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Winkelpleck puts her people skills to work at the Civic Center


The new chief operating officer finds the right fit.

Judy Winkelpleck has been a busy woman since she became the chief operating officer of the Civic Center of Greater Des Moines in December. She spends her days overseeing all internal operations of the performing arts venue, including administration, client services and technical operations. She spends most evenings at Civic Center events, partly to help cover two open job positions in guest services and partly to learn more about the industry she’s entered.

“I don’t really know theater,” Winkelpleck said. “I didn’t come from that kind of family background, so my learning curve needs to be dramatic. It’s not in me to do anything halfway.”

Winkelpleck’s family background was in food services. They owned and managed a restaurant, ran concession stands at the stock car race track in Boone, and distributed cashews. She says the family business paid her way through college and was her introduction to the world of work.   

Winkelpleck holds a bachelor’s degree in social sciences form Westmar College, and two master’s degrees, one in sociology and health care organizations, the other in counseling to “balance the human component.” She received her doctorate from Iowa State University and her dissertation project was developing models for how organizations should work together during disasters.

“Before, there was no model for [federal, state and relief agencies] working together,” she said. “During the floods of ’93, it was great to see how agencies were using the system almost 20 years later.”

After completing her education, Winkelpleck began teaching at Iowa State. She then began counseling and administrative work for the college. She was an administrator at Iowa State for 12 years, at which point she joined Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc. as a human resources director. In 1992, she formed a business called Organizational Systems Inc., which she ran in her spare time. Winkelpleck stayed with Pioneer until it was purchased by DuPont.

“You have to strike a balance to honor the people you work with while making sure an organization works as well as possible,” Winkelpleck said. “DuPont was on a scale of 100,000 workers, as opposed to the 5,000 we had at Pioneer. I’m just a better fit for a smaller place where we can identify an issue and deal with it proactively.”

When she left the company in 2000, she decided to take some time off to develop Organizational Systems into a viable full-time business. She thought it would take several years, but at the end of the first year, the company occupying her full-time. By the second year, the Civic Center had become a client. Winkelpleck says it was then that Jeff Chelesvig, president of the Civic Center, realized some restructuring was in order. Although the same number of administrators work at the theater, their duties shifted, creating the new COO position, which the Civic Center offered Winkelpleck.

“Jeff realized having someone else take care of internal operations would free him to explore a wide variety of artistic opportunities,” she said. “The effectiveness with which we operate in part ensures our ability to bring top entertainment to Des Moines.”

The Civic Center has some challenges ahead. The facility is 23 years old and in need of major renovations, including refurbishing 2,700 seats, getting a new sound system, updating the ticket office and adjusting the space to meet the needs of an aging population. The restrooms and concession booths have already been remodeled.

“It becomes a question of how we maintain the integrity of the building while continuing to meet consumer demands,” Winkelpleck said. “It comes down to better utilization of every dollar.”

Winkelpleck says these trying times are leading more people to explore the arts in their own community. They may not want to travel, but they need something to lift their spirits.

“It renews their hearts and their souls,” she said. “People need to enjoy things, to laugh and have a good time.”

Winkelpleck says her position allows her to work with people of consummate professionalism, passion and dedication to serving their community and the arts. She wouldn’t have it any other way.

“My mother, a banker and a great businesswoman, always said to make some little contribution to the world,” Winkelpleck said. “You can’t do it halfheartedly. In this world, you get back what you give to others.”

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