When Cathy Lacy was going to school, her grandmother would constantly encourage her by telling her: “Education is the one thing that nobody can take away from you.” 

Later, when her two children were young, her grandmother would call and ask, “Are you reading to those babies of yours?” 

So it’s little wonder that education has been one of Lacy’s philanthropic focal points throughout her life, whether it’s serving on the St. Augustin School Board or the boards of trustees at her alma maters — Drake University and Kansas State University. 

Among other organizations that have benefited from her leadership and philanthropy are United Way of Central Iowa, the Des Moines Social Club and Blank Park Zoo. 

“I really think if we’re given gifts, they’re given to be shared,” Lacy said. “People and organizations have always reached out to us to share our treasure and our time. … As a philanthropist you need to find the passion, and then it’s easy.” 

Lacy, whose father was a veterinarian and her parents pillars of their small Nebraska town, grew up on the family’s hobby farm, where she learned about hard work and giving back to the community. 

She and her husband of 34 years, Steve, met through mutual friends at Kansas State University, where both of her parents had also graduated. 

“Where I really started (in philanthropy), and this probably has to do with my grandmother, was early childhood education,” she said. “We started the Women’s Leadership Connection, funding the day care centers to make sure children are school-ready by age 5. Because if they start behind, sometimes they never catch up.” 

She also became active on school boards, beginning with St. Augustin and later Dowling Catholic High School. Then she got involved on the university level, first as a Kansas State trustee and then a trustee at Drake University.

“We try hard to find places to meet our passion to give back to those universities,” she said. “At Drake they took me through the organic chemistry lab. I’m a dietician, so I took a lot of organic chem. It was as outdated as the one where I went to school 40 years ago.” (The new lab was named for the couple). “At Kansas State they’re building their first college of business building.” (The atrium is named for them). You don’t have to look very far, and you’ll find the needs.” 

She and Steve work well together in making Greater Des Moines a better place, Lacy believes. “And I don’t think there’s another place where people are so easily motivated to help each other. My friends never say no; they always roll up their sleeves and give when I ask. 
It makes for a great place to live.”

Three areas of influence:

  1. She was instrumental in the development and funding of the Des Moines Social Club Culinary Loft, which opened in April 2015.
  2. As a Drake University trustee, she served on the presidential search committee that selected Marty Martin and served as co-chair for his inauguration. She serves on several Drake committees. 
  3. She serves on the United Way of Central Iowa Women’s Leadership Connection Advisory Council and is a founding member. She’s also a founding member of Women of Tocqueville and outgoing president of the Blank Park Zoo Foundation Board. 

Words to live by:

“The more informed you are, the less arrogant and aggressive you are.” — Nelson Mandela