Three former Des Moines residents came to my attention recently. I’ll start with the least significant but most interesting story, which involves former governor and now U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.
Vilsack was in town earlier this month and attended an Iowa Cubs game with I-Cubs owner Michael Gartner. Gartner is an old friend and admirer of the secretary and his wife, Christie, who ran a valiant but fruitless campaign last year against Congressman Steve King, the Republican who is frequently the butt of jokes on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report.”
Back when Vilsack was governor, he named Gartner to head Vision Iowa, a program that leveraged state money to create oodles of new cultural venues around the state. During the ballgame, they talked about a lot of things, including Gartner’s idea that Iowa needs a new Vision Iowa effort designed to preserve Iowa history.
At some point, Vilsack asked how the I-Cubs’ attendance has been this year.
Not very good, Gartner replied. The Cubs are a lot like farmers, he said, in that revenues are a function of weather. When it’s cold and rainy, as it was during the early season this year, attendance is bad.
Then, he turned to the secretary of agriculture and added: “I don’t suppose we’d qualify for crop insurance?”
Not a chance, replied the secretary.
Another former resident making news recently is Mike Reagen, who led the Greater Des Moines Chamber of Commerce Federation from 1989 until 1999, and who has been the top guy at the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce in Florida for the past decade.
Reagen, who is 70, has announced that he will retire at the end of the year. A columnist in Naples commenting on Reagen’s planned retirement wrote: “He is the glue that held the business community together in very bad times. Very, very bad times.”
Florida, you might recall, along with places like Las Vegas and Phoenix, bore the brunt of the housing market collapse.
“To chamber members and the news media,” the columnist wrote, Reagen “would accentuate the positive. In dark days, someone needs to do that.”
Reagen was recruited to Iowa in 1978 by Gov. Robert Ray to run the Iowa Department of Social Services. He left in the mid-1980s to work for Missouri Gov. John Ashcroft, but returned to Des Moines in 1989 to lead the chamber here for 10 years.
Reagen left the chamber to take a job advising the president of Des Moines University, but was lured to Naples a couple of years later.
A lot of Iowans and former Iowans have homes in the Naples area. “At one point, I could count 130,” Reagen told me earlier this year.
Des Moines native “Lloyd Clarke championed my coming here,” Reagen said. And neither ever regretted it.
Michael R. Ferrari, president of Drake University from 1985 until 1998, has also been in the news recently. Last month, Ferrari received the Dallas Business Journal’s Outstanding Director award for his 14 years of service on the board of Pier 1 Imports Inc.
After leaving Des Moines, Ferrari, now 73, served as chancellor of Texas Christian University, retiring in 2003. While at TCU, he joined the board of Fort Worth-based Pier 1, serving three years as its non-executive chairman.
During the Outstanding Director ceremony last month, Pier 1 CEO Alex Smith said Ferrari’s advice was always valued. “Mick is just such a wise and calm person,” Smith said. “He’s one of those guys who doesn’t need to speak for the sake of it.” As a result, Smith and others always paid close attention when Ferrari did speak.