Patty Cownie doesn’t need to be in the spotlight.

That’s why Cownie, a longtime community volunteer, didn’t see the need to put her name on the new Meals from the Heartland facility, which had a groundbreaking ceremony in June. Cownie was a lead contributor for the $1.9 million packaging center. Bill Knapp donated the land.

“I said, ‘No, no, no; I don’t need that,’” Cownie said. “But Bill was sure that it was important.”

And that’s how the Patty Cownie Center got its name.

The Meals from the Heartland facility is part of an extensive list of community activities that Cownie has had a hand in, ranging from education to the arts to health care. 

Cownie was a social worker for two years after college, before parenting nine children became a full-time job. But she has long been active in the community.

She is most passionate about education. Cownie has spent 10 years on the Drake University board of trustees, and has been involved at Dowling Catholic High School, which her children attended, as well as St. Augustin School, where she was the foundation board chair.

“I think in order to be successful, and you can define success any way you want to – financial, or happiness, achievements – the best way to accomplish any of that is through an education,” Cownie said.

Another of  her passions is the arts. Cownie believes a thriving arts scene will attract young people to Des Moines. It affords opportunities that bigger cities would offer, she said. 

She has been president of the Des Moines Metro Opera board, and she has served on the Des Moines Arts Festival committee, Civic Music Association board and Des Moines Performing Arts board. 

Cownie and her husband, Jim, a successful Des Moines businessman, have developed a love for the city. Cownie said she always encouraged her children to attend the best college they could, even if it was out of state, in hopes that they would better appreciate Des Moines. It worked; six of the nine have come back.

She also encourages her daughters and daughters-in-law to get involved in the community.

“That’s really the important thing, to get the next generation going on things, so that the city keeps getting better,” Cownie said. “And that’s one of the things I want to do.”