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Business Feature

People from 2023 who made a difference

11/1/2023

Whether it’s Des Moines city proper or Ankeny, Clive, Urbandale or any of the other suburbs in the metro, pride abounds in the residents who call these communities home. They are proud of the thriving business community; the charitable organizations; and the trails, parks, events, arts and other quality of life amenities. CITYVIEW recognizes the hard work, passion and vision of community members whose efforts make these things possible. In this issue, we pay tribute to a few of those People Making a Difference.

Meet our honorees:

Paula Dierenfeld

Mayor of the city of Johnston

As an attorney, Johnston Mayor Paula Dierenfeld worked in federal and state government for 17 years, with nearly 10 of those as legal counsel to Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad. She also worked for U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Iowa Legislature, and as an Iowa Utilities Board Commissioner. More recently, she spent 22 years in private practice at the Nyemaster Goode Law Firm and is now retired. She has served as Johnston mayor from 2008 to the present, prior to which she served on the Johnston City Council from 1999 to 2008. She has also served on numerous regional and nonprofit boards and commissions including the Des Moines Regional Transit (DART) Commission and Iowa Gold Star Military Museum Board. 

Over the 25 years she has been involved in Johnston city government, Johnston has experienced significant growth and prosperity. Johnston’s population has grown from about 8,000 to more than 26,000, and its land area has expanded by 25%. 

“During my tenure, a new public safety building and city hall have been built, as well as a 200-acre city park and over 50 miles of recreational and water trails,” says Mayor Dierenfeld. “Currently, the Merle Hay Road corridor in Johnston is undergoing a renaissance of sorts. Three years ago, construction began on the Johnston Town Center. Several restaurants and retail shops and a boutique hotel have already been built or are under construction, with more to come. The Yard, our outdoor community space at the Town Center, is hugely popular with its splash pad, ice skating rink, movies and concerts, and holiday events. In 2023, LifeServe broke ground on its new headquarters building. And, more recently, groundbreakings were held for Bombers family entertainment district and IGNIT, a 250,000-square-foot sports and fitness facility.” 

Of her community involvement, Dierenfeld says she is proud to have led an effort at the local level to wipe out sex-trafficking massage parlors in Iowa cities. 

“I worked with Johnston staff and the city council to draft and implement the first city ordinance authorizing a city to license massage therapy businesses. The ordinance allows Johnston officials to investigate and verify the legitimacy of a massage business before it begins operating in the community. The Johnston ordinance has proven to be effective in keeping illicit operations out of Johnston and has become a model for other Iowa cities to follow.”

Dierenfeld adds, she is proud to have turned her love of running into a major fundraising activity for the Johnston Partnership, the local food pantry. 

“Over the past nine years, I have raised nearly $58,000 and run over 5,800 miles in the annual Mayor’s Run for Food. I do this by challenging Johnston residents to contribute to the Johnston food pantry in the month of December. For every bag of groceries or $10 donated, I will run 1 mile beginning New Year’s Eve Day. This year, Johnston residents donated $18,500, resulting in me having to run 1,850 miles, which I completed on Aug. 19.”

Brad Buck

Superintendent, Waukee Community School District

Superintendent Brad Buck is a member and former two-time president of School Administrators of Iowa (SAI); an SAI committee member on Legislative Priorities and Design of a Superintendent/Central Office Professional Growth/Evaluation Model; a past member of the SAI Executive Council and SAI Representative Council; a mentor to superintendent candidates from Drake and Iowa State University; and a member of American Association of School Administrators (AASA). In the community, he is involved in the Business Education Alliance, Rotary Club of Waukee, and West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce.

Among his professional accomplishments, he cites the honor of serving as the president of School Administrators of Iowa. 

“It’s an opportunity to be a spokesperson for leaders in our state and to elevate important ideas in an effort to ensure all of Iowa’s students are being served well,” says Buck. “More directly, it provides opportunities to interact with SAI staff who are engaged in the important, day-to-day work of serving the members. We know there is a powerful effect on student learning when there are strong leaders throughout our school systems — and having the chance to impact that work, in support of further improving the skill sets of school leaders, is especially gratifying and humbling.”

In his community service, Buck says being a member of the Business Education Alliance “has given me a profound opportunity to have authentic dialogue with key business leaders in Iowa.” The BEA is a combination of the Iowa Business Council (CEOs from the largest employers in the state as well as university presidents), K-12 superintendents and community college leaders. “Over the past several years, we have designed a usable framework for work-based learning experiences as well as created opportunities for students to engage in apprenticeships, job shadows, degree programs, and more throughout the state. Employers are looking for skilled employees, and we are seeking additional opportunities for students to gain experience within and beyond the walls of our schools. I have been so thankful for the listening ears and active support of the leaders in the IBC as well my education colleagues.”

Martha Kester

Rector at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Des Moines, and State Chaplain of the Iowa Army National Guard

Martha Kester’s unique professional roles intersect with her community service in a number of ways. 

“It’s hard to separate professional from community involvement and service, as they go hand in hand in both of my vocations,” she says. “The whole purpose of both of my professions is community involvement.”

Kester’s outreach through her church includes a variety of programs that benefit a wide range of needs. A few of the many outreach efforts are: Habitat for Humanity, building homes for those in need; The Institute for Faith and Gender Empowerment, supporting the education of girls in Kenya; Central Iowa Shelter and Services, serving and providing meals and extra sack lunches; Food Bank of Iowa, supporting the King Pantry; Jacob’s Place, providing a monthly Eucharist Service and serving on the board; Colo Congregation, supporting a South Sudan Congregation and their needs for space for services and a food pantry; Youth for Christ, providing funds for their programs; and Military Care Packages, supporting units that are deployed.

As a member of Rotary Club of Johnston, Kester supports the Foundation and volunteers for some of the Club’s events, including its yearly golf outing, packing meals at Meals from the Heartland, its BBQ competition at Green Days, and being the on-call person for the Invocation at the weekly meetings.

As a National Guard chaplain, Kester has also strived to support the military community. 

“From the beginning in 2007 when I started with Iowa Guard, I began doing monthly chapels for the OCS (Officer Candidate School) since I was, at the time, the only chaplain who lived in Des Moines. It was a way to pour into those who would become the next generation of officers eventually being the battalion and brigade commanders. I wanted them to understand the importance of the chaplain and how we support and assist them no matter who they are. Not only that, but I also knew how hard those weekends could be and wanted to provide a brief respite for them as well.” 

As the State Chaplain for the Iowa Guard, she advocates for chaplains, chaplain candidates and the religious affairs specialists/NCOs to make sure they have what they need in order to provide the ministry and spiritual support to the soldiers in their units.

Of her role at her church, Kester says she is most proud of the work being done with Mercy and Mercyline in Kenya. 

“The opportunity to speak at that conference, as well as visit Kenya, was amazing. I am always amazed at how generous and content the people are who I interacted with both in Uganda and in Kenya. Their faith is not a Sunday thing but is the foundation of their very lives, and I was humbled at their welcome of me into their huts and their lives.

“In terms of the Army, I am most proud of the work I’ve done with the officer candidates over the years. The main downside of promotion as a chaplain is you promote out of doing the very thing you became a chaplain for: mainly working with and ministering to soldiers. So, while I don’t get to do the chapels or interact with the OCS as much as I had, I now can instill in my younger chaplains the importance of mentoring and pouring into these young officers… I find you often never know the impact you have on someone just doing what you do.” 

Amy E. Heinz

Executive Director of AHeinz57 Pet Rescue & Transport

Amy Heinz is the founder of AHeinz57 Pet Rescue & Transport, an animal welfare organization, and runs its operation.

“We provide our community and surrounding communities with animal welfare services from taking care of stray companion animals to offering low cost spay/neuter services and food/supplies for those experiencing a hard time,” Heinz said.

Of her professional accomplishments, Heinz says she is “most proud of the fact that I was able to form a 501c3 non-profit corporation on my own in my garage and develop it into an effective organization that saves thousands of lives each year at our campus comprised of three large buildings on 2 acres of land. This was achieved within 10 years. At that point, I was able to leave my full-time job and devote all my time to AHeinz57. We have now been going strong for 15 years.”

The organization benefits the community at large in a variety of ways.  

“I am so pleased to have the resources to offer low cost spay/neuter services, help people keep their pets during difficult times of their lives, and provide a safe haven for not only stray companion animals, but also dogs facing death in kill shelters,” she said. “It also makes me so happy to provide a place for volunteers to come together and find their purpose helping cats and dogs that need and deserve their love. Together, we have helped 15,204 companion animals to date. I am truly blessed to find my purpose and have the opportunity to act on it each and every day.”

Blaire Massa

Ballet Des Moines, CEO

Blaire Massa says her role as CEO of Ballet Des Moines “is to lead by example in creating experiences that are inclusive, intentional, enriching and inspiring. My dream would be for every child in Iowa to have access to high-quality artistic programming and for Ballet Des Moines to play a role in making our community vibrant and authentically welcoming.”

Massa serves on two boards “that support the broader creative community in our state, which together advocate for creativity, innovation and artistry across the state,” she says. “Access to arts programming has a measurable impact on lives, changing outcomes particularly for residents of rural and underserved communities, and I strive to make these programs truly accessible.”

Massa said she is proud of the progress of Ballet Des Moines over the past four years. “Our team, our partners, our artists and our participants are the strongest testament to our success, and their feedback proves that the work we are doing is inspiring, important and impactful. I am proud of the small role I play in underscoring how deeply important it is that leaders in today’s society are building equity, empathy and belonging in communities. Whether through advocacy for social emotional learning in education systems, or by lifting up perspectives and stories from underrepresented communities, I hope to be part of a movement to shift our focus to valuing compassion, creativity and curiosity in all walks of life.”

Susan Dunn

ABWA Chapter President, Chamber volunteer

Susan Dunn is a long-time community volunteer and leader, and her efforts have been recognized by the Urbandale Chamber of Commerce, which named her Connector of the Year twice, and the Clive Chamber of Commerce, which named her Clive Chamber Champion of 2023. She currently serves as an ambassador for the Clive Chamber and jokes that she worked her way to board president and back down to ambassador.

She has been a BNI (Business Network International) member for 12 years and served many leadership roles in the chapter. 

“For fun, I network in the Chamber and BNI for Premier Vision Clinic,” she said. 

Her volunteerism includes teaching Faith Formation classes for elementary students at St. Boniface, volunteering at Eason Elementary School, serving as secretary on the PTO Board, and serving on the Clive Parks and Recreation Board.

  “My largest contribution to the community is perhaps my involvement with ABWA,” Dunn said. “I have served on various board positions for 12 years. For the past three years, I have been president of the local chapter. Getting through COVID was a challenge for us all. I held us together with virtual meetings and then transitioning to hybrid. We grew our chapter by 25 members and introduced a community outreach program to support various local programs.  Our retention is great, and we provide many leadership and growth opportunities to women of all ages in all stages of their careers. Our Chapter is being recognized nationally for achieving one of the highest awards ABWA presents for best practices in the league.” 

Ben Page

Director of Parks and Recreation, city of Des Moines

When it comes to major projects that have elevated Des Moines, the Riverview Park project comes to mind. The multi-phase project included the construction of an outdoor concert stage, custom playground, donor/history plaza, walking loop and historical lighting. Ben Page, director of Parks and Recreation for the city of Des Moines, was instrumental in seeing the project brought to fruition.

Page is a board member of the National Recreation and Park Association and past president of the Iowa Parks and Recreation Association. He serves as the board liaison on the Friends of Des Moines Parks and is a board member for the AH Blank Park Zoo and Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden.

As the professional accomplishment of which he is most proud, Page cites being a part of the team that won the National Parks and Recreation Association Gold Medal Award for Excellence in Park and Recreation Management. The program honors communities in the United States that demonstrate excellence in parks and recreation through long-range planning, resource management, volunteerism, environmental stewardship, program development, professional development and agency recognition. It was the first time an agency from Iowa has won since the recognition was created in 1965 and the fourth time Des Moines Parks and Recreation was a finalist.

“Selection as the 2022 Gold Medal winner was an incredible honor,” Page said. “This award further validated what I see day in and day out from all who work in the parks and recreation department who consistently bring passion, energy and a true love of their work in serving our residents and visitors. Our dedicated city council, Parks and Recreation board, city manager, Friends of Des Moines Parks and staff remain committed to our mission and vision, and receiving this tremendous honor confirms hard work and embracing public input has led to our park and recreation system recognized on a national level as one of the very best.”

Page also notes the rebirth of the Friends of Des Moines Parks Foundation, as a major accomplishment. “This non-profit, 501c3 organization has experienced record growth in donations received, programs offered, and advocates gained for our treasured parks and recreation system,” he said. “From making sure every kid can participate in swimming lessons and youth sports and receive free sports equipment to planting trees and building playgrounds, this board works hard for our community. Since 2007, this non-profit board has donated over $1 million dollars to the Des Moines Park and Recreation system, paid for thousands of swimming lessons, donated over 4,000 sports balls, planted hundreds of trees, and built several playgrounds. This mission and board is a model that many cities aspire to have due to their passion to make Des Moines a great place to live, work and play.  Make sure to check out all their work at www.friendsofdmparks.org.”

Jennifer “Jenny” Scharn

Speech Language Pathologist, VA Central Iowa Healthcare System; Cystic Fibrosis Foundation board member and fundraiser

“My daughter, Isla, was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at 2.5 weeks old. As soon as we met the staff at the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation of Iowa, I knew I wanted to be involved with them and their work toward finding a cure for Isla and all those living with CF,” Scharn said. “Myself, family and friends launched right into our first fundraiser, a can drive, when Isla was just 5 months old. For three years, we held a pancake breakfast and a silent auction. We have sold T-shirts each year to support the cause and also raise awareness. And, for the last four years, we have hosted our biggest fundraiser yet, Cocktails for a Cure. Over Isla’s seven years of life, our team, Isla Bean’s Babes, has raised $102,201 and donated this to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.”

Besides raising money for the Foundation, Scharn has also organized collecting toy donations for Blank Children’s Hospital. 

“We have hosted one independent toy drive and then a toy drive each year at Cocktails for a Cure,” she said. “This is Isla’s favorite part, too, and she loves being able to be the one to deliver the toys to the CF clinic and child life program at Blank. This year alone, we donated over $1,000 worth of toys. These toys help children, like Isla, get through very long (three- to five-hour) clinic appointments and hospitalizations.”

Jay Byers

President, Simpson College

Jay Byers, president of Simpson College, is also past president and CEO of the Greater Des Moines Partnership. He currently serves on the Executive Committee of the Iowa Chamber Alliance, on the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE) Executive Board, Board of Directors and Community Growth Education Foundation, the General Council of the World Chambers Federation and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Committee of 100. 

Under his leadership, The Partnership experienced significant growth, expanding to represent 11 counties and 24 affiliate chambers of commerce with more than 6,500 members, making The Partnership the fourth largest regional chamber of commerce in the country. 

Before joining The Partnership, he worked as district director for Iowa Congressman Leonard Boswell and as an attorney at the Ice Miller Law Firm in Indianapolis, Indiana.

“It is a true honor and privilege to serve as president of my alma mater, Simpson College,” said Byers. “In my previous role of president and CEO of the Greater Des Moines Partnership, I had the opportunity to be an industry leader at the state, national and international level in serving as chair of the Iowa Chamber Alliance and the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives and as the U.S. representative on the International Chamber of Commerce World Chamber Federation General Council.”

Byers said one of his proudest accomplishments was playing a role in developing the Capital Crossroads Regional Vision Plan. “I, along with multiple other regional leaders, was involved at the ground level in helping develop and launch the Capital Crossroads Regional Vision Plan and later went on to serve as one of the chairs for multiple years. Over the past decade plus, Capital Crossroads has had a transformation impact on the economic growth and community vitality of the Greater Des Moines region.” ♦

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