Thrive celebrates achievements

Thrive's annual banquet recognized groups, organizations, businesses and individuals who made the community a better place to live. The organization also touted grants and programs it secured this past year.



November 22, 2021 - 9:24 AM

B&W Trailer Hitches of Humboldt received the award for economic development at Thrive Allen County’s annual banquet Friday evening. Photo by COURTESY OF THRIVE ALLEN COUNTY

In the beginning, Thrive’s annual banquet was intended to solely shine the spotlight on locals who make this corner of the world a better place to live.

After 14 years, however, it’s become evident Thrive Allen County can take a seat at the table as well.

In her welcoming address Friday evening, Lisse Regehr, CEO and president of Thrive, took a moment to list its accomplishments for 2021. For starters, it’s almost doubled its staff as well as its budget.

What that means for Allen County is that since January, Thrive has brought in more than $1.4 million to local organizations, including $280,000 for local small businesses impacted by COVID-19, $164,000 for public transportation, $494,000 for the City of Iola to purchase a new fire truck and build the new elementary school trail, and funding to small cities and organizations throughout Allen County including the city of LaHarpe, the city of Savonburg, Savonburg Pride, the LaHarpe VFW and Southeast Kansas Mental Health Center, totaling more than $460,000. 

“To clarify,” Regehr said, “none of this funding came to Thrive, but our team assisted these communities and organizations by writing the grants that brought the funding into our community.”

Thrive also received two sizable grants this year totalling more than $1 million.

The first is to combat opioid misuse in a six-county area. The second is to copy its Navigator model across the state. Navigators help people enroll in health insurance plans through the federal Marketplace, as well as apply for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. With the statewide program, Thrive oversees 26 Navigators.

Another feather in its cap is its efforts to secure public transportation services in Allen County. 

“This was a project our community has been working on since at least 2014 and started coming to fruition these past couple of years,” Regehr said. “The program averages 355 riders a month in a 14-passenger vehicle. In addition, Thrive created a safety net transportation program in 2020 that provides rides, free of charge, to Allen County residents who need transportation to health and safety net appointments within a 115-mile radius including chemotherapy, dialysis, social security and other specialty appointments. We average 50 rides per month, covering more than 4,000 miles per month.”

IN RECOGNIZING the efforts of others, eight awards were given.

Donna Houser received the night’s most distinguished award for her untiring efforts 

to make Iola a more beautiful, interesting, useful and better place to live.

“Donna is Iola’s biggest booster,” said Chris Bauer in his introduction. “She chooses to give her time, energy, talents, and money to support and improve her community because she loves the people of Iola.” 

Houser’s most recent efforts have been to bring Iola’s Municipal Stadium up to snuff by raising thousands of dollars for comprehensive renovations.

“USD 257 Superintendent Stacey Fager said that these major fixes had been talked about for years, but it was Donna that finally energized the community to make it happen. He says, ‘When Donna gets involved, things happen.’”

Houser has also been instrumental in telling the history of Allen County through her involvement with the Allen County Historical Society, giving tours about town aboard the Fearless Fred trolley, securing signage around the square that tells of local historical figures, and volunteering with the Iola Reads program.

ACC PRESIDENT John Masterson received the Lifetime Service Award. In his tenure at Allen Community College, Masterson “has seen the rise of online learning, new facilities, booming athletics and extracurriculars, and growing international student enrollment,” said Jonathan Goering in his introduction. “During times of crisis, as we saw during the COVID-19 pandemic, Allen Community College has been a leader for the whole community.”

After earning a master’s degree in guidance counseling from ESU, the Iola native took a coaching position at ACC. His path wasn’t always what he expected. All he wanted was to be a football coach, according to his wife, Georgia, a community leader in her own right. To this day, he has never coached football.

When John retires in 2022, he will have been with the college a total of 34 years. He credits spending time around the college students with keeping him young for all that time.

In addition, Masterson has been involved in economic development through his participation with Iola Industries.

B&W TRAILER Hitches of Humboldt won the award for economic development.

The company began in 1987 with Roger Baker and Joe Works building truck beds in a small Humboldt garage. Today, B&W is Allen County’s largest employer and a fixture of the community in Humboldt.

Never one to rest on its laurels, B&W has witnessed 14 expansions throughout the years and currently has over a dozen patent applications in process.

Their signature product, the turnover ball hitch, revolutionized the industry. 

Beyond their role as an industry leader and employer, B&W plays an unmatched role in Humboldt and throughout Allen County. Recent contributions have been batting cages for the sports complex, redoing downtown sidewalks and planters. 

Employees of the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas were recognized for their efforts to serve the community. Photo by PHOTO COURTESY OF THRIVE ALLEN COUNTY

THE IOLA clinic of the  Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas won the award for health and wellness.

Serving Iola since 2008, the Iola clinic is guided by a belief that everyone has a right to quality, whole-person care. 

The clinic built a new facility in 2018 and broadened its scope of care to include primary care, dental, pharmacy, and mental health. All patients are served regardless of their ability to pay, with sliding scale fees and other assistance available. 

In 2020, the clinic added walk-in care services. During the COVID-19 pandemic, CHC staff  began curbside services, home visits, and telehealth. To date, they have given over 51,000 COVID-19 vaccines across the Southeast Kansas region.

KAY LEWIS won the education award in recognition of her decades of steadfast service as a teacher, principal and superintendent. Lewis’s career spanned 36 years, the last 19 in Humboldt, retiring in 2020.

Of her many accomplishments, Lewis worked to upgrade facilities, create new extracurricular activities,  and expand counseling and mental health resources.

When asked what matters most for an educator, Lewis said, “Are the times when the lightbulb turns on for a child who has struggled with a concept; the relationships that you build with students and their families and supporting struggling teachers during COVID. 

“What matters is just sitting there and listening to students, teachers, and families; being present during times of grief or struggles; being present to cheer on your students, families, and teachers. At the end of the day, this is what matters, not test scores.”  

IOLA MUNICIPAL Band was awarded for its role in recreation. The longest continuously running city band west of the Mississippi River, the Iola Municipal Band is a staple of summertime in Iola. 

The band’s members include high school students filling their summers to retirees picking up an instrument after years away. All ages and skill levels are welcome. Many members come back year after year, with some having played every summer for decades. 

Concerts are a major community gathering space, and the weekly ice cream social during the concert gives local nonprofits an opportunity to raise funds.

The Iola Municipal Band celebrated its 150th birthday this year. Originally formed by Civil War veterans looking to connect, the group has kept playing through many changes and obstacles. They have remained undeterred by wars, crises, and pandemics. Much has changed in our community, but the dedication of these musicians has been one constant through their many years. 

Norma McDaniel and her family were named Volunteers of the Year. She is shown here with husband, Don. Courtesy photo

NORMA McDANIEL and her family were named Volunteers of the Year. 

The entire family has been indispensable to Thrive Allen County. Norma McDaniel has served  as an office assistant in Thrive’s Senior Community Service Employment Program for several years. 

On top of that, Norma’s husband, Don, has spent countless hours maintaining the pocket park and keeping it looking its best and her grandson, Blake, works hard taking care of the community orchard. 

LOCAL BANKS awarded three Unsung Heroes with cash stipends.

Warren Johnson was recognized for his involvement in Moran. He is a master co-organizer of Moran Days, overseeing its bean feed, chariot races, and movie at dusk.

Johnson drives a school bus for the Iola school district and has driven for MARV, the Meals and Reading Vehicle, during the summer. This “chow bus” brings free breakfast and lunch to kids who depend on school meals to eat. And when schools closed during the pandemic, Johnson was one of the drivers who stepped up to deliver meals to kids at their homes. He is a long-standing member of the Moran Masonic Lodge and the American Legion Jones Hardy Post 385, as well as a local pool league.

Wayne Smith is a “true ambassador of Humboldt,” commented Cole Herder, city administrator. Smith served seven years on the Humboldt City Council. He is active with his church and has sold numerous bricks for the sidewalk in the square and the veterans’ memorial patio. In honor of his wife, Peg, he has adopted the garden at the entrance of the Neosho River Park. And on the square, Smith purchased and renovated the historic Fussman building for his granddaughter to house her business and family. 

Jim Smith of Iola was recognized for his efforts to make the town more beautiful. On the downtown square, Smith has helped restore buildings, add historical signage, paint light poles and trash cans, and spray weeds. He has given hundreds of volunteer hours to the Allen County Historical Society. He volunteers at LaHarpe’s animal shelter,  helps keep the Neosho River fishing spot clean, has fixed up the Baby Barn at the County fairgrounds, and works in the community orchard. 

“Jim is always on the lookout for somewhere in the community that needs help,” commented Becky Robb of the county’s fairgrounds board.

“I just drive around town and look at things that need to be done,” remarked Smith.

FRIDAY’S awards ceremony was streamed online in recognition of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I was hopeful after last year’s foray into virtual events, we would be back in person,” Regehr said. 

“We are very hopeful that next year for our 15th celebration we will be back in person, bigger and better than ever before.” 


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