Toni Urban speaks with a quiet but passionate voice, with just a remnant of a drawl that gives away her Southern roots. 

Born in Florida and raised in Atlanta, she met her future husband, Tim Urban, while they were both graduate students at the University of North Carolina. The couple moved to Des Moines nearly 50 years ago, and Urban has been a force benefiting both community organizations and individuals since. 

“When we first moved here, the first place my mother-in-law, Helen Urban, took me to was a Planned Parenthood book sale,” Urban said. “I worked at that, and I think I’ve worked at every book sale since, and we’ve been big supporters of Planned Parenthood.” 

That first experience set the pace for decades of service and fundraising for many of Greater Des Moines’ cultural organizations, among them the Des Moines Symphony, the Science Center of Iowa and the Des Moines Art Center.  

She loved being a business owner, particularly helping the many customers who would in many cases also become good friends. “Even though I worked in the store (Letter Perfect) for those 28 years, it never kept me from being involved in all of the organizations I continued to be involved in,” she said. 

Having recently come off the board of the Des Moines Art Center after 10 years of service and co-chairing four major fundraising events, Urban wasn’t sure she wanted to take on another big responsibility. But then Michelle Book asked her to consider serving on the Food Bank of Iowa board. “I have tremendous respect for Michelle, and I thought, ‘Feeding the poor is certainly one of my passions,’ ” she said. 

“As Tim would say, I wear my passions on my sleeve,” she said. “The Food Bank is really giving me the opportunity to get involved. We have a major $8 million campaign right now to raise funds to rehab our facility at East 17th and Guthrie. It will allow us to provide double the quantities of food that we presently provide for the 55 Iowa counties that we serve.” 

Urban says she probably gets the most satisfaction from helping people personally when she sees a need arise. “There are these opportunities all the time,” she said. “You just have to allow yourself to go for it.”

Three Areas of Influence

  • Serving on the boards of the Des Moines Art Center, the Science Center of Iowa, the Des Moines Symphony, Planned Parenthood and many other organizations, and has led significant fundraising campaigns for arts, cultural and charitable organizations in Greater Des Moines. 
  • Advocating for women in business and for 28 years owning and operating her own small business in Des Moines, Letter Perfect. 
  • Currently serving on the board of the Food Bank of Iowa and advocating for addressing food insecurity and hunger in Iowa.