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They’ve made Central Iowa better


We hear the word “influence” and interpret it as “power.” The power to buy and sell, the power to impose one’s will or the power to command others to get the work done.

The word carries a different meaning when applied to the Des Moines Business Record’s Women of Influence for 2005. Among their other contributions to the community, they have helped to shape it by volunteering. Whether it’s raising money for preschools or serving on multiple community boards, they have pitched in, helped out, picked up the slack and generally made good things happen.

Their influence has been felt by organizations such as the Science Center of Iowa, the Des Moines Metro Opera, the Des Moines Art Center, the Des Moines Public Library, the United Way of Central Iowa’s Women’s Leadership Connection and the Mercy Foundation Board.

Sixty Central Iowa women have been honored in the first six years of the Women of Influence program. This year’s eight selections will be honored at a reception Aug. 16 at the Des Moines Marriott hotel, 700 Grand Ave. Cocktails and hors d’ouvres will be provided at 4:30 p.m., followed by the presentation of honors at 5:30.

Admission is $5, and a portion of the proceeds will go to help launch the Pipeline Project, a new non-profit organization designed to guide young women toward positions of influence.

Charlene Bell

Charlene Bell would often discourage students from majoring in psychology, telling them they would never get a job because the only thing they could tell a prospective employer was, “I’m good with people.”

“It translates well in life but not at the employer’s desk,” she said. “But I guess that’s really true. I went into it because I really found a reward in helping people to help themselves. I think that has been the theme in my life: letting them help themselves. I just provide the facilitation for that to occur.”

Bell has taken the desire to help people and applied it through a variety of career and volunteer experiences, from teaching and consulting to mentoring and crisis intervention.

A native of Lincoln, Neb., she attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and received a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in counseling. She earned a doctorate in psychology from the University of South Dakota. And she did it all as the single mother of three children.

“I think that’s why I’m such a believer that we can do those things if we put our minds to it,” Bell said. “It was a very difficult journey, but we made it.”   She took a job in Clear Lake and later started a private practice in Mason City, where she began to host luncheons and speaking engagements to promote her practice. She took up public speaking and consulting after moving to Des Moines 22 years ago.

Through her work, she has taught graduate students at three universities and has been a motivational speaker and seminar presenter.

Bell calls herself a sports nut – “I grew up in Nebraska,” she explains – and enjoyed her work as a volunteer psychologist for the Drake University women’s basketball team and North High School girls’ basketball team. She has worked with high school girls through a mentoring group and continues to mentor a boy from Capitol View Elementary School.

And as she watched the events of Sept. 11, 2001, unfold, she picked up the phone, called the American Red Cross and traveled to New York City to work in a crisis intervention stress management program.

“I think anybody who had anything to do with that came away with a new awareness and appreciation for the courage and the strength of human nature,” Bell said. She continued crisis intervention work through an Iowa National Guard program, Enduring Families, for soldiers who have returned from war.

Allison Fleming

Allison Fleming never planned to become a math tutor, nor an advocate for children. But one day a neighbor whose son needed help in math called her and asked, “You know calculus, don’t you?” The next thing she knew, she had a schedule of 28 students she was tutoring one-on-one from her kitchen table.

That was more than 25 years ago, and in the same way, a chance phone call also led to her two decades of work in juvenile justice and child advocacy.

Fleming, who chairs Iowa’s Juvenile Justice Advisory Council and was a co-founder of the Child Abuse Prevention Council, has testified before congressional subcommittees to spur the creation of legislation that holds states accountable for meeting federal requirements. She was also instrumental in creating training programs for juvenile justice programs throughout the country.

Her board commitments include the Greater Des Moines Community Foundation, Youth Homes of Mid-America and the Youth Law Center. She is also a member of the United Way of Central Iowa’s Women’s Leadership Connection, which is raising money to revitalize seven preschools and to further train teachers in early-childhood education.

As a child advocate and community leader, Fleming puts her heart and soul into her work, said Johnny Danos, president of the Greater Des Moines Community Foundation, who nominated her as a 2005 Women of Influence. Fleming has served on the foundation’s board since 2003 and was named to its executive committee last year.

“As a founding board member of the first battered women’s shelter in Des Moines, she didn’t just attend meetings and raise money,” Danos said. “She got down on her hands and knees and scrubbed the kitchen floor to make sure the first residents would have a safe, comfortable and clean place to get back on their feet.”

The best part of her work, Fleming said, is the knowledge that it has a positive effect on others.

“Over the Fourth of July this year, I bumped into a former tutoring student who was quick to share the good news that he’d finally found his place in the professional world,” she said. “After describing his dream job, he said, ‘Mrs. Fleming, it’s all because of you … my math tutor who believed in me when no one else did.’ Those moments lift my spirits and inspire me to continue to advocate for kids, especially those who are struggling to see their value or to find ways and reasons to lead positive, productive and purposeful lives.”

Linda Koehn

Influencing people is simple, according to Linda Koehn. “There’s only one technique to get people to go along, and that’s to get people very excited about the project,” she said. How do you do that? “You have to be very excited about it,” she said, “and then the feeling will spread.”

Koehn has been part of some of Central Iowa’s most exciting efforts this year; she’s the development chair of the new Science Center of Iowa and her annual work on the Des Moines National Poetry Festival led this year to a dinner at her home with a guest list that included U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser.

That had to be a memorable event for someone who holds two degrees in English; Koehn earned a bachelor’s degree at Cornell College and a master’s degree at the University of Iowa, then went on to get a master of science in education degree at Drake University.

Koehn taught for 20 years, with stints at Hoyt Middle School, Roosevelt High School and Iowa Lutheran Hospital. But it’s her record as a community volunteer since ending her teaching career that led to her recognition as one of 2005’s Women of Influence.

“I’ve always had a great interest in music and been drawn to the arts,” Koehn said. “When I stopped teaching, I had time to contribute. This community does draw people in, because it’s such a generous place. My involvement has a lot to do with the fact that we’re here in Des Moines, where there are lots of opportunities.”

By taking advantage of those opportunities, Koehn has led others to do the same. Science Center Executive Director Mary Sellers said, “When the Kresge challenge grant was issued to SCI, Linda and Tom (her husband) were the first to step forward with a substantial gift that set the pace for many others to contribute and meet the challenge.”

Currently, in addition to her work with the Science Center and the Poetry Festival, Koehn serves as president-elect of the Des Moines Metro Opera and honorary chair, along with Tom, of the telethon for Variety, The Children’s Charity. She is a member of the Greater Des Moines Community Foundation and sits on the board of The Waldinger Corp., where her husband is the chief executive officer.

“Tom wanted to grow his business, so I decided to take over the volunteering aspect for the family,” Koehn said.

Caroline Levine

Caroline Levine will serve on a Halloween committee for the Des Moines Playhouse this fall, which should just about complete her list of places to volunteer. “The Playhouse has been here forever and I’ve always enjoyed it, but I’ve never done any volunteer work there,” she said. But she has volunteered for the Des Moines Art Center, the Des Moines Public Library, the Civic Center of Greater Des Moines, the Blank Park Zoo, the American Red Cross and more during the past 50 years.

“Des Moines has a wonderful menu with so much delicious stuff to choose from,” Levine said. “It’s the size of a town where you can pick and choose so many things, and I think sharing is what it’s all about.”

Levine has lived here all of her life, except for five years in Centerville, the hometown of her husband, Arnold. As she was growing up, her parents set the tone for her later efforts. “My parents were both very active and community-minded,” Levine said. “They were involved in the Community Chest and the Red Cross – during World War II, my mother was the head of knitting for the Red Cross. Volunteerism was sort of instilled in me.”

Levine, who studied art history at the University of Iowa, chose the Art Center for her first volunteer efforts. Over the years, she organized fund-raisers, worked with the Junior League to establish the Junior Museum and organized a party to celebrate the Richard Meier wing while it was still under construction.

She also served as supervisor of the Cultural Center at the Iowa State Fair, helped introduce the Junior Great Books literacy program to Callanan Middle School and worked to keep Callanan and Merrill middle schools and the Wakonda Club culturally and racially diverse.

Levine played a part in creating two fund-raising events for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation – Art for Alex and the Tennis Auction Ball — co-chaired “The Bridging” event for the Morris Scholarship Fund and came up with the “Heroes of the Heartland” concept to honor local people who saved lives or performed other extraordinary acts.

“I think you get more out of it than you put into it, always,” she said.

Former newspaper publisher and community philanthropist David Kruidenier said of his friend, “Caroline is one of the most compassionate and creative people I have known. Every community has people who quietly go about helping others in a selfless manner, and that is Caroline Levine.”

Mary Riche

Mary Riche calls herself “a high-energy person.” She’s up every morning with the sun, sometimes even earlier, to walk at Gray’s Lake.

“It gives me energy for the rest of the day,” she said.

And she’ll need it. Riche’s daily schedule is split between her busy private practice as a licensed clinical therapist, executive coach and mediator and her numerous volunteer duties for organizations such as the Chrysalis Foundation, where she serves as board president, that have brought out her passion for effecting positive changes in the lives of women and girls.

“When they are fully utilized, whether in the workplace or in the home, then we’re all better off,” she said.

Riche was raised on a farm near Oelwein and developed an interest in journalism – “I wanted to replace Barbara Walters on the ‘Today’ show,” she said – and majored in journalism and English at the University of Iowa.

After graduation, she took the public-sector route and worked as a press aide to a U.S. senator and later as a press secretary for the Democratic candidate for governor. She later joined the Iowa Commission on the Status of Women and became the first director of its Employment Project, an initiative to measure the underutilization and underemployment of working women in Iowa.

Riche founded a public relations company, Riche Associates Inc., in 1980. She became the first board president of the Greater Des Moines Leadership Institute, founded the Iowa chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners, was named Iowa’s Women in Business Advocate by the U.S. Small Business Administration and received the YWCA Women of Achievement Award.

But she eyed a career change, and went back to the University of Iowa to earn a master’s degree in social work, which she received in 1992.

“I like change and it doesn’t frighten me,” Riche said. “It seemed like I’d been doing things for decades in my adult life so I thought it was about time for a change.”

In her therapy practice, she provides brief, solution-focused and family systems psychotherapy to adults, teens, couples, families, individuals and groups, and specializes in areas such as remarriage and stepfamily dynamics and women and couples experiencing infertility.

In addition to the Chrysalis Foundation, Riche has served other non-profit organizations, including Orchard Place, Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa and Children and Families of Iowa.

She has also devoted countless hours to Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ throughout the past 25 years, having served as an accompanist, Sunday school instructor, trustee and foundation board member. She was ordained as a deacon three years ago.

Jane Knaack-Esbeck

As a mother of four children, there was a time in Jane Knaack-Esbeck’s life when she wondered if was doing the right thing by working outside the home. But her 8-year-old son helped put an end to her doubts when he told her she had “too much energy” to stop working.

“I feel that we need young women to take a look at careers and to not be daunted,” Knaack-Esbeck said. “It makes me sad to think how many Madame Curies there are out there who felt they had to choose between work and family.”

Knaack-Esbeck credits both her family and Hy-Vee Inc., her employer of 14 years, with supporting her decision to balance work and family while staying active in her community.

“Hy-Vee is one of those companies that you’re just so proud to be a part of because Ron Pearson, our chairman, and Ric Jurgens, our CEO, know that in order to best serve our customers, we need to have women in decision-making roles,” she said. “They have taken an active role in mentoring and recruiting women to the company, and have also given me the opportunity to mentor other women and watch them grow.”

Knaack-Esbeck was raised in Marshalltown, and she taught in the community’s elementary schools for several years after earning a bachelor’s degree in education from Drake University.

She took seven years off from working while her three oldest children were young, but in 1980, she moved to Des Moines and started on a new career path in human resources with Bankers Trust Co. In 1981, she returned to her alma mater to take night classes toward her master of public administration, which she earned five years later.

“When life got busy, my husband, Mark (Esbeck), took the responsibility for getting the kids off to school and fixing the evening meal,” she said. “I’ve been fortunate that it has worked out so well.”

Multitasking has become one of Knaack-Esbeck’s strong points, which is critical to her job because “not only are no two days alike, but no two hours are alike” as a vice president overseeing two departments for a company employing 50,000 people.

She serves on the board of directors of several non-profit organizations, including Living History Farms, Youth Homes of Iowa and the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center, in addition to representing her company statewide with organizations such as the Iowa Business Council and Iowa Jobs for America’s Graduates.

Outside work and civic involvement, Knaack-Esbeck runs or takes spinning classes to stay energized, and she also enjoys reading legal mysteries and traveling with her family.

Andy McGuire

As a parent of seven school-aged children, Dr. Andy McGuire has a natural interest in the needs of youngsters. But despite her busy schedule as a corporate medical officer and as a mother, she’s also deeply involved in helping Greater Des Moines’ children and families in need.

“You can’t do everything,” said McGuire, who nevertheless is currently active on five community boards and has served on a half dozen more in the past. “So I try to think about women, kids and families.”

A native of Waterloo, McGuire is the chief medical officer of American Republic Insurance Co. She and her husband, Dan, also an Iowa native and a physician, moved to Des Moines 15 years ago, after she completed her residency in nuclear medicine in St. Louis. Iowa’s quality of life was an important reason the couple wanted to raise their children, now ages 8 to 17, here.

For the past three years, McGuire has played an active role in the United Way Women of Leadership initiative, which is raising money to fund renovations at seven inner-city preschools and to provide additional early-childhood certification to teachers.

“United Way was a wonderful conduit to branching out to early childhood,” she said. “I really love the idea that if you can impact kids at an early age, you really can change how life is going to be for them. … If you get them on the right road, the rest of it really takes care of itself.”

With four of her children attending St. Augustin School, two at Dowling Catholic High School and the oldest about to enter Creighton University, it’s no coincidence that McGuire is involved in the leadership of each institution.

She has served on the St. Augustin School board, and as co-chair of the school’s capital campaign, assisted in raising $3.8 million for a new school building. She also co-chaired the Dowling capital campaign that raised $13 million to help endow scholarships for underprivileged youths.

McGuire was recently elected president of the Creighton University National Alumni Board, along with a seat on the university’s board of directors. She was also recently appointed to the University of Iowa’s College of Public Health Board of Advisors. She serves on the boards of the Mercy Foundation as well as House of Mercy, which oversees a transitional housing program for single mothers recovering from addiction.

“Dr. McGuire stands as the quintessential role model for all of us women in Central Iowa,” wrote her nominators, Sheila Riggs and Martha Willits, “in terms of community service, philanthropic activities and achievement in business and education.”

Patsy Shors

Patsy Shors has devoted much of her life to helping the disenfranchised in Central Iowa, and now she wants to take her talents abroad.

“I hope that I’m given the chance to spend some time in India,” Shors said. “I’d really like to go back there and work in a clinic as a nurse for a few months. That’s my dream some day. I’d like to have that broadening experience.”

Shors serves on the board of directors of the Iowa Council for International Understanding. Her interest in this group partly stems from her travels in recent years “to far corners of the earth” to visit her sons, John, Tom, Matt and Luke, in places such as Nepal, Japan and India.

“As I’ve had the opportunity to travel to several different countries, I’ve come to understand that our world is becoming much smaller, and whatever we can do to embrace cultural diversity in our community is very important,” she said.

A native of Des Moines, Shors earned a bachelor of science in nursing at Barry University in Florida. She worked in Baltimore for a short time before returning to Des Moines for what she thought would be a “pit stop” on her way to San Francisco. But her plans changed when she met her future husband, John. They married a year later and have lived in Des Moines since then.

Volunteerism was instilled in Shors at a young age by her “very community-minded mother,” and by age 15, she was already volunteering as a candy striper at Mercy Medical Center-Des Moines. Shors returned to Mercy as an adult to work as a medical/surgical nurse before her children were born, and then returned again in 1987 to raise money to start House of Mercy, which provides transitional housing for women undergoing substance abuse treatment and their children. She served as its director for six years.

She continued her career at Mercy as its director of development and community relations, director of patient relations, director of volunteer services and Mercy Foundation/Development Officer. She became a liaison for the Iowa Nurses Association about a year ago.

In addition to House of Mercy, Shors also founded the Des Moines Choral Society and the Des Moines Playhouse’s production of “Peace Child,” and was the co-founder of Youth Emergency Services and Shelter, Community Telephone Service and the Hmong Lao Foundation, a farm and cultural center near Prairie City for Laotians.

During her free time, she enjoys playing the piano, bicycling, walking, traveling and staying active in her book club.

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