Story & Photos by Scott Schaefer

At a packed city hall, the Des Moines City Council presented the 2012 “Spirit of Des Moines” Awards at the start of Thursday night’s meeting (Jan. 10), giving awards out to several residents.

“I have been a big proponent of acknowledging the work that people do on behalf of the citizens of Des Moines,” said Mayor Dave Kaplan at the beginning of the presentation. “A lot of people give of themselves to our community, and it’s important that we recognize those efforts. In my book, there is nothing more important that a public ‘thank you’ for the countless hours that people put in to make our city better for everyone.”

Mayor Kaplan presented awards to the following:



Mary Beth Benson: Mary Beth opened Benson’s Fashion Apparel in 1964. After 42 years of serving the community with quality, stylish clothing for women, she retired in 2006. When a decision was made by the City Council to make 7th Ave South a one-way street southbound, and Marine View Drive a one-way street northbound, she and others made their concerns known to lawmakers loud and clear. Needless to say, both 7th Ave South and Marine View Drive are both two-way streets today.


Norma Somers: Norma and Johnny Somers were the owners of Johnny’s Super Market, which opened on the corner of S. 223rd Street and Marine View Drive in 1945 (where Allstar Sports Bar is currently located). Norma served the community as a Den Mother and Campfire Leader for about 12 years, actively taking a role in her childrens’ activities, as well as providing leadership to other children in the community. She and her family continue to be a positive presence in Des Moines, including their support of the Legacy Foundation Bayside Brunch. In a 2009 interview for the city’s 50th Anniversary, she said “an awful lot of good people work hard to support this town, often without recognition for their contribution.”


Jack Kniskern: Jack is a longtime resident and Architect who designed many buildings in the city, including the very City Hall where he was awarded. He joined the Des Moines Rotary in 1958, and has been a member ever since – that’s 54 years of service as a Rotarian. He has also served for the Waterland Parade, on the board for Wesley Homes, the Planning Commission, County Board of Adjustment, the City Council, Board of Trustees for Highline Community College and many others. In retirement, Jack has spent many years fostering and promoting sister city relationships and the understanding of other cultures.



Gene Achziger: Gene has been a member of the community since 1976 – even before his neighborhood (Redondo) became a part of Des Moines. In the past year, Gene has served on the Legacy Foundation Board as Vice President, as a board member on Destination Des Moines, as Commissioner on the Pool Metropolitan Park District Board, as well as helping the Arts Commission, Legacy Foundation and other organizations with graphics art work. He has also volunteered in his neighborhood on numerous other projects and activities. He also spent time recently teaching Journalism at Highline College. Oh, and did we mention that he’s the savior of the original Bubbleator from the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair (see what he did with it most recently here)?


Char Schulz: Char has served on the board of the Legacy Foundation as well as with the Farmer’s Market, has been an active member of the Rotary Club, served on the Marina and Beach Park Business Plan Advisory Committee, sponsored the 4th of July picnic as well as worked on many other activities in the community. Char runs her own State Farm Insurance agency, has been a long-standing member of the business community as well as having become a Master Gardener!


Des Moines Waterfront Farmers Market (Wayne Corey & Rikki Marohl): 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. Moving to the north end of the Marina allowed the the market to grow last year, nearly doubling the number of vendors and attendees!

Congratulations to all the well-deserved winners!