Recipients of 2022 Governor’s Volunteer Awards were recognized during a ceremony at University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls held Tuesday, May 31 – the first of five special ceremonies. The event featured remarks from Gov. Kim Reynolds and Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg. More than 500 awards will be presented during the five ceremonies, and it is estimated that more than 150 communities in Iowa were served by this year’s honorees.
Several local volunteers were honored, including Deb Tekippe and Carol Hemesath of the Northeast Iowa Retired Seniors Volunteer Program (RSVP); Heidi Pechota of Decorah; Dr. Merill Guarneri of Calmar for 10 Years of Service; and Beverly Phillips of Mabel, Minn.
“Iowans take great pride in their deep and rich commitment for serving others – it’s in our DNA,” Gov. Reynolds said. “Iowa nice is the foundation of our state – you see it everywhere you turn – Iowans volunteering their time to help others and improve their communities and our state. It truly is an honor to be able to recognize these individuals for their meaningful acts of generosity through the Governor’s Volunteer Awards and inspire others to do the same.”
Northeast Iowa RSVP partners with agencies or organizations that are in need of volunteers, like Winneshiek County Emergency Management. The volunteers work with the supervisor of that program to determine what is needed. Deb Tekippe and Carol Hemesath have a natural understanding of crisis management and are able to organize and respond when a situation is presented.
Both ladies have been Registered nurses and are used to working under pressure and responding to emergency situations. Hemesath worked in the mental health field for many years as a licensed mental health counselor, earning her masters in community counseling from Winona State University. Hemesath also managed the Decorah Food Pantry for two years after retirement.
Tekippe was involved in the disaster planning team for Winneshiek Medical Center in her 43 year nursing career there, and helped coordinate the Decorah Community Food Pantry through RSVP. Both ladies worked hard to know what the community members needed and then responded to those needs.
They were key in both a missing person event last fall and in opening a warming shelter when there was a power outage in Decorah for a significant time period last December. In both events, they coordinated other RSVP volunteers to meet the needs of Winneshiek County Emergency Management and the community.
Heidi Pechota, of Decorah, is the current director of Kadens Kloset in Decorah, a volunteer and donation-run not-for-profit providing services and necessities for foster and adoptive children and families. Pechota was involved with Kadens Kloset in Waterloo prior to moving here. She has also taken on the Toys for Tots Winter Wonderland program, getting donated toys to children in need for Christmas.
Beverly Phillips, of Mabel, Minn., was encouraged by family and friends to begin knitting after a 2013 heart attack. Since then, she knits with a purpose – knitting hats, scarves, head warmers, neck warmers and gloves – all of which she donates. Phillips has donated to the Salvation Army, various churches and sends several items to the Koats 4 Kids Program in Waterloo.
“Kids need the good, warm gear for winter. I can’t buy jackets, but I can make lots of hats,” Phillips noted. Many she decorates with fun buttons and snowflakes, but she’s also donated her share of baby blankets and bed covers.
Phillips said, “I have barrels of yarn, and I’m always doing something, my husband says it’s knitting most times.” Her goal each year is to make 100 to 200 pieces to donate to help others.
Veterinarian Merrill Guarneri, of Calmar, owns Critters & Such Pet Care in Decorah and has been volunteering and bringing dog therapy to organizations in Calmar and Ossian for 10 years. She previously visited local nursing homes with her dog for pet therapy and later began visiting the elementary and middle school in Ossian.
Guarneri later worked with South Winneshiek School staff to visit with small groups of students, nominated by teachers or parents, for pet therapy. “At first, my dogs weren’t certified therapy dogs, but as the program grew, we were going into the students’ classrooms from kindergarten through fifth grade, 10 minutes each,” Guarneri reported.
“The program at the Ossian school kept growing, and we would set aside time after the kindergarten through fifth grade class times for students sixth through eighth grade to come in a get some pet therapy. And I would still make it to the local nursing homes for pet therapy as well as I could, and I have brought the dogs to Upper Iowa University for finals week, and we’ve been to Luther once at the request of a teacher.”
Guarneri now has two certified therapy dogs, Xavier and Gambit, that visit the schools for up to two hours every other week. “During the summers, I’ll head back to Ossian Hospice again with Xavier.” She noted that pet therapy is wonderful for people with Alzheimer’s or other dementia because “you don’t have to know what to say with a dog, you just have to pet them and they love it.”
Guarneri is hoping to get more dog therapy teams involved in pet therapy at schools so they can see more kids, as they often run out of time and can’t see all the kids in one visit. “I enjoy doing pet therapy, and I love the benefits it brings to the kids.”
A complete list of award recipients can be found at volunteeriowa.org.