East Village Neighborhood Association and the Drama Workshop,” she said. “After 30 years at KCCI, I retired, but volunteering has become another full-time job.”

Brubaker is proud of her neighborhood development work and political and educational volunteer work. She and her husband, Ted, currently live in the Ingersoll Park neighborhood (where she was one of the founders of the neighborhood association), a stone’s throw from Roosevelt High where she and family members graduated, and where she is in its Hall of Fame.

“I’m blessed and busy with too much to do. I’m never bored, and I’m anxious to leave a legacy of community improvement and personal development. The latter was also my goal as a broadcaster, hosting and producing programming that made a difference to people and helped them fulfill their ambitions,” she said. “I’ve lived a varied, exciting and satisfying life, but still haven’t quite decided what I want to be when I grow up.”

Michele Beschen

Fox 17 host

Michele Beschen started on Fox 17 in 1993 as the Kids Club Personality, but thanks to her talent and beauty, she quickly expanded her role on the station. Even so, she’ll always have a special place in her heart for the Kids Club.

“I spent four to five years of my life starting off most conversations with ‘Hey Kids!’ while giving away tons of prizes and free stuff, hosting weekly community events, producing fun, educational vignettes to run inside their shows and hanging with famous characters,” she said. “It was certainly one of the most memorable, satisfying jobs. I met so many incredible central Iowa kids and their families through all of the contests and events that we did every week. We built up a playful relationship through the morning and afternoon FOX Kids Shows, and when we’d meet at area events, it was like we were the best of buddies. It was a very special time in my career that brings back too many wonderful memories to list. It’s an opportunity that to this day I am very thankful for.”

After working for FOX 17 for almost a decade, Beschen left the channel to branch out on her own in 2002. And branch out she did.

“I took everything that I learned and experienced during my career at KDSM FOX 17 and have been creating a half-hour, how-to television series ever since,” she said. “We have our own company and studio — Simply Michele Inc. — in Van Meter and have produced programs like ‘Michele Beschen’s Courage to Create,’ which aired on KDSM FOX 17 and other affiliates, and ‘B. Original’ on DIY Network and HGTV.”

Her current program, “b. organic,” is an educational how-to television program that embraces all things creative while keeping a conscious mind.  It airs on PBS (Saturdays at noon) and Create TV. It is currently in production on season three.

“It’s television done differently, and every episode introduces viewers to a variety of exciting ideas on how we can be more resourceful and healthy and creatively connect with nature,” Beschen said. “Being organic starts at home.” 

Beschen says she loves life and enjoys spending time with her husband, Jon, and their two daughters, Madeline and Berkley, as they are creating their own little “slice of self-sufficient homestead heaven” in rural Madison County.

“I continue to search out interesting people, share ideas and stories and learn something new every day,” she said.

Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins

member of TLC

Tionne Watkins, or “T-Boz” as her fans know her, was born in Des Moines on April 26, 1970. She was diagnosed with sickle cell anemia and doctors told her she wouldn’t live to see the age of 30. Her family moved to Atlanta, Ga, when she was 9. After going to a local audition in 1991, T-Boz was chosen for a group that would eventually become TLC, and the rest is history.

TLC is considered by many to be one of the most successful girl groups, selling more than 45 million records worldwide. But in 2002, tragedy struck the group as member Lisa “Left Eye” Lopez passed away and T-Boz, along with Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas, decided to retire the group instead of adding a new member. T-Boz continued to work, starring in films like “Belly” and “ATL,” and wrote a poetry book entitled “Thoughts.”

In 2000, she married rapper Mack 10, and the two have a daughter together (although they divorced in 2004). From there, T-Boz has dealt with plenty of struggles including a brain tumor and filing for bankruptcy in 2011 (all three TLC members also filed for bankruptcy in 1995). She currently lives in Atlanta and there has been talk of her working on a solo album. Fans can catch up with her on her Twitter feed (@The RealTBOZ) or at her website, http://www.boz-bizz.com.

Acie Earl

former Iowa Hawkeye basketball standout

From 1988 to 1993, Acie Earl was a beast around the basket for Dr. Tom Davis and the Iowa Hawkeyes. A key recruit, Earl was ranked in the top 80 nationally by Street-Smith’s Magazine. Earl went on to play in 22 games as a freshman, leading the Big Ten with 50 blocks on the year. He improved with age. His sophomore year, Earl led the team with 16.3 points and 6.7 rebounds per game and once again led the Big Ten in blocks with 106. As a junior, Earl was named first team All-Big Ten and honorable mention All-American by the Associated Press. He averaged 19.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 4 blocks a game. His senior year, Earl led the Hawkeyes for the third straight year in scoring (16.9 points a game) and, at the time, finished his career as Big Ten’s all-time leader in blocked shots with 365.

After finishing his career at Iowa, Earl was drafted by the Boston Celtics with the 19th pick in the 1993 NBA draft. But after two seasons, he was traded to Toronto, where he posted his best NBA game, scoring 40 points and hauling down 12 rebounds. After finishing his NBA career, Earl played overseas for a number of years including France, Turkey, Russia, Serbia and Australia, but he ultimately retired in 2004.

“I retired because I tore my Achilles tendon in Croatia the first week I was there. I then came back to have surgery, and while I was rehabbing I was on the Internet applying for jobs: high school, college, pro, semi-pro. I got a head job in the ABA in Mexico, and then I came back to Iowa City to rehab more to maybe play again,” stated Earl in an interview with http://www.hawkeyesportsnews.com in 2009. “I went to the Final 4 and got some coaching leads, and thought I’d coach in college soon after, so I stopped playing professionally.”

Earl has coached on a number of different levels, and he now runs Venom Sports (http://www.venomsportstraining.com), a personal basketball training/skills program. He lives in Iowa City and is currently a realtor with Sellers and Seekers Real Estate Company (http://www.sellersandseekers.com). He and his wife, Tiffini, have five children including Kenya Earl, who is 5’10” and has already started filling out Division I college questionnaires even though she won’t graduate until 2017.

Earl keeps the blog on his Venom Sports site up to date and tweets (@coachacieearl) on a weekly basis including this gem from a few weeks ago, “no question I can still play in the nba, especially in this shortened season where teams can’t score, my problem is I can’t pass the physical.”

Shawna Robinson

NASCAR driver

Although Danica Patrick gets most of the publicity these days, she isn’t the first woman racer to dominate the scene. For 17 years, Des Moines native Shawna Robinson raced everything with four wheels and ultimately made her way into NASCAR, becoming only the second woman to ever start and finish the Daytona 500. But her racing genes date back to her time spent in the Des Moines metro.

“Growing up, my dad was a racer, so we’d be at the Iowa State Fairgrounds every Saturday night,” said Robinson from her home in Charlotte, N.C. “I traveled all over with him, and then he got into promoting races at the fairgrounds. He started a traveling truck league when I had just graduated high school, so I went along to help out. I eventually started racing, and then he promoted me as part of the series. It was a lot of fun.”

But in 1984, Robinson got serious about driving.

“I became really focused on being a driver and became very competitive,” she said. “I felt like I had done everything I could with the truck series, so I moved into NASCAR in 1988.”

From there, Robinson became a force behind the wheel, taking home a number of achievements including the first woman to win a NASCAR pole position (1989 NASCAR Goody’s Dash Series), the first woman to win a NASCAR Touring Series event in 40-year history (1988) and the first woman in NASCAR history to win a pole position in the Busch Series, Grand National Division (1994). But quite possibly her biggest achievement came in 2002, when she was only the second woman to ever qualify, start and finish (24th) the Daytona 500.

“Being one of only two women at the time to do that was a pretty big deal,” she said. “It was a big deal just getting to start in the race, but I was extremely competitive and wanted to prove my driving skills not only as a female, but as a race car driver.”

In February, Danica Patrick joined the club as she raced in the Daytona 500. Robinson knows the struggles she has been through to get there.

“The circumstances are very different from when I was there and with Danica racing this year. She has great support, and she does have talent,” she said. “She also has an extreme amount of pressure, because the cameras are always following you and you’re known as the sexy driver.”

In 1995, Robinson took time off from racing to start a family, and even though an amazing opportunity presented itself — a team owner called her and asked if she would like to test ARCA cars at Daytona — her family came first.

“When they called, I was so excited, but I had just taken a pregnancy test the day before and it was positive. I went to the store and bought like five more tests, and they all came back positive,” she said. “I called the owner and told him even though I really wanted to, I was pregnant. He laughed and said that was the first time he’d ever heard that excuse from a driver.”

After having two children (she has a 16-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter), Robinson returned to racing in 1999 and finished her career in 2005. But her second career — interior design and custom furniture (http://www.shawnarobinson.com) — had already taken off.

“I painted a friend’s nursery back when I was taking a break to have my kids, and I basically built my business from the ground up in the few years I had off,” she said. “I design for a lot of drivers and their families because there is always a driver building a house or having a baby. I’ve done a lot of stuff for Kelly Earnhardt (Dale’s sister), and I create custom pieces especially for the customer.”

Although she currently lives in Charlotte, N.C., Robinson says Des Moines will always have a special place in her heart.

“Iowa will always be my home. I still come back every year for the Iowa State Fair, and I always tell people that nothing compares to it,” she said. “I never say never, and I don’t feel like I’m too old to drive. I have never raced at the Iowa Speedway, but I’d love to compete there, maybe in a truck series. My heart will always be in Des Moines, and I’m very proud to tell people I’m from there.”

Jeanette Trompeter

KCCI anchor

From 1994 to 2004, metro viewers tuned in to KCCI to see the talented and beautiful Jeanette Trompeter report the news on a nightly basis. She left in 2004 and headed to Minneapolis and anchored the 5 p.m. news on WCCO for five years. But after some soul searching and reconnecting with past friends and employers, Trompeter was offered a job at KSBY-TV in San Luis Obispo, Calif., where her career began, and she’s been there ever since.

“The thought of moving back home and living there again, instead of just visiting my family every few months, just sparked something in my belly and heart, and I just knew it was time,” she said. “So my journey down the yellow brick road wrapped up, and I found out there really is no place like home.”

Trompeter currently anchors the 5 p.m., 6 p.m., 6:30 p.m., 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts at KSBY-TV, and hosts a weekly series called “No Place Like Home,” which profiles people, places and things in the surrounding area.

“I’m working hard, but every morning I have my coffee down the street at the beach, I’m able to have Sunday barbecues with my folks, see my nephew’s water polo games or hop on a horse to help friends round up cattle. I know I’m where I am supposed to be,” she said.

Trumpeter’s newest venture is aimed at the Midwest with a business called Ruby Shoes Wine Club that will feature wine from the Central Coast.

“There are more than 350 wineries right in my own backyard, and for years, the vineyards of the Paso Robles, Edna Valley, Santa Ynez and Santa Maria valleys have been providing grapes to wineries in Napa and Sonoma,” she said. “But now vintners here are producing their own wines that and among the best you can find anywhere.”

Trumpeter says she will be blogging about vacation opportunities, places to visit when people come out and wines that are spectacular.

“And those who join Ruby Shoes will get four shipments a year of various wines of the region at discounted prices including the first winery, Calcareous Vineyards, which is owned by Iowans,” she said. “Then we’ll do virtual tastings with the winemakers a month after shipments arrive so my friends in the Midwest can see where their wine came from, who made it and what to pair it with if they’re interested.”

Although Trompeter is enjoying the California lifestyle, Iowa has a special place in her heart, too.

“I still miss Iowa and the great people and characters I met along the way. I have a love for the Midwest that will be part of me forever. I am so incredibly grateful for the experiences and opportunities I had there,” she said. “I will never forget the thrill of seeing fireflies for the first time, sledding down Waveland golf course or the hill up at the Capitol, and experiencing my first warm, spring thunderstorm. And I’d give anything to see the Isiserettes blowing away the crowd at a Saturday festival or parade.” CV



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