Iowan of the Day

Since 1997, the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation and Cookies Food Products partner to honor outstanding Iowans at each year’s Iowa State Fair. We look for individuals 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:

  • Four Iowa State Fair admission tickets
  • An introduction on the Anne & Bill Riley Stage
  • Four Grandstand show tickets for their day
  • Privilege to use the Iowan of the Day golf cart for the day
  • VIP parking
  • Accommodations at the Des Moines Marriott Downtown
  • $200 cash

View a full list of the past Iowans of the Day 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 requested by calling 515-262-3111 ext. 371. 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! 

Kristin Swift - Bondurant  
Kristin has a passion for education in her community. She works tirelessly to help the students in her school district through her work as President and Treasurer of the Parent-Teacher organization. Kristin serves as the President of the Bondurant-Farrar Education Foundation as well as President and Treasurer of the Athletic and Fine Arts boosters. She actively serves on the finance, wellness, negotiation, student achievement and infrastructure committees on the Board of Education. Her work ethic is not only seen in the school community but shines through her volunteer tutor work at church, serving as soccer club treasurer and helping to bring foreign exchange students to Iowa as Chair of the American Field Services organization. Kristin is known as the “go-to person” in Bondurant and even takes time to work in concession stands for school events.
Deborah Whitaker - Keokuk
Deborah has a strong passion for helping veterans. Three of her sons served in the military and while one has fallen, she has found strength and passion in helping others. Deborah has a degree in horticulture and has created the organization Veggies for Vets. Veggies for Vets supplies garden seeds, plants and more so our veterans can have fresh, healthy food to grow on their own. Growing these plants is encouragement to give veterans a sense of accomplishment. Deborah wants to help veterans in any way she can and is even working on a documentary to showcase what is needed and how to help veterans through difficult times when they return home. Through her volunteer work with veterans and horticulture skills, Deborah was invited to decorate the Iowa State Capitol Christmas tree in 2018 and 2019 and a Christmas tree at the White House in 2018. Deborah has spent countless hours providing produce to veterans and will continue to support those that have served our country.
Barb Westercamp - Cedar Rapids
Barb’s motto is “See the good and be the good”, which is evident through her countless hours of volunteer work. With her degree in education, she has felt the need to help youth in her community by working to improve literacy for the disadvantaged. Barb has been the local coordinator and a national advocate for Reading is Fundamental for 15 years and has been a Reading is Fun volunteer coordinator for 10 years. Since 1970, she has annually donated money to purchase new books and school supplies for Cedar Rapids area students. Staff, parents and students are all grateful for Barb and her books. For years, Barb has been involved with the Iowa Character Counts program, organized the Veterans of Foreign Wars youth essay contest, assisted with scholarships for the American Legion, served as coach for National History Day and has coordinated a Civility Workshop. Her efforts even expand beyond Iowa where she helped establish a library in an orphanage in Kigali, Rwanda. Barb is a firm believer that all youth should have access to books and be able to improve their literacy. She has been a strong advocate for youth within her community and surrounding areas.
Doug Sienknecht - Gladbrook
Doug is a man who is willing to help anyone who asks and even those who don’t. As a retired farmer and employee of the Iowa Veterans Home, Doug has always found time to help those in his community. He is not only very active in his church serving as Board President, but he has also spent several years on the Buildings and Grounds Committee, helped organize Vacation Bible School and even led a group of young adults on a mission trip. Active in the Lincoln AMVETS and Auxiliary, Doug is also the Chairman of the Avenue of Flags Committee and enjoys being a member of the Gladbrook American Legion. He is a volunteer driver that gives veterans rides to doctor appointments. Doug and his son built a Free Little Library near his church so members of the community could enjoy it. Doug has also been spotted volunteering at the Iowa State Fair selling water!
Emerson Bendickson - Panora  
Three years ago, at age 6, Emerson Bendickson saw an opportunity to make a difference in her community. She noticed other students were not getting milk with their school lunch because extra milk wasn’t covered under the free/reduced meal plan. Emerson wanted to make a difference for the kids in her class and took it upon herself to raise money to provide extra milk for the rest of the school year. She collected pop cans and with the help of her parents, started a GoFundMe page. The Panora community supported Emerson’s project. She raised enough money to provide extra milk for the kids in need for not only the rest of the school year, but for the following school year as well. Emerson was nominated as Citizen of the Month and graciously donated the award’s prize money to the school’s extra milk fund. At this young age, Emerson has learned the value of giving back to those in her community.
Janet and Dave Ritchie - Knoxville
This hardworking duo has made a lasting impact on the individuals in their community. Janet has been a 4-H leader, member of the Daughters of Union Veterans, the Lions Club and Iowa State Rabbit Breeders Association. Dave is a Vietnam Veteran and member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3519 serving as the All-State Quarter Master. He has supported the county cemetery with mowing, maintenance and preservation. Janet and Dave are members of their church quilting group and have served on the Marion County Historical Society Board of Directors. They helped start Pioneer Days and continuously support the pancake breakfast in their community. Together, they are driven and devoted to each other and their community.
Kathy Jo Porter - Waterloo  
Passion is what drives Kathy Jo Porter to work endless hours. She had a vision to create an organization that would unite community members who owned (but were not currently using) items to help care for children and individuals in foster care or adoptive situations. In 2015, Kathy Jo launched Kaden’s Kloset and has worked tirelessly to get those individuals the items that they need. Those items include things like clothes, winter coats, shoes, books, toys, blankets, book bags, baby supplies, personal hygiene products, etc.She serves an average of 400+ children every year and even launched the Kaden’s Kloset Christmas Wonderland where each child in the Waterloo foster care system receives a pair of socks, underwear, pajamas, small gift, large gift, book, stocking, blanket and a stuffed animal. Kathy Jo’s nominator shares that she is the epitome of Iowa’s values and she demonstrates this daily through Kaden’s Kloset.
Bonnie Wood - Pocahontas  
Bonnie has been an un-daunting advocate for Pocahontas for decades. She isn’t afraid to step up, get involved and put her community first. As the retired business owner of Quilting on Main, she has devoted her time to other community projects and organizations including the Pocahontas Chamber of Commerce, Pocahontas Women’s Club, volunteering often at the Rialto Theatre and leading Main Street Stitchers. Bonnie saw an opportunity for enhancements to her community through the Elbert Park Improvement project, adding a new playground and trail to the town. Through her work, she has been described as a “catalyst volunteer” because of her positivity, organization and passion for the Pocahontas community.
Amy Ryan - Forest City
Amy Ryan has dedicated her life to making a difference in her community. One of Amy’s biggest passions is her volunteer work as Race Director for the Tunnel to Towers Foundation where she has hosted and coordinated 5K remembrance runs/walks for firefighters/veterans. She has helped raise $75,000 for the Foundation. Amy has also helped put together Soldier Boxes, care packages for the military, every year. In addition, Amy has worked hard bringing Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to her community. She has a goal to raise enough money for every child in town to receive a free book to read each month. Amy has a strong passion for youth in the Forest City community. Amy was described as being dependable in her nomination and that is evident through her involvement on the app “Be My Eyes”. The app allows her to video chat and provide visual assistance to blind and low vision people.
Jeannine Liljedahl -  Essex

The community members of Essex look up to Jeannine Liljedahl. She proves that she has generosity in her soul and makes a great impact on those around her. With a passion for food security and inclusivity, Jeannine has shown that through her kindness and assistance, the Essex community is a better place. For 20 years, she has volunteered to meet unmet food needs of people in the areas surrounding Essex through her work with the Community Food Pantry. She is also the co-founder and director of the Little Red Wagon where meals are delivered to homebound residents in Essex. She manages approximately 100 volunteers and serves up to 2,000 meals every year. Jeannine also assists her community by serving as a board member for Southview Village for low rent housing, is an active Foundation member and gift shop volunteer at the Shenandoah Medical Center, and is a part of numerous local organizations including PEO (a women’s scholarship organization), the Shenandoah Book Club and the Essex Study and Service Club. Jeannine’s list of involvement goes on and her community feels blessed by her perseverance and work.

Joy Thiel - Reinbeck    
After retiring from teaching in 1997, Joy began volunteering full-time and has yet to retire from this endeavor. Joy spends her time volunteering at Allen Hospital in the gift shop, sewing kid’s caps for surgeries and has served two years on the volunteer advocate committee. Along with her extensive involvement in the Allen Hospital, she has also helped at the Reinbeck Park View Manor Nursing Home, coordinating monthly activities, and uses her sewing abilities to help mend clothes for the residents. Joy coordinated, organized, and computerized the elementary library at Immanuel Lutheran School in Waterloo. When the school closed, Joy moved the library to Valley Lutheran School in Cedar Falls where she continues to help with story time and book check out. Joy involves herself in Mosaic Haven LLC, helping special needs children and adults by putting together manipulatives to facilitate learning for motor skills related to self-care. 

Kris and Steve Gunderson - Odebolt   
The Gunderson duo demonstrates the epitome of service. After Kris retired from teaching in 2012, she became a founding member and chairperson of the Community Basket, a traveling food pantry in Sac and Ida counties working to fight food insecurity in rural communities. Steve served as the President of the Odebolt Cemetery Board for 15 years, ensuring Cemetery trees are trimmed and the lawn is maintained. Kris and Steve led seven mission trips through the Appalachia Service Project. As members of the Odebolt United Methodist Church, both have served on almost every committee. Kris is a steering committee member of 100 People Who Care in Sac County with a mission of gifting to charities and non-profits serving Sac County  

Gregg Obren - Clinton  
Gregg Obren has served the Clinton community for the last few decades through many different roles. While carrying the responsibilities as the Director of Parks and Recreation, Greg always found time to pursue his hobby of volunteering. From helping out with youth sports to serving on the church and school board, he spends his free time looking for ways to impact his hometown of Clinton, Iowa. After retiring, Gregg was able to dedicate even more of his time to volunteering. He has served on many different community committees and boards including Clinton Trees Forever, Clinton 4th of July Committee, Meadowview Pool and the RAGBRAI Welcome Committee just to name a few. 

Jody Rudolph – Anita
A strong work ethic, dependability, and integrity were just a couple of the words used to describe Jody in her nomination for Iowan of the Day. Jody’s love for music has led her to use her talents for serving the community and getting others involved while she’s at it.  Jody regularly brings students to perform music at many different places around the community including Caring Acres Nursing and Rehab Center, American Legion, and various women’s meetings. Along with her involvement with the youth, Jody secures local musicians and speakers for the Memorial Day programs held at Evergreen Cemetery and Caring Acres. For many years, she has taken charge and organized the annual live nativity scene called “Walk through a Winter Wonderland” at Anita businesses and Anita Sale Barn. This includes lining up volunteers, livestock, costumes, and music to ensure the event is a success. Jody dedicated much of her time to playing the organ at several area churches on the weekends, and has for weddings and funerals. 

Julie Hitchins - Marshalltown   
Julie is a well-respected leader in the Marshalltown Community, continuously going out of her way for the betterment of the community. Along with her leadership as the executive director of the Community Foundation of Marshall County, she dedicates her talent and energy to many different nonprofit organizations including Child Abuse Prevention Services, P.E.O. Chapter of Marshalltown, Vision Marshalltown and Rotary-International. Her leadership in the Marshalltown community does not stop there as she is quick to respond when disaster strikes. When the derecho hit, Julie took the time to clean up the Riverview Cemetery, and found ways the Community Foundation could assist in the impact it had on the community. She contacted family members, friends, and co-workers to get donations flowing to help mitigate the damage the derecho had done. 

Georgia Campbell – Berwick 
Georgia has decades under her belt of sharing her gifts with others. After recovering from polio when she was young, she discovered a deep passion for horses. Throughout her life, she has transformed that passion into service by working with handicapped and underprivileged children as a riding instructor. From a very early age, Georgia was serving her community and has not stopped well into her 80’s. As a lifetime volunteer, Georgia served as a 4-H Leader for over twenty years and served on both the Polk Fair Board and Iowa Horse Show Association Board. From her time spent with the youth she has received a plethora of awards over her lifetime including Hometown Hero, Volunteer of the year from Flying Arrow Saddle Club, Adult Sportsmanship trophy, and special merit award. 

Janet Wissler – Oelwein 
Janet’s dedication to community service has been described as “tireless”. She not only shows initiatives on countless projects, but also supports others’ ideas. From holding every major office in Lions Club, to leading the Community Garden in Oelwein, she is an unstoppable force when it comes to the pursuit of community betterment. Her extensive community outreach includes collecting books to give children at Old Tyme Christmas, leading a group that provides recipes, cookbooks, and food samples to Food Bank recipients, and delivering food to shut-ins for Meals on Wheels. From serving as treasurer to heading up recruitment and kitchen duty for all funeral lunches, Janet has served her church in many capacities. When COVID hit, Janet worked to ensure church was a safe atmosphere for attendees. 

Bill and Connie Ridgley - Panora  
Bill and Connie were instrumental in the establishment of Tori’s Angels, a lifesaving effort created for a child with a heart defect. Now Tori’s Angles benefits children not only in Guthrie County, but also throughout Iowa. Tori’s Angels sponsors children with life threatening medical conditions through various fundraising efforts. Along with the Ridgley’s tremendous work with Tori’s Angels, they are also actively involved in their community including serving as Lions Club President, youth activities through their church, supporting county libraries and volunteering for Make a Wish. At the events they help with, Bill and Connie are known to be the first ones to come and the last ones to leave, always helping to prepare the food and clean up after. 

Carol Messer – Yarmouth 
From volunteering at the State Fair to advocating for agriculture, Carol Messer could easily be described as someone with deep Iowa roots. Carol spent many years advocating for women’s agriculture issues on a county, state and nation level with the Farm Bureau. Carol has advocated for agriculture on a local level by presenting Ag in the Classroom for students in Mediapolis and Farm Safety Camp at the Des Moines County Fairgrounds. At the State Fair, Carol and her late husband Emmet volunteered in the Open Class Food Department for over 50 years. In her local community, Carol has served as a 4-H leader, been on the extension council, and has judged numerous 4-H shows. In her church, she has been involved as a Sunday school teacher, youth camp counselor, and youth leader. 

Barbara Kniff McCulla - Pella   
Barbara was described in her nomination as someone who has the ability to connect with new people that she meets and immediately establish a common bond. Barbara has used these abilities to be successful in her business as the owner of KLK Construction and ViewPointe Development in Pella, and as an active member of her community. Outside of her successful career, Barbara is involved in numerous organizations with various local, state, and national associations. Barb is active in the Pella community as she helps out with the Christian Opportunity Center providing housing, employment, and support for handicapped individuals. She also is the Chairman of the Pella Community Foundation Board, and assisted in establishing a Teen Challenge for women home. Barb’s faith is evident in her involvement from helping to launch a women’s ministry group to involvement in her local church.