By CHUCK OFFENBURGER
WEST DES MOINES, Iowa, Jan. 18, 2017 – You probably know Terry Rich as CEO of the Iowa Lottery. You may remember that earlier, he headed the Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines and led a major expansion there. Before that he had a very successful career in cable television and other communications. All of that has sharpened his wit and made him a first-rate storyteller and promoter.
What you probably haven’t realized is that the last four years, Rich, now 64, has become an avid bicyclist and an enthusiastic advocate for our recreational trails in Iowa.
He went from doubting he could complete a half-mile ride on his daughter’s bicycle in 2013, to riding more than 1,100 miles in 2016 and knocking off 20 pounds.
“If you’re lucky, you reach a point in life where you’ve got grandkids around,” said Rich. “Then it hits you – or at least it did me – that if I want to be able to see these grandkids graduating from high school and college, and see them get started in life, you want to be healthy.
“One of the good ways to do that is to get outdoors on a bicycle,” he continued. “When I did that and discovered our bike trails, it changed my life. It’s not only made me healthier, but I've had so much fun doing it.”
Terry Rich, CEO of the Iowa Lottery, bicycling on the Raccoon River Valley Trail in Jamaica.
Rich is going to be telling that story and many others on Saturday, Feb. 18, when he is guest speaker at the 10th annual fundraising banquet & auction of the Raccoon River Valley Trail Association, which is set for the West Des Moines Marriott Hotel here.
A social gathering starts at 4:45 p.m., the banquet meal follows at 5:30 p.m. and Rich will speak when the program starts at 7 p.m.
Tickets are $50 per person and $500 to reserve a table for eight. More information and online registration is available by clicking here.
The banquet is the only annual fundraiser for the RRVT Association, the non-profit organization that does the marketing and promotion of the 89-mile trail in west central Iowa, as well as assisting with trail-related special projects in all 14 towns on the trail. There’ll be silent and live auctions of bicycle- and trail-related accessories and opportunities, as well as tickets for dining, travel and entertainment experiences.
Also, the association hopes to announce at the banquet the successful conclusion of a recent special fund drive to complete the paving of the RRVT’s crossings of gravel roads. You can read more about that by clicking here.
Terry Rich actually grew up in one of our RRVT towns, little Cooper (pop. 30, maybe) in southern Greene County, although that was before the trail was constructed. In fact, trains were still running sporadically on the railroad right-of-way, which was adjacent to his grandfather’s farm. Terry grew up on a farm place about two miles southwest of the town.
“I had a 3-speed Schwinn bicycle back then as a kid, and sometimes I'd ride it to visit my grandparents," Rich recalled. "But it was never very comfortable riding in the thick gravel on the roads back then, so I didn’t do a lot of it. Nobody would have imagined then that there’d be a nice paved trail coming right through Cooper, like there is today. Now that we've got a trail, who knows what might come next? A McDonald’s Restaurant?”
He’s always been a dreamer about Cooper. And promoter of it, too.
Rich is in frequent demand as a speaker and emcee, all over Iowa and across the nation.
After graduating in 1970 from nearby Jefferson High School, he went on to Iowa State University, graduating in speech/communication arts. (“I got a BS in BS,” he’s said.)
Early in his career he joined Hawkeye Cablevision, which was introducing cable TV in central Iowa, and he also worked weekends for radio KIOA in Des Moines.
In 1981, he masterminded the famous Cooper Centennial celebration, which included the late NBC “Tonight Show” host Johnny Carson winnning a slightly-rigged contest to be named the “Honorary 51st Citizen of Cooper.” It’s a hilarious story told in a historical marker that is trailside in Cooper.
Carson invited Rich, Cooper farmer Gerald Lawton, and school bus driver/farmhand Myrtle Whitcher to California to appear on his show. Their 17-minute on-air chat with Carson was such a hit that when the tiny town’s centennial was held two weeks later, more than 12,500 people attended.
Rich used things he learned about satellite television from the “Tonight Show” experience to boost his career with Hawkeye Cable, which later became Heritage Cablevision and later yet Mediacom. Along the way, Rich founded his own television production and marketing agency, Rich Heritage. He became recognized as one of the best and most creative “promoters” in the state.
After substantial business success, he consented in 2003 to the appeals from community leaders in Des Moines that he take over the Blank Park Zoo and improve it. He was appointed CEO of the Iowa Lottery in early 2009 and is now in his second four-year term in that position.
Last year, he published a 97-page soft cover book “Dare to dream, Dare to act” that, through his own stories, shares what he’s learned about marketing, sales, innovation and creativity. He often uses it with motivational speeches he delivers around the nation – a dozen or more of them each year.
Terry Rich on the cover of his 2016 book.
Terry and his wife Kim live in the same Urbandale neighborhood where they raised two sons and a daughter.
“When I turned 60 years old, I hadn’t been doing much physical exercise,” he said. “One of my neighbors, Jim Lovell, is a heart doc, and he started working out with a trainer, and he got me interested in getting in a little better shape. That led to us riding bicycles, at first just there in our own neighborhood.”
Other neighbors got involved, too, especially Greg Murray, a lineman for a utility, and retired businessman Chuck Safris.
“One weekend, Greg Murray and I decided we were going to ride a little farther, and I thought we’d do a half-mile and it’d probably kill us,” Rich said. “But you know, it felt pretty good. We kept riding short distances in coming days. When it really took off for me was about three weeks later when we rode far enough to get on the Clive Greenbelt Trail. That’s when I discovered how much more comfortable it was riding on the relatively level trails with the shade and the scenery. It was much more comfortable than riding on the streets, with the hills and traffic.”
That was in 2013. On RAGBRAI that July, one day's ride was from Perry to Des Moines, and Rich put together a small cycling team, named “Old Man Lotto,” to join the fun that day. “After that, I was hooked, not necessarily on RAGBRAI but on the whole bicycling experience,” he said.
The neighborhood rides grew to become “breakfast rides of about 25 miles almost every Saturday and Sunday,” he said. “We’ll have four or five of us take off at dawn, ride the trails and get to downtown Des Moines just as the sun is hitting the buildings in the skyline. We’ll stop at Mullets Restaurant for breakfast (at the confluence of the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers), then maybe go over and watch the people at the Des Moines Farmers Market, then ride back toward home. Some mornings, we’ll see the big group that does yoga on the grass at Gray’s Lake Park.
"I look at all that and think, ‘Is this really Des Moines?' No wonder everybody wants to live here now. This is an amazing lifestyle!”
As you’d expect, Rich eventually bought a better bicycle – a Giant-brand road bike – and that made his riding even more enjoyable.
He has ridden the BACooN RIDE three times, and plans to start doing two to three days of RAGBRAI when his schedule will allow that.
“Terry has become a much stronger rider,” said his neighbor Safris, who is 73 and a veteran bicyclist. “When we started out on those rides from the neighborhood, he’d be shifting way down on every little hill we’d go up. But the more we rode, the stronger he got and the more stamina he had. He made the change from toe clips on his pedals to clip-ins, and he had to crash a few times getting used to those, just like nearly everybody does. But having those clip-in pedals has made him stronger, too.
“I give him credit – he’s worked pretty hard at it. He understands now that keeping moving is a key for going into our older years a little more gracefully.”
Neighbors Terry Rich and Chuck Safris together on the BACooN RIDE in 2014.
As Rich dropped weight and toned up, his interest in physical fitness has indeed increased.
His friend Ric Jurgens, the retired Hy-Vee Food Stores executive who helped start the “Healthiest State Initiative” five years ago in Iowa, talked Rich into getting involved with the organization. Rich now serves as co-chair of the “Healthiest State Walk” held early each October, when hundreds of thousands of Iowans all go on walks on the same weekday noon hour.
He said he now sees Iowa’s recreational trails as a major asset.
“Having so many trails available like we do, people have a place to get as much exercise as they want in beautiful, safe surroundings, away from traffic,” he said. “You ride along and see deer and other wildlife, even eagles up in their nests.
“Word is spreading,” he continued. “When I’m out on the trails now, I’m always running into visitors who’ve come from all over everywhere to use our trails. Most of them say they don’t have anything at home to compare to this. A lot of their own trails, if they have them, are hilly or gravel. They can hardly believe what we’ve got here – really well-maintained, paved trails that run town to town to town. People love our trails.”
The backside of the “Old Man Lotto” team shirts.