2011 Iowa Character Award Recipients

Photo of Central Decatur Cardinals INC
Central Decatur Cardinals INC
School Organization of Character

Cardinals INC is a student led youth group at Central Decatur Middle School that meets weekly to develop plans and activities around the Six Pillars of Character.

The group’s goal is to develop philanthropic students who are willing to take the risk and do the right thing.

The Cardinals INC contribute to their community and school culture in several ways.  These include community service, school leadership, and role modeling. The Cardinals INC group has initiated a food drive for the local food pantry, held a school dance with proceeds going to the Blank Children’s Hospital, and planned and presented a bullying and harassment seminar for all middle school students.

Principal Robert D. Meier says, “The Cardinals INC group models character in their everyday lives.  They can be observed in the hallways demonstrating   good character, working towards the group’s mission of promoting the Pillars of Character.  They are a deserving group for their efforts in changing the climate at Central Decatur.”

Photo of Deb Chiodo
Deb Chiodo
Robert D. Ray Pillar of Character Award


Deb Chiodo is the principal at Cornell Elementary in the Saydel School District.  She received her bachelors of education from Michigan State University, with emphasis in special education behavior disorder. She taught for seven years in special education with students who were identified as having behavior disorders.

Deb then became assistant principal at Moulton Elementary in Des Moines, Iowa. At Moulton, she oversaw early childhood grants, preschool – third grade, along with other responsibilities. In 1995, Deb became principal at Cornell Elementary in the Saydel Community SchoolDistrict. Under her tenure, the school has focused on a school-wide approach to learning.

In the fall of 1997, Deb was one of the first Iowans trained in the CHARACTER COUNTS! framework and has been implementing the framework at Cornell Elementary  with outstanding success for over a decade.

Deb and Cornell Elementary  have been gracious hosts over the years welcoming local, state and national leaders into their school to see the positive results from CHARACTER COUNTS!

Deb has been a constant voice to challenge business and community leaders to support the cause of good character in schools and her advocacy has had a direct impact on the growth of character development in Iowa education and CHARACTER COUNTS! specifically across Iowa.

“Working with Deb has been very fulfilling.  She is an outstanding person and a visionary educator, says Scott Raecker, executive director of Character Counts In Iowa.  “Deb is an exceptionally gifted leader. She takes the time to do things right and the results have been amazing.  Her entire school community-students, teachers, families, community leaders and businesses, have all been engaged with the Six Pillars of Character.”

Photo of Tim Dempsey
Tim Dempsey
Aaron Eilerts Community Service Award

As a retired social worker for the Veterans Administration  Hospital (and veteran), Tim Dempsey has contributed to his community for many years, and in a wide variety of ways.

Tim’s son, Mark, says, “Helping people has always been one of my dad’s passions.  Not even retirement has slowed him down.  If anything, it has given him time to do more volunteering.”

Tim’s service is illustrated in the meaningful ways that he helps his community. He dedicates countless hours to each project and shows dedication and passion for doing the best that he can do for others.

He consistently  helps several elderly community members with lawn care or snow removal and delivers meals to others on holidays. He drives veterans to doctor appointments  and regularly donates to the food pantry and other charities.

Tim volunteers for organizations  such as the Walnut Creek Little League, Knights of Columbus, St. Theresa’s Catholic Church & School and volunteered in 2010 and 2011 to help rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.

This award was created in 2009 to recognize the individuals in our communities who demonstrate a passion for giving back to their communities.   It was first given to Aaron Eilerts of Eagle Grove, lA (posthumously) to honor his remarkable dedication to serving others.  The award was named in honor of Aaron at the 2009 Iowa Character Awards banquet as his parents accepted the award on his behalf.


Photo of Harlan High School
Harlan High School
School of Character

Harlan High School (HHS) promotes good character throughout the year with a variety of activities and projects.

Last fall HHS added a one-semester  credit class called Character Counts. Approximately30 HHS students work with kindergarten through 5th graders daily teaching them the Six Pillars of Character.  More than 400 students and 300 parents attended the school’s Character Counts Family Fun Night, which included Six Pillar activities and provided family resources.

HHS provides service to their community in a variety of ways.  Last fall the Health Occupations Students of American (HOSA) and the National Honor Society (NHS) students organized Blue Out and Pink Out days in conjunction with Coaches vs. Cancer and raised more than $20,000 for the cause.

CJ Niles of the American Cancer Society says of the HHS students, “I have been impressed with the vitality and activity of the Harlan High School Students for the past few years.  This year they really added the wow factor in all that they accomplished!”

Students also gave back to the community by raising $500 for the Ronald McDonald House in Omaha, delivering Meals on Wheels, adopting a family for Christmas, making cards for the Veterans Hospital, planting trees on Arbor Day, providing highway clean-up, and participating in the Special Olympics.

Photo of Fredrick Killian
Fredrick Killian
Citizen of Character

Fredrick Killian is the general manager for the Ames Hilton Garden Inn, a volunteer sherrif’s deputy for Story County and is a single father of four children.

Fredrick is also a martial arts teacher, church member, and active volunteer in his community. Nominator and co-worker Linda Hofer says, “Fredrick continuously gives of his time, money and efforts to whomever needs it without expecting anything in return.  He takes elderly citizens out for dinner and he takes children under his wing.  Fredrick is someone who always shows up when you are in need.”

Linda continues to say, “Fredrick is a man who has a strong and morally sound foundation for what he believes in.  He lives by and teaches his children and students the following tenants: courtesy, integrity, perseverance,  self-control and indomitable spirit.  Fredrick believes that these tenants are the main building blocks to creating a strong foundation that is based on good morals.  He believes that if he stands by his own moral convictions, then he can hold his head up proudly at the end of the day.”

As a father, Fredrick strives to make choices that are the best for his four children.  He teaches them strong daily and life lessons so that they will learn how to make good choices.  He utilizes everyday learning opportunities to help teach his children good character.  For example, he and the children will pick up litter while playing at the park.   Linda says, “He teaches his children respectable values that are helping them grow into honest and good citizens.

Photo of Prairie Meadows
Prairie Meadows
Partner of the Year

Prairie Meadows has been a vital part of the central Iowa community since it began operations in 1989.

Throughout the years, their mission has remained the same: to promote economic development, agriculture, jobs, tourism and entertainment  and provide financial contributions to programs and organizations  that improve the quality of life for all Iowans and, in general, to promote social welfare.

Prairie Meadows has given $468 million to the community in support of the arts, education, economic development  and community betterment.

Character Counts In Iowa is proud to be one of the organizations  that Prairie Meadows supports.  As a recipient of a Legacy Grant, our organization was able to strengthen our CHARACTER  COUNTS! initiative in Iowa schools.   It was a critical grant in our history that helped with our early operations and programming growth.

Additionally, the leadership at Prairie Meadows have been great advocates for our mission by introducing our cause to new partners.

“We are very thankful to have the support of a community leader like Prairie Meadows,” said Scott Raecker, executive director of Character Counts In Iowa.  ”They are a dependable partner that has helped build our capacity to provide first rate services in our state.”

Photo of Sioux City, Iowa
Sioux City, Iowa
Community of Character

For more than a decade, Sioux City area residents have been huge advocates for CHARACTER  COUNTS! and the Six Pillars of Character.

Many Sioux City schools utilize CHARACTER  COUNTS!  to ensure that students in the Siouxland area learn the importance of being trustworthy, respectful, responsible, caring, fair and practicing good citizenship.

Siouxland CARES, a volunteer driven community coalition focusing on community change related to alcohol/drug abuse and related violence, is a vocal advocate of the Six Pillars.

Siouxland also promotes greater adult and workplace awareness of the

CHARACTER  COUNTS! initiative.  Area businesses acknowledge the importance of good character by supporting the schools, posting window clings, and educating their constituents.  They hope to show students that positive behavior is more than just a lesson learned within their school walls and years.

“Our congratulations and thanks goes to all of Siouxland,” said Scott Raecker, executive director of Character Counts In Iowa.  ”This Iowa Character Award acknowledges  all of the Sioux City residents who dedicate their time and energy into making Iowa a better state.”

Photo of John Taylor
John Taylor
Educator of Character

As Vice Principal of Indianola High School (IHS), John Taylor is a positive role model for students, staff and the entire community of Indianola.  John has worn many hats during his years at IHS including teacher, coach, counselor, administrator, as well as soldier, friend, and confidante.

John models outstanding character and teaches good character through actions and deeds each day of his life.  Trent Grundmeyer, Principal at IHS, says that “John deliberately and professionally  makes good decisions.  He has a knack for every situation, thus putting things in perspective and improving a difficult position.” John has helped students make difficult decisions, worked with community members to rebuild in the aftermath of a tornado, and served 2 tours of duty in Iraq.

D. Sam Gorsche, IHS Student Body President, says “Mr. Taylor is a figure that truly defines our school.  To have an administrator that is so visible in the school acting with such a high level of character motivates students to act in a like manner.”

Photo of Valley High School Cheerleaders
Valley High School Cheerleaders
Pursuing Victory With Honor

The Valley High School Cheerleading Squad is charged with an enormous task.  At each sporting event they participate in, it is their responsibility  to cheer on the athletes and pump up the spectators.

While it is expected that the cheerleaders cheer at sporting events, the Valley Cheerleaders’  impact on the community reaches well beyond the sporting areas.  The cheerleaders  have volunteered at several events sponsored by the Special Olympics, Salvation Army, and Clive Running Festival, to name a few organizations. The cheerleaders are always pitch in to make the event special.

“The Valley Cheerleading  Squad is a group of strong leaders who have proven to make a difference in their community.  From winning state four years in a row, to teaching younger girls at yearly clinics, to volunteering for the Special Olympics…they strive to live by the Six Pillars of Character.” said Emily Fisher, cheerleader.

Photo of Andy Winkelmann
Andy Winkelmann
Character Champion

As an academic coordinator at the University of Iowa, Andy helps shape the education and experiences of students.  But it is his dedication for continuing those efforts outside of work that make him an exceptional leader and advocatefor Character Counts In Iowa.

In addition to spending many days training other Iowans on the key concepts ofCHARACTER COUNTS!, Andy was a key component  in bringing nearly 500 students to the Pursuing Victory With Honor Summit when it was held at the University of Iowa.

“Andy has been a dependable and vocal advocate of the Six Pillars of Character,” said Scott Raecker, executive director of Character Counts In Iowa.  “We consider ourselves very lucky to have him a part of the Character Counts In Iowa family.”

Andy also champions good character through his role as a community volunteer.  He volunteers with the Pursuing Victory With Honor task force, the Iowa City Alliance Soccer Club, and the Center for Violence Prevention.

Photo of Andria Knutsen & Zach Moss
Andria Knutsen & Zach Moss
Citizens of Character

“Zach and Andria just want to make the world a better place to live in.  They are the ultimate example of citizenship,” said Superintendent Mike Wells.  ”I have been in education for more than  twenty years and I have never had any students who have demonstrated  so much care, love and compassion for others.”

As the only two student members of the Madison County Leadership Group, Zach and Andria developed a plan to repair the homes of needy individuals in their community.  They presented their plans to the school board, Rotary and Optimist Clubs, Education Foundation and the City Council and received $40,000 in grant money to conduct their projects.

Once funding was received, Zach and Andria launched the first project: re-siding and re-roofing a garage and residence.   Andria & Zach completely managed the home repair project, including organizing supplies and recruiting student and adult volunteers. Zach and Andria were among the 44 volunteers who arrived after school on a Friday and worked tirelessly until the job was done on Sunday.

They already have their eye on a southside Winterset home for their next project.


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