Jack Lane, who has contributed a half century of service and leadership to Norwalk, is the recipient of the 2019 Community Footprint Award of the Norwalk Area Chamber of Commerce.
The award, presented at the Chamber’s 27th Annual Awards Celebration January 24, was created by the Chamber in 2018 to recognize Norwalk citizens who have left a lasting impression on the community and continue to inspire its success. Lane is the seventh recipient.
Lane’s biggest impact on the community came as a 14-year member of the Norwalk City Council from 1966 to 1980. During his tenure, the Council undertook paving community streets. “At that time, nothing was paved, just Highway 28,” he says. “The first year we did Main, Lane and North streets. Then residents on my own street, Marie Street, petitioned the city to pave our street, even though it meant higher taxes for us, so Marie Street was one of the first to be paved.”
Also during his tenure, the Council oversaw the connection of the city to the metro Des Moines water system, preventing a threatened loss of water in the community that was already beginning its rapid growth.
Lane had even longer tenure as a 55-year member of Norwalk’s Fire Department from 1963 to 2018, much of the time when the department was a volunteer operation with only one truck. Most memorable during that time he says was a wintertime barn fire when it was so cold that firefighters froze to the ground’s surface while they worked and had to be rescued.
While dedicated to the city, Lane also devoted considerable time to involvement with the Masons and ZA-GA-ZiG Shrine, becoming the Shrine’s Potentate, the highest office in the organization which is composed of Shriners from 29 counties in Iowa. He also served on the Iowa Shrine Bowl board for 20 years.
Lane had a 37-year career in sales at Bob Brown Chevrolet in Des Moines.
Born and raised in Norwalk, Lane graduated from Norwalk High School in 1956 where, as a basketball star for the Warriors, he held the school record of 45 points scored in a single game – until December 2019 when current NHS senior Bowen Born scored 47 points in a game against Pella High School. Lane and Born were later recognized at a center court ceremony which also included Lane’s great-grandson Nate Lane, a point guard on the conference-leading team.
Lane and his wife, Madalene, who married in 1957, have sons Randy, who lives near Cumming, and Rusty, who lives in Newton, and daughter Sandy, who lives in Minneapolis. The Lanes have six grandchildren and three step-grandchildren and six great grandchildren and 12 step great-grandchildren.
Though the commitments that has earned him the Chamber’s Footprint Award are many, Lane points to a time when he actually made footprints on Norwalk. “In the early 1950’s during the project to connect our water line to the North River I would get out of school and go to the construction site where my dad was running a trenching machine,” he says. “My job was to sit high on the machine to watch and make sure it stayed on an even course digging the trenches.”
Those long-ago trenches may have been Lane’s first footprints on the community he has watched grow for decades. “I greatly appreciate this award,” he says. “I love the way of life we have here and I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve done.”
Tom Guthrie is one of those people who says “it takes a village” to get things done. That village is Norwalk which is honoring him as its Citizen of the Year for his volunteer role as Norwalk Santa. The recognition was presented by the Norwalk Area Chamber of Commerce at its 27th Annual Awards Celebration on January 24 at Echo Valley Country Club.
“I am honored by this recognition, but it’s not just me,” Guthrie said. “It does take a village and without that, Norwalk Santa would not be possible.”
As Norwalk Santa, Guthrie is the hub of a community project which helped 31 families during the 2019 Christmas season – and that includes 72 kids who received toys and treats they might not have had. Among the gifts were 17 bicycles that Norwalk resident Mike Leo helped arranged for Norwalk Santa. The families were referred to Guthrie through an informal network of Norwalk residents who know he’s a helping hand for those in need.
The experience that planted the idea to become Norwalk Santa began several years ago when a pediatric nurse, who recognized his white-bearded Santa attributes, asked him to accompany her on a visit to the home of a seriously ill young boy. “I was really there for the parents and the brother but I felt something special. I left that house a changed person and something told me I wanted to help wherever I could,” he said.
A friend mentioned a Facebook posting related to a family’s need for assistance but which was not getting a good response. “I asked if I could step in and put something on my page,” he said.
“In just a few days the response was overwhelming and I knew I had to do something.”
He and a friend created the Norwalk Santa concept and during the first Christmas season five families received toys and food thanks to donations from Norwalk residents. The next year it was 15 families and the total more than doubled in 2019 with 31 families.
“The neatest thing is that as our requests have grown each year, so have the number of people getting involved and giving,” he said. “I remember at one point one year I was getting nervous that we couldn’t find support, but miracles happen. It seems like the number of requests and the number of people stepping up to help grow at the same pace.”
Guthrie credits much of the success of Norwalk Santa to a friend Meg Oswald Blunk who assisted for several years, including overseeing photo shoots of Norwalk Santa with area kids, helping with gift wrapping parties and other elements of the project. “Meg, who died in 2019, was a tremendous resource who made a wonderful difference for so many in Norwalk,” he said. “We miss her because she helped bring joy to so many families here. She had a contagious smile and was especially good with little kids who were nervous around Santa.”
Norwalk Santa doesn’t disappear after the Christmas season but is available year-round, posting “This Just In…” messages on his own Facebook page describing a need, frequently for furniture and household supplies that are needed by families displaced, often for complex reasons, who need to set up a household on short notice. Most of the furniture, appliances and other items come from families who’ve alerted Guthrie that they have things someone else could use and Norwalk Santa helps make the connection.
Donors know to drop off requested items at Gregg Young Chevrolet where Guthrie works. “People can drive right in and that’s especially convenient for the people picking up items they need. The guys at Gregg Young are so helpful, too, and they tell me they love to see the smiles on people who are getting helped through Norwalk Santa.”
The involvement by the Gregg Young Chevrolet staff in Norwalk Santa activities is one reason the dealership was named Business of the Year for 2019 by the Norwalk Area Chamber of Commerce.
Another project led by Norwalk Santa with support from Aaron DeKock and Amanda Fletcher led to community donations of $10,000 to cover unpaid school lunch fees for Norwalk students whose families could not afford them. That project drew attention from other communities and Guthrie hopes to encourage other area communities to create their own volunteer Santa projects.
Though he is Norwalk Santa year-round, Guthrie becomes most visible in the weeks before Christmas. This past December he was Santa at the Norwalk Easter Public Library’s holiday event. He also dons his Santa suit for an occasional motorcycle ride but his favorite experience involves trips for groceries. “I’ll put on my Santa hat when I go to the store and I’ll see little kids walking by me – and walking by me again – and looking at me. I’ll smile at them and say ‘You better be good.’”
Norwalk parents must appreciate those interactions with their children, another reason Tom Guthrie as Norwalk Santa is Norwalk’s Citizen of the Year.
A high school senior with 10-plus years of computer programming experience - starting in second grade - still credits much of his success to the non-technical skills he has developed through the traditional world of debate. Evan Voogd’s achievements have earned him recognition as Student of the Year by the Norwalk Area Chamber of Commerce at its 27th Annual Awards Celebration on January 24.
Evan, who will graduate from Norwalk High School in May, began coding as early as age 7 using MIT Scratch, a free program language and online community where kids of all ages can code and create interactive stories, games and animations.
But it was only three years ago, as a high school sophomore, that Evan discovered debate where his skills have helped the Norwalk team achieve state, district and conference honors.
“The advice I’d give to students – and anyone – is that it’s never too late to try something different,” he says. Following his own advice, he did not get involved in Norwalk High’s Student Council until his junior year and is now student body vice president as a senior.
As a sophomore, he explored debate and got involved on the team as well as in large group speech competitions and NHS theatre. High school debaters develop strong oral and written communication skills, critical thinking, research and problem-solving strategies and strengths in public speaking and presentations.
Now as a senior and captain of the debate team, Evan works to help novice debaters develop skills and in September conceived and organized a first-time debate camp for Norwalk High students. “Through general sessions and breakout sessions over several days, we helped them learn how to write case studies, present their arguments and analyze the results,” he says.
Since the debate season began with the year’s topics announced by the National Speech and Debate Association, Evan and his debate partner Joseph Puente have been busy competing in weekend debate tournament among larger schools in Iowa, something Norwalk High debaters have not done in the past. “That’s been most rewarding, winning first place in a tournament at Roosevelt High School and getting a second place in Bettendorf, both against very large schools,” he says.
Large group speech competitions have enabled Evan to show another talent: improvisation and ensemble acting. “In improvisation competition, we are teams of three students who draw three props from a box and we quickly have to create a skit using the props,” he explains, noting students often get ideas from the improv-themed television show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”
Evan Voogd/P 2
Those competitions are the lighter side of his approach to his education. He has a goal of completing two advanced placement courses each semester through Norwalk High’s relationship with Des Moines Area Community College and expects to graduate with at least 20
AP courses completed. Currently still involved in the college search, Evan plans a major in computer science.
Evan also finds time for NHS show choir where he is a bass in Sound Revolution and in theatre where he’ll be a part of the spring play. “I do a lot of activities and handle a challenging schedule and I try to do both well,” he says, noting that his commitment is a tribute to a late grandfather, a small business owner, whom he considers to be a role model.
Supporting his activities are parents are his dad Scott, a science teacher at Valley High School, and mom Darcy who also are busy with brother Aidan, an NHS sophomore, and sister Zoe, a fourth grader at Lakewood School. “My parents have been tremendous support and encouragers of everything I’ve done from my basic computer coding as a grade schooler to standing on stage at a big debate tournament. It’s their support that has enabled me to achieve this recognition from the Norwalk Area Chamber.”
Norwalk’s Angela Housley wanted to be a teacher since her own elementary school days. Her dream came true and her impact on hundreds of Norwalk students has earned her recognition as Norwalk’s Teacher of the Year by the Norwalk Area Chamber of Commerce.
Housley was honored at the Chamber’s 27th Annual Awards Celebration on January 24 at Echo Valley Country Club.
Housley grew up on the East Side of Des Moines, near Grandview University, and her childhood goal was to attend GrandView and become a teacher. She achieved both and today, as a
kindergarten teacher at Orchard Hills/Oviatt Elementary School, Housley leads 21 students daily in a curriculum that includes reading, math, science, phonics and social studies.
“I always played school growing up,” Housley said. “I made my brother be the student and I had a whole miniature classroom set up at home, complete with supplies like overhead transparencies and papers and materials that a real teacher was recycling and offered them to anyone who wanted them and, of course, I did.”
Today Housley’s classroom is a colorful, lively space at Orchard Hills, with clusters of small desks for five- and six-year-olds, shelves of plastic bins students’ supplies, and a patterned carpet marking a spot for group discussions. The district’s 13 full-day kindergarten classes are meeting at Orchard Hills for the school year while remodeling is under way at Oviatt.
“I love teaching kindergartners because they love coming to school and I love making learning fun for them,” she says, adding that Norwalk kindergartners have returned from their winter break excited for learning and often after using their new skills over break.
The kindergarten curriculum, developed by the State of Iowa, is designed to prepare students for first grade and students must be able to read upon finishing the kindergarten year. Skill in reading is enhanced as the students also learn phonics by sounding out letters and works and develop writing skills by combining everything they are learning. “Students start by writing short sentences, such as ‘I like tacos,” words they can sound out,” she said. “Eventually, even in kindergarten, they add a few more words and they are successfully reading and writing and enjoying it.”
Social studies is another aspect of the curriculum, surprising for kindergartners, yet critical in helping them grow and build responsible behaviors. “In Social studies in kindergarten we talk about community, we talk about family and we talk about getting along with others and this helps them understand the world around them,” Housley says.
Now in her 13th year of teaching, the current school year represents a change for Housley, the first year she won’t be a “looping teacher” who leads the same class of students in both kindergarten and first grade. She’s completed six loops in past years and those early students are now high school seniors.
Besides leading her own classroom, Housley heads a Professional Learning Group with five other kindergarten educators in the district who get together regularly to discuss their work with the students, determine how well the classroom experience is meeting state standards and collaborate on ideas for learning.
On top of her commitment to her class and the district, Housley is investing time in herself: currently working on a master’ degree in curriculum leadership and instruction through Buena Vista University. She already holds state endorsements in reading and early childhood education.
Housley and her husband John have two sons: Gavin, a fifth grader at Lakewood, and Tanner, a sixth grader at the Middle School. John coaches the boys’ team in the Norwalk Twin Rivers Baseball program.
Busy Housley has one other interest: she creates original wall and door hangings as Hangings from the Heart, designs in burlap and trimmings which she sells via Facebook postings, a project she somehow finds the time for.
Now her full and busy life has been recognized by her teacher and administration staff, her family and her students and their parents. “I feel extremely honored that I was awarded Teacher of the Year and I feel strongly that its support from our school leadership, leaders like Sheila Taylor and Rodney Martinez and the teachers I teach with every day and the students I get to be with daily that makes this possible, “she said.
Norwalk hosted its party of the decade on July 23, 2019, when 20,000 bicyclists, support crews and guests rode into town on RAGBRAI, the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa.
For Dr. Donna Grant, partner in Norwalk Family Dentistry, her vision for the day, her leadership of hundreds of volunteers and her unflagging energy from dawn to dark has earned her recognition as Member of the Year for the Norwalk Area Chamber of Commerce. The award was presented at the Chamber’s 27th Annual Awards Celebration on January 24 at Echo Valley Country Club.
“I am immensely proud of how we pulled together in Norwalk to put on a day to show off our community to RAGBRAI,” Grant says. “I was honored to be a part of presenting Norwalk as a Hometown for Heroes and, as a community, we proved we have many heroes who got involved to give everyone – visitors and residents – a great time.”
The list to recognize everyone involved is huge, Grant notes, from the volunteer steering committee, to city department staffs, especially Police, Fire and Public Works, to civic organizations and, of course, the Chamber, she says. She cites especially City Council Member Jaki Livingston and Chamber Executive Director Lucinda Sperry, who joined her to power the planning committee. “The entire committee was phenomenal,” she adds.
Grant proposed Norwalk’s City Park as the main venue for the day and then set to work managing the project, hosting planning meetings, securing bands and entertainment, collecting the massive supplies needed and coordinating vendors including beer tents – among a thousand other tasks.
The best measure of the day’s success, she says, is that more than $20,000 was raised in sales at the beverage tents and returned to the community through donations to the Norwalk Boy Scouts, RoboWarriors, Norwalk Lions Club Fireworks Fund, New Life Lutheran Church, Norwalk Community School District water filling station, Norwalk Ministerial Association Emergency Fund and the Hometown Pride Veterans’ Memorial Fund.
Once bicyclists and crews left town in late afternoon, Grant hosted another event: Celebrate Norwalk, the RAGBRAI after party for the community with hundreds of Norwalk families gathering at North & Main and City Park for entertainment and relaxation after the successful day. “The after party was awesome,” she says. “We had everything there after the full day event and it was a perfect way for us to celebrate as a community.”
Grant’s role on the RAGBRAI host committee was just the latest in her long association with the Chamber which she served as president for two years, followed by a role as chair of the Greater Des Moines Partnership, the organization of all Chambers in Central Iowa.
Another 2019 Chamber involvement was as a presenter at the Warren County event during the Des Moines metro-wide Mentoring for Women event in April, a project of numerous area Chambers. The Norwalk event brought together women from Norwalk, Carlisle, Indianola and rural Warren County to discuss women’s role as leaders.
“I was honored to be involved,” Grant says. “If what I’ve done as a businesswoman is something other women think is helpful and can possibly impact their endeavors, that’s very humbling.”
Dr. Grant is also busy with family. Her son Jake is a senior at Iowa State University and her son Cole is a senior at Norwalk High School.
Would she suggest others get involved in the Chamber? “Absolutely,” she says. “Involvement in the Chamber is the best way for a business or an organization and their leaders to get to know the community, to get to know people and, in turn, to give back to the community.”
Her own involvement with the Chamber began when she was recruited by Mark Miller, former City Manager and still active Chamber member. “Mark was committed to getting more people involved and he convinced me to join one day after a conversation. The next day, he said to me, ‘You’re on the board now, too,’” she laughs.
Chamber membership is also a reflection of how she looks at her dental practice. After graduating from the University of Nebraska College of Dentistry, Grant saw a posting on a bulletin board at the University about a practice with an open position in Norwalk, Iowa. She accepted the position and a few years later purchased the practice.
Today she and Dr. Maureen Winslow are partners in the practice and Dr. Elizabeth Fleck is an associate. The staff includes seven dental hygienists, four dental assistants and an office staff of five.
“I feel the involvement of Norwalk Family Dentistry in the Norwalk Area Chamber is part of who we are in Norwalk. We are all intertwined with the community and being part of the Chamber is another way of supporting that community and, in turn, earning the community’s support of us,” she says.
“Even if you are not involved in the Chamber or in a specific group, volunteering is always needed somewhere in a community,” she adds. “Reach out. It’s rewarding and exciting.”