By CHUCK OFFENBURGER
WEST DES MOINES, Iowa, Feb. 20, 2017 -- The 10th annual banquet of the Raccoon River Valley Trail Association, held here Saturday, Feb. 18, will be remembered as one of the most fun ones -- guest speaker Terry Rich, the CEO of the Iowa Lottery, was tremendous. It will also be remembered as one of our most generous crowds.
Not all figures are final, but association treasurer Keith Troester said Monday the banquet has netted "about $17,000." The crowd of about 140 people in the grand ballroom of the West Des Moines Marriott Hotel was smaller than we've had in recent years, but the people there demonstrated even more generoisity than we've witnessed at these events in the past.
It was, Troester added, "a great banquet."
That net amount includes more than $8,000 in corporate sponsorships for the banquet, individual donations for it, the total of what successful bidders paid for auction items, and the income of two raffles held during the evening. The non-profit RRVT Association will use all of that to market and promote the 89-mile paved trail, as well as the 14 towns and three counties it traverses.
Probably even more impressive, however, was that when Amy Lucht, a member of the RRVT Association board of directors from Adel, made a direct appeal to the audience to donate $6,500 right-then right-there -- in order to complete the fundraising to pave the eight remaining unpaved trail crossings of gravel roads -- it happened!
Amy Lucht, of Adel, a member of the board of directors of the RRVT Association, is shown here making a special appeal to those at the banquet to make donations to help pave the RRVT’s eight remaining unpaved crossings of gravel roads.
"When we started this project a couple of years ago to pave the gravel road crossings, there were 39 of them to do," Lucht said. "With various donations and grants, by late this last fall, we had 31 of them done -- with only eight more to go. That's when the RRVT Association decided we were in a financial position that would let us put up $10,000 to match donations up to that amount," figuring the $20,000 total would be enough to pave the remaining crossings.
The board in late December set a goal of being able to announce the successful conclusion of that fund drive during the banquet.
Lucht opened by telling the crowd $3,500 in donations had been collected since the special fund drive was announced.
"That leaves us with $6,500 to try to raise here tonight," she said, pausing to look over the crowd. "So, is there anyone here who will make a donation of $1,000 to get us started?"
After a few seconds, Randy Jensen, of West Des Moines and Lake Panorama, raised his hand.
"Anybody else?" Lucht asked.
One by one, up went hands from Forrest Ridgway, of West Des Moines, then Carl Voss, of Des Moines, and finally Jim Disney, of Springfield, Ill. All four, with their families, are major trail supporters. Disney was familiar to many in the crowd because he is a native of nearby Stuart, Ia., and is a veteran RAGBRAI rider with "Team Gumby" based in Jacksonville, Ill.
Lucht gushed "thank yous" to the four and the crowd erupted in applause.
"Now for the rest of us, it's our turn!" she said. She noted that the $4,000 in new contributions we'd just witnessed meant the fund then stood at $7,500 -- leaving $2,500 more to find. She pulled out a calculator, divided $2,500 by the number of people at the banquet and asked, "O.K., now will you pick up that little donation ticket in front of you at your table? Write in a pledge of $17.85 apiece -- and you can round that number up, as high as you'd like. We'll take cash, checks and credit card payments, too!"
Like we said above, it happened!
Total collected against the $6,500 goal right-then right-there: $7,358.85!
So the fund drive to complete the paving of the unpaved gravel road crossings brought in just more than the $10,000 that was sought, and the RRVT Association will match it.
"The banquet was a major success," said Cooper Riley, of West Des Moines, chairperson of the RRVT Association board.
"It is always great to see the passion and support from people that attend our banquet. And challenging the room to come up with the rest of the $10,000 for us to be able to match that from the association -- and getting the $6,500 plus -- was amazing. That showed the passion from the trail supporters. The board is extremely thankful for the donors and the public's participation in the event."
Terry Rich, the guest speaker, walked among the tables and used one quick quip after another as he traced his life and life's lessons. He grew up just outside the RRVT town of Cooper, went on to Iowa State University, started his very entrepreneurial career in cable television and then corporate communications, the directed the total overhaul of the Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines, and accepted the top position at the Iowa Lottery about eight years ago. Four years ago when he turned 60, he decided he needed to get into better shape if he wanted to be alive to enjoy his grandchildren as they grow up. A couple of neighbors talked him into trying bicycling around their Urbandale neighborhood, then led him to the Des Moines metro trail system, and he became a quick champion of Iowa's rec trails. In 2016, he rode 1,100 miles and dropped 20 pounds.
He praised all the work that's been done to improve and expand the Raccoon River Valley Trail, which is now in its 28th year.
"How do we inspire even more success on the RRVT?" he asked the crowd. "How can we make it the best rec trail in America?"
He went on to say that the consistencies in his life and career have been that he's always enjoyed showmanship and promotions; he's not been afraid to propose even the wildest of ideas that occur to him during brainstorming sessions, and he's never been so afraid of failure that he failed to take action when an idea seems like a good one.
He then did a quick few minutes of offering new ideas for the RRVT in the future, among them:
--Promote "Kiss Your Car Goodbye" weekends on the trail.
--Have storytelling days along the trail with local people welcoming trail users with good local tales and answering questions.
--Have a designated "Party Stop" that is moved from town to town during the trail season. Trail users would come to know there will be special food & drinks and live music at the "Party Stop."
--"Have a 'Bike Naked' Day," if we'd dare to go bare. Did he say there's a popular "naked" ride in Chicago?
--Treasure hunts on the trail, ala the "Pokemon" craze of a year or two ago.
--A "Reading Area," with books available, in some shaded, beautiful place along the trail.
--Have a regular "Yoga Stop" on the trail.
--"Wifi Hot Spots."
--Promote the idea that when the corn and soybeans are growing adjacent to the trail, the RRVT has "the best organic oxygen supply of any trail in the U.S."
And he kept a string of innovative ideas coming!
You can learn more about the banquet in the photos and captions below here. (Photos are by Chuck Offenburger unless designated otherwise.)
The social hour before the banquet provided a great time for trail advocates such as these four to renew acquaintances – Steve & Erna Morain of Waukee and Kevin & Mollie Cooney of Des Moines.
Dallas County Conservation director Mike Wallace tells Dr. Jim Teusch, of Jefferson, about the “Let’s Connect” effort that has raised more than $1 million toward building a 9-mile connector trail between the Raccoon River Valley Trail and the High Trestle Trail.
Master of ceremonies Chuck Offenburger, of Cooper, one of the co-founders of the RRVT Association, addressing the banquet crowd. (Photo by Sandy Lowe)
Many people at the banquet had a first opportunity to meet Michael Niland (left), of the Ten 25 Designs agency of West Des Moines, the webmaster of the RRVT Association. With him here is his boss Cooper Riley, who is founder of Ten 25 Designs and is the chairperson of the RRVT Association.
Pals since their years together at Iowa State University, Mollie Cooney and our banquet speaker Terry Rich had a great time reconnecting at the RRVT Association event. Cooney is a KCCI-TV news anchor and Rich is CEO of the Iowa Lottery who earlier was a cable TV executive. Rich worked Mollie and her husband Kevin Cooney into his speech, pointing at them when he wanted to use the phrase “satellite uplink,” which he did several times. When he pointed, one Cooney would entertainingly yell “satellite,” and the other would chime in with “uplink.” (Photo by Rob Davis)
In the first auction event of the banquet, the RRVT Association allowed all tables to bid on an “upgraded menu” that included Caesar salad prepared tableside, filet mignon, complimentary wine and for dessert bananas Foster flambe also prepared tableside. Susan Voss (right front) won the bidding, paying an extra $300 to the RRVT Association so her table of Des Moines-area friends and tablemates had an even better meal than the pork loin banquet dinner everybody else got. The West Des Moines Marriott donated the meal enhancements. Clockwise from left front are Susan’s husband Carl Voss, Mollie & Kevin Cooney, Rob Davis & Pat Boddy, and Barb & Steve Dinnen.
Here, one of the chefs at the West Des Moines Marriott Hotel is shown preparing “bananas Foster flambe” next to the table that had the successful bidders for an upgraded menu.
Carl Voss went to the next table over to share some of his bananas Foster flambé dessert with Heidi Soliday, of Newton, while her pal Pam German of Dallas Center waits for Heidi’s review. (Photo by Rob Davis)
It’s become a tradition that the RRVT Association always has a “Heads or Tails Raffle,” in which those who want to play contribute $5. Then, as our guest speaker Terry Rich demonstrates, everybody either picks “heads”… (See next photo)
…or they pick “tails,” as Rich demonstrates, each time a coin is flipped. If you’ve picked wrong on a coin flip, you lose and sit down. (See next photo)
There were 67 people were playing on the initial coin flip during the “Heads or Tails Raffle.” Here was the group of seven still playing as raffle coordinator Mike Wallace prepared to flip again. Everybody was hooting when the winner wound up being Terry Rich himself, our demonstrator! He was eligible to take half the total “jackpot” of $310 from the rally, or $155, but instead he donated it to the RRVT Association. In another raffle, this one called “50-50,” people could buy a $5 chance to split whatever the total “pot” wound up being. When the name of Janelle Reed, of Bagley, was drawn as the winner of $215, she also donated that to the RRVT Association.
Jim Disney is shown with the custom-built New Belgium Cruiser bicycle he bought during the auction. The cool bike was donated by Carl Voss, of Des Moines. Disney now lives in Springfield, Ill., but he grew up in Stuart, Ia., and he’s been riding on RAGBRAI for years with the well-known “Team Gumby” of cycling veterans. They are based in Jacksonville, Ill.
Phyllis Drake, of Jefferson, the RRVT Association board member who has chaired the committee organizing the annual banquet, is shown here with the evening’s auctioneer Keith Kerkhoff, who is co-owner of the popular Templeton Rye, based in the town of Templeton in western Iowa. Kerkhoff has been auctioneering for decades and his humorous call was a real hit with the banquet crowd. He also sells real estate and farms between Manning and Manilla, the latter of which is Drake’s hometown, and she’s know him since she was a youngster.
RRVT Association chairperson Cooper Riley, at the right, asked the other association board members who were at the banquet to take a well-deserved bow. Left to right are Mike Wallace, Stan Boyer, Amy Lucht, Bif Ridgway, Jason Tuel, Sandy Lowe, Phyllis Drake, Keith Troester, Jake Wendler and Riley. Other current board members who could not attend this year are Mary Laborde, Michelle Fields, Bob Wilson, Dan Towers and Joe Hanner.