City of Des Moines photos
Mannequins model the clothes in the front window of Benson’s Fashion Apparel, a popular Des Moines boutique for 42 years.

Des Moines honors 5 volunteers, 1 organization with Spirit Awards

Community service and all around good feelings were the order of the evening as the Des Moines City Council kicked off their first meeting of the new year with the “Spirit of Des Moines Awards.”

The awards acknowledge citizens of Des Moines who have lived and worked in the community.

Over 70 people crammed into chambers to watch the three lifetime awards, two annual awards and one organizational award get presented.

“In my book, there’s nothing more important than a public ‘thank you,’ for the countless hours that people have put in to make our city better for everyone” said Mayor Dave Kaplan.

“A lot of people give themselves to our community, and it’s important that we recognize those efforts,” said Kaplan.

There were three lifetime honorees for the 2012 Spirit Awards, Mary Beth Benson, Norma Somers and Jack Kniskern. The two Annual 2012 Awards went to Gene Achziger and Char Schulz. The organizational award was given to the Des Moines Farmers Market.

The first lifetime award went to Mary Beth Benson, owner of Benson’s Fashion Apparel and mother of five.

The fashion boutique opened in 1964 and was a staple in Des Moines for 42 years, until Benson’s retirement in 2006. Benson over the decades put on many fashion shows in conjunction with the Waterland Festival.

Benson has been a sponsor and donor of many activities in the community over the years, said Mayor Kaplan.

“The great pleasure is mine, so many of you welcomed me when I first opened the doors of Benson Apparel. I’ve just loved my life here in Des Moines,” said Benson

“I was a customer of Mary’s for 42 years, they (the clothes) hold up beautifully and I still wear them today,” said Councilmember Carmen Scott.

The second lifetime award went to Norma Somers.

Norma and Johnny Somers were the owners of Johnny’s Super Market, which opened on the corner of South 223rd Street and Marine View Drive in 1945 (where Allstar Sports Bar is currently located). As the market grew, it changed location to where Red Robin now sits.

The success of this market helped fuel the growth in the Des Moines Chamber of Commerce, which Somers was also a member of.

Somers has been very active in the community in several ways. She was a den mother and Campfire leader for about 12 years and sponsored a Miss Des Moines candidate every year,

“She and her family continue to be a positive presence in Des Moines, including their support of the Legacy Foundation Bayside Brunch,” said Mayor Kaplan.

Jack Kniskern was the recipient of the third 2012 lifetime award.

Kniskern, a graduate of the School of Architecture of the University of Washington, first discovered Des Moines on his way to Saltwater Park to supervise construction of an outhouse.

Two years later, he moved his family to Des Moines where he set up a one-man architectural office from which he designed many buildings that are still standing today.

Among his works is the City Hall where the award was presented.

The list of contributions Kniskern has made to the City of Des Moines is almost endless. He’s been a Rotarian for 54 years, chairman of the third Waterland Parade, served on the Des Moines Planning Commission, The County Board of Adjustment and in 1972 he was elected to the Des Moines City Council where he served for two years.

Kniskern was on the Board of Trustees for Highline Community College from 1987-1996 and was the founder of the original Des Moines Art Commission.

Now that Kniskern is retired, he spends his time fostering and promoting the understanding of other cultures and sister city relationships. He currently serves on the Kent, Wash – Yangzhou, China sister city committee.

“I’m a man of few words sometimes,” said Kniskern. “I think Des Moines could be a leader at establishing relationships within our communities.”

Two Annual Awards for 2012 were also awarded.

The first Annual Award went to Gene Achziger.

Achziger, a long time resident of Des Moines, has been involved in several different boards and commissions.

In the past year, Achziger has served as Legacy Foundation Board vice president, Destination Des Moines member and Pool Metropolitan Park District Board commissioner.

The City Council approved Achziger’s appointment to the Des Moines Arts Commission, but he’s since had to step down because of the time commitments of being president of the pool board.

Recently, Achziger began teaching Journalism at Highline Community College.

“If ever there was someone who does so much for our community, in plain sight and with little recognition, it’s Gene Achziger,” said Kaplan.

“I’m very humbled by this honor, thank you very much,” said Achziger.

The second Annual Award was given to Char Schulz.

Schulz has served on the board of the Legacy Foundation. She has been an active member of the Rotary Club and Farmers Market. She served on the Marina and Beach Park Business Plan Advisory Committee, sponsored the 4th of July picnic and worked on many other activities in the community.

Schulz runs her own State Farm Insurance agency, has been a long-standing member of the business community as well as having recently become a Master Gardener.

Schulz tearfully accepted her award.

“I’m very touched by this, I love this city, it’s nice to have a bunch of friends,” said Schulz.

“Char contributes so much of her time, energy and money to the community, in so many ways, that it’s truly humbling,” said Kaplan.

Organizations don’t always win awards, but for the last seven years the Des Moines Farmers Market has been a social magnet for our community and an important weekly part of our summers and falls, said Mayor Kaplan. “For those reasons, and more, the Committee is honored to recognize and present a Spirit of Des Moines Award.”

Wayne Corey and Rikki Marohl accepted the award on behalf the Farmers Market.

“The Des Moines Farmers Market brings a light and warmth to our city that’s nearly impossible to measure,” added Kaplan.

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