Thrive celebrates success stories

Thrive Allen County celebrated its 15th annual banquet on Friday, giving awards to people, organizations and businesses that make Allen County a better place to live and work.

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November 21, 2022 - 1:48 PM

Georgia Masterson, front, gets a hug from Lisse Regehr, CEO of Thrive Allen County, at Thrive’s annual banquet Friday night. Masterson received the event’s biggest honor, the Donna Talkington Award for Community Excellence. Photo by Richard Luken

After two years of virtual celebrations due to Covid, Thrive Allen County’s 15th annual banquet Friday evening was a welcome change.

More than 350 gathered in ACC’s gymnasium to recognize the efforts of their friends and neighbors to make Allen County a better place to live and work.

Georgia Masterson was the night’s most celebrated. 

Masterson was singled out for her lifetime of service which has included work as a middle school teacher, 25 years with the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, the Circles out of Poverty program, and most recently as co-founder of Humanity House.

“Georgia and her team have worked tirelessly to meet our community’s needs for food, clothing, warmth, and — most of all — kindness,” said Donna Houser, who introduced Masterson.

The award is named after the late Donna Talkington, who gave tirelessly to promote civic engagement.

“Georgia began her career as a teacher at Iola Middle School, where she helped guide students through the challenges of life. Her connections with these students have lasted through the years, and her impact is immeasurable,” Houser said. 

Lisse Regeher, CEO of Thrive Allen County, gives Georgia Masterson a hug. Masterson was given the Donna Talkington Award for Community Excellence.

At SRS, “Georgia dedicated herself to fighting poverty and its causes — not as a handout, nor even as a hand up, but as a true partnership between neighbors and community members.” 

At Circles, “she was pivotal in connecting families across class and income to build relationships, share skills and experiences, and break down barriers,” Houser noted.

“If you ask Georgia what drives her work, she will tell you that it is pure gratitude,” Houser said, explaining that as a young couple, Georgia and John Masterson relied on the help of over 600 Iolans to help with an ambitious treatment plan for their disabled daughter, Jennie.

“John, says that only someone with Georgia’s quiet strength and unwavering patience could have made it through such a difficult time.

“Georgia is on a mission to multiply the gifts of time and love that were given to her family when they needed it.”

Lisa Fontaine was named Volunteer of the Year for her work on the rail trails and for promoting a cycling culture in the area. Bradley Lowry, a junior at Humboldt High School presented Fontaine the award. Photo by Richard Luken / Iola Register

Volunteer of the Year

Lisa Fontaine was also singled out as Volunteer of the Year for her tireless efforts to improve the rail trails as well as promote the area’s cycling culture

Fontaine has spent countless hours creating and maintaining the Southwind and Portland LeHigh trails, ensuring the area has accessible, awe-inspiring outdoor spaces. 

The work is physically demanding, often occurs in extreme heat or cold, and often goes unrecognized. 

FRIDAY NIGHT’S awards also recognized those who have devoted countless hours in the arenas of education, recreation, health and wellness, economic development. 

A goal of the evening is to not only celebrate these good deeds, but also inspire others to figure out ways they can do important things in their own circles of interest.

Leaders of area banks recognized a category called Unsung Heroes, or “those who work quietly for the betterment of our communities but are not often acknowledged publicly for their efforts,” said Tom Strickler of Community National Bank.

With him were Jerry Dreher of Emprise Bank, Heather Curry of Piqua State Bank and the Bank of Gas, Miles Mentzer of Landmark National Bank, and Dorene Ohmie of Great Southern Bank.

Heather Curry of Piqua State Bank and Bank of Gas recognizes Ralph Dozier of Osage Township as an Unsung Hero for his volunteer efforts.Photo by Richard Luken / Iola Register

Ralph Dozier of Osage Township, LaDonna Krone of Humboldt and Sherrie Riebel of rural Iola were recognized.

Dozier has been instrumental in maintaining the historic Fairview Chapel and serves as caretaker of Osage Township, including its cemeteries, where he spends countless hours contacting the families of recently lost loved ones, maintaining signage and fencing, and showing steadfast care and attention to detail. 

“Osage Township would be lost without his expertise, care, and dedication to our community,” said Regena Lance, who nominated Dozier for the award.

In Humboldt, Krone is a volunteer extraordinaire at its food pantry, annual Biblesta parade, and at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church where she serves on its education committee and teaches youth at Sunday and Midweek School. 

Miles Mentzer of Landmark Bank and other area bankers present retired Allen County Clerk Sherrie Riebel with the Unsung Hero award.Photo by Richard Luken / Iola Register

Riebel served 26 years as Allen County clerk before recently retiring. 

Riebel worked to ensure fair elections, provide transparency of county actions, maintain county commission records, manage county taxes and finances, and much more. 

Clyde Toland was awarded for his efforts in education as an attorney, historian, volunteer, and author.

Toland was instrumental in restoring and bringing Maj. Gen. Fred Funston’s boyhood home to the Iola square, along with the accompanying museum and has recently completed a three-part biography of Funston. 

Toland also founded the Buster Keaton Celebration in 1993, which has experienced a recent revival. 

Beth Barlow of Humboldt’s BaseCamp won the award for recreation.

Recreation

Beth Barlow of Humboldt’s BaseCamp was awarded for her efforts to increase recreational opportunities. 

In its two short years, BaseCamp has become a destination known for relaxation and adventure. At the southern trailhead of the Southwind Rail Trail, the site includes a bike barn, a pond, an indoor gathering space and camping or glamping in its A-frame cabins. 

Hope Unlimited was given the Health and Wellness award. The organization provides services for victims of sexual and domestic violence. Pictured from left, Michelle Miewes, Dorothy Sparks, Bodi Baker, Alexandria Gumfory and Donita Garner. Photo by Richard Luken / Iola Register

Health and Wellness

Hope Unlimited was recognized for its devotion to health and wellness by providing a safe haven for victims of sexual and domestic abuse.

Hope Unlimited was established in 1984 by a grassroots coalition of volunteers who hosted survivors in their own homes and quickly saw the need to create a shelter. Their work has expanded into advocacy and prevention services. 

Today, efforts are underway to build a new shelter to meet growing and changing needs. The center has touched countless lives and planted the seeds for a future free of abuse and violence.

Max Andersen, left, a sophomore at Iola High School, presents Zach Louk of Green Cover Seed for an award for economic development. Photo by Richard Luken

Economic development

Green Cover Seed won the economic development award. 

The company opened its Iola office in 2020 and has quickly put down roots, focusing exclusively on cover cropping, a regenerative agriculture practice that improves soil health, increases water capacity, and acts as a natural mulch to prevent erosion.

Cover cropping involves planting crops like cereal rye, clover, peas, or oats in-between cash crops to keep living roots in the soil and increase organic matter. 

Green Cover Seed creates customized seed mixtures that take into account the unique context of each field, including its climate, soil composition, and limitations. Their approach has earned them customers in all 50 states and Canada, ranging from 5,600 square foot gardens to 10,000-acre vegetable producers. 

In its 15 years, Thrive has grown from a staff of two to 30 and a $4.5 million budget.

David Toland was its first president and chief executive officer.

Since 2019, Lisse Regehr has served in that capacity.

At its core, Thrive’s goal is to improve health and wellness opportunities. 

Significant early achievements include its ongoing community conversations, which Thrive staff see as “the lifeblood” to its efforts in order to better understand the hopes and concerns of area citizens; creating rail trails, which now include 60 miles and include commissioned public artwork; and economic development, such as helping  bring G&W Foods and the Eastgate Lofts to Iola.

In more recent years, Thrive has spread its wings.

State leaders have tapped Thrive to implement the Kansas Cares program where Thrive provides coordinators to assist people enrolling in health insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid programs primarily in rural communities.

In 2020, Thrive began offering safety net transportation, providing rides within a 115-mile radius, free of charge for anyone needing help getting to doctor’s appointments, court dates, social security offices, and more. 

This year, Thrive took public transportation services over from the county. 

“So far, we have provided more than 1,700 rides and covered more than 121,000 miles, ensuring barriers to our residents are eliminated when it comes to keeping healthy, keeping their jobs or staying connected to loved ones,” Regehr said.

In that same vein, earlier this year Thrive opened  Recovery House in Iola, assisting individuals in active recovery by providing them a place to live while they transition back into the community in a healthy, safe and welcoming environment.

In terms of economic development, in 2022 Thrive brought in a $3 million grant for Allen County to build infrastructure at the county airport, “ensuring we can attract tourism and industry alike in the near future,” Regehr said. “We understand the important balance between industry and small business in creating a stable economic ecosystem.”

Regehr also pointed out that in 2022, Thrive Allen County created a new statewide coalition, Zero to Thrive, “where we work with rural communities across Kansas to address childcare and early childhood development through practice, advocacy, and policy. 

“We also continue to provide support to local childcare centers to ensure they remain open and viable,” she said.

In Regehr’s four-year tenure, she noted Thrive’s grant writers have been able to secure $5.1 million in additional funding to assist 24 entities including nonprofits, governmental agencies and businesses.

As for the future, “we are making plans to ensure sustainability in our programs to live outside of our organization,” said Regehr. “This year we began to take steps to create two new nonprofits. Thrive Kansas will continue to do the statewide work Thrive Allen County is currently doing. This will ensure Thrive Allen holds to a mainly Allen County focus, whereas Thrive Kansas will focus on rural communities across the state. 

“Allen Regional Transit, or ART, as we like to call it, will also become its own nonprofit in the coming months. This will take on all our transportation services and ensure additional funding and sustainability for a program we know is vital to our community and that others are hoping to emulate.

Thrive’s success has made it — and Allen County — a household name.

“We’ve grown from a tight knit coalition to a nationally known nonprofit,” Regehr said. 

To mark that success, Regehr unveiled the nonprofit’s new logo. Regehr noted that Brian Wolfe, longtime chairman of the board, was instrumental in designing the original logo, which included a kite tethered to a string.

The new logo uses only a billowing kite.

“It emphasizes the wind in our sails as we empower our community to continue to move forward,” Regehr said.

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