From the May 10, 2024 edition of the LeMars Sentinel, Beverly Van Buskirk

LEMARS - Mid-Sioux Opportunity, Inc., recognized employees, outstanding partnerships, and celebrated a special honor for its retired director at its annual meeting May 3 at the Le Mars Convention Center.

Mid-Sioux is a community action agency based in Remsen which serves a core of five counties, Plymouth, Ida, Cherokee, Sioux, and Lyon counties, in northwest Iowa, and is a part of a national network of Community Action agencies founded in 1964.

Executive Director Cindy Harpenau, a 30-year employee who took on the director position in January, thanked the dedicated staff of approximately 125 employees for time and talent over the past year as she began the program.

Harpenau and Mid-Sioux Board of Directors President Tom Letsche, presented employee awards to 16 individuals on their employment anniversaries.

Recognized were:

  • 5 Years — Michelle Finzen, Head Start; Jennifer Krier, Head Start; and Stephanie Puhl, Head Start.
  • 10 Years— Jesica Butler, Early Head Start; Gail Harlow, Head Start; Rebekah Hungate, Child Care Collab. of Iowa; Nicole Mier, Outreach; Monique Ortiz, Child Care Resource & Referral; Amanda Sandbulte, Head Start; and Lauren Shear, Head Start/Early Head Start.
  • 15 Years — Katie Vis, Family Development & Self-Sufficiency (FaDDS)
  • 20 Years — Heather Swanson, Early Head Start
  • 25 Years — Vicky Heidesch, Early Head Start; Shelly Swanson, Head Start
  • 30 Years — Cindy Harpenau, Administration
  • 45 Years — Julie Colling, Energy Services

Recipients of the 2024 Richard Hatz Scholarship Awards were also at the meeting. They are: Lauren Geerdes, Central Lyon High School, who plans to attend the University of Iowa; and Emilee Sue Miller, Cherokee Washington High School, who plans to attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Three Outstanding Partnership Awards were given.

The first was to Arnie Schelling, who is always ready to set up space at Central Reformed Church of Sioux Center, for the WIC staff visits two days a month.

Schelling sets up tables and chairs, assists with loading supplies, and frequently checks on the staff throughout the day, according to Harpenau. “He is always accommodating to the WIC staff and clients,” she said.

The second award was presented to Dr. Allan Kramer of Sioux Biochemicals, Inc., in Sioux Center. Kramer and Sioux Biochemicals contribute to the food pantry at the Sioux Center outreach office.

“He generously donates ground beef and roasts, making sure the freezers never go empty,” Harpenau said. “His dedication to helping others goes beyond the food pantry as he supports other fundraising efforts.”

The third award was presented to Gwen Kellen of WeeCare & Kiddieland Preschool in Hawarden.

“For the past decade, WeeCare & Kiddieland has maintained a strong collaboration for children preparing for kindergarten,” Harpenau said. “Their dual placement system has been instrumental in ensuring that children are prepared for their next milestone.”


Earlier this year, longtime executive director Dick Sievers was inducted into the inaugural class of the National Community Action Hall of Fame. 

Sievers retired in December 2023. He began working for Mid-Sioux in 1980 and served as executive director since 1983.

A video of the zoom meeting of the presentation was played at the meeting.

Tricia Wilkins, CEO of the Northeast Community Action Corporation in Decorah, accepted the award on behalf of Sievers at the Washington, D.C., presentation. Sievers joined the presentation virtually from the Remsen office.

Sievers was one of 60 people nominated for the honor. 

Comments in the nomination from colleagues across Iowa included: “Dick was always a voice of reason.” 

“He has a calm demeanor, the ability to look at the big picture, and to be honest and fair.”

“His greatest impact was keeping us grounded, with the ability to look at all perspectives.”

“For me, it was his ability to see the big picture and his keen insight on legislative issues.”

In his remarks in video, Sievers thanked all those who came before him. “They paved the way for me. It is an honor for me to be a part of this inaugural class. Thank you,” he said.

On Friday, Sievers thanked all those attending in being able to receive the honor.

“It means, perhaps, that some of the things I did made a difference,” he said.

The final recognition of the program was of Julie Colling’s retirement after 45 years with Mid-Sioux.

Sievers had a few words about her work.

“I worked with Julie for over 43 years and if you know Julie, she is always thinking of new ways to do things, thinking outside the box. I think that is what has made her successful over the years,” he said.

Sievers pointed out that Colling is responsible for two low-income housing developments in Sioux County.

“They’re both still in existence today and doing very well,” he said. “She wrote grants to get that started, and worked with developers and followed the project through. She can be very proud of this.”

Through the years, Colling wrote numerous grants in support of housing and development projects.

“Julie never forgot about the clients she worked with as well. She always did her best so that whatever services were needed, they got the support they needed,” he said. “Julie, thank you for your services and support throughout the years. We appreciate it very much.”

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Mid-Sioux Opportunity, Inc. is a not-for-profit Community Action Agency established in 1965 to fight poverty at a local level by assisting low-income families in Northwest Iowa to become self-sufficient.

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