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A heartland view

1 Jun


For all the criticism and headlines and speeches and votes that go along with being a longtime leader of the Federal Reserve Bank – and now the vice chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, better known as the FDIC, in Washington, D.C. – Thomas Hoenig is a humble Iowa boy at heart.

Tom (M.S. ’72 economics, Ph.D. ’74) grew up in Fort Madison, Iowa, the oldest of seven children. It was there on the banks of the Mississippi River that Tom learned about basic economics as a child in his father’s plumbing company.

“I was an inventory taker when I was 9 years old,” he says. “I think my father has a lot to do with my work ethic. He grew up on a farm. He worked from morning till night. After World War II he became a plumber, then bought his own business and built it and raised seven kids doing it.”

Tom’s Midwestern upbringing may explain his often-dissenting votes and outspoken criticism of “too big to fail” banks.

“We feel like Tom represents a heartland view of the economy you don’t necessarily get from New York or Washington,” Terry Moore, president of the Omaha Federation of Labor of the AFL-CIO, told Bloomberg Businessweek Magazine in 2010. “He’s an old farm boy from Iowa, and we like that.”

When he hears that quote, Tom chuckles. “It’s flattering,” he says, sitting in his new office at the headquarters of the FDIC in Washington, D.C. “I was at the bank during the banking crisis of the ’80s and the farm crisis of the ’80s and the energy crisis of the ’80s and the real estate crisis of the ’80s and saw all the damage that did, first of all to the banks that made the loans originally thinking that prices would never go down and interest rates would never go to 20%. So that had enormous influence on my thinking through this round.”

After 38 years at the Federal Reserve Bank in Kansas City (20 years as president), Tom was nominated in fall 2011 by President Barack Obama to become vice chair of the FDIC.

“I wasn’t expecting it,” Tom says. “I was pleased. It’s something I did want to do. It’s very consistent with the work I had been doing and consistent with my views on the banking industry that I’d expressed over many years. For me, it was a great opportunity.”


Getting things done on a national level

15 May

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Karen Keninger (M.S. ’92 English) has had an interest in library services for the blind since she was 7 years old. Diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease, as a child, Karen embraced the services that allowed her to read and learn through braille, talking books, and other devices.

As a high school student, she once received an entire truckload of braille books after sending a letter to her local librarian requesting that she “send me everything you have on Russia” for a social studies report.

“I’ve always known the services I’ve received were excellent,” she says. “I would call the library up and they would get it for me.”

Karen served as director of the Iowa Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped from 2000 through 2008, and for the next four years she served as director for the Iowa Department for the Blind in Des Moines, overseeing library, vocational rehabilitation, and independent-living services for the state.

In 2012 she was named director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) in Washington, D.C., a program of the Library of Congress. Moving alone to an apartment in the D.C. metro area was “daunting” after living in a spacious home in rural Newton, Iowa.

“I’m an Iowan through and through,” Karen says. “But the position just looked intriguing. I thought I could get things done at a national level.”

The NLS provides free services to approximately 500,000 blind, handicapped, and sight-impaired patrons across the United States through about 100 network libraries. In addition to the braille and audio book programs, the NLS has also begun a digital download service for books and magazines.

At her office on Taylor Street on the northwest side of Washington, D.C., Karen uses a braille writer (“old fashioned, but still the best way to put braille on paper”); a small, computer-like refreshable braille machine (“expensive, but lovely”); and a digital talking book machine (with large, easy-to-use buttons). On her desk are photos of her six children and 11 grandchildren. By her side is Jimi, the yellow lab/golden retriever service dog she got just before leaving Iowa.

She says she’ll stay in D.C. until she retires and then hopes to move back home to Iowa. But, she says, her goal is “not to leave here without doing all the things you would do in Washington, D.C., as a tourist.”

Part II: The remarkable Dwight Ink

18 Apr

03-25-13 DWIGHT 173F9811 calls Dwight Ink the “silent leader.” In a story posted on Jan. 13, 2010, William D. Eggers and John O’Leary write:

“History tends to adore the person at the helm, the president who calls the shots from the Oval Office. Overlooked are the bureaucrats who actually carry out the commands. Out of the limelight, Dwight Ink served seven consecutive presidents, from Dwight Eisenhower to Ronald Reagan. Now retired, this unassuming bureaucrat was often the one doing the heavy lifting. In a story that reads like the antithesis of Hurricane Katrina, Ink led a swift and efficient reconstruction effort [in Alaska]. The 1964 Alaskan Earthquake is largely forgotten today because of Ink’s leadership.”

This is Part II of our visit with Mr. Ink (’47 government) at his home in Leesburg, Va.

On the presidents:

  • I had a unique opportunity serving in leadership roles with seven different presidents.
  • I respected Eisenhower the most of any that I served. I respected Kennedy the least, but I found him the most exciting. But, gee, I had so much fun under all of them. Except Nixon’s second term.
  • I had the most impact under Nixon. His first term was the best we ever had under an operations standpoint, but that turned around in the ’72 election. It was the Jekyll and Hyde presidency.
  • I was the senior adviser to the Reagan transition team. I helped shut down the Anti-poverty Agency – I never expected that assignment. It was the hottest political issue [of the day]. Ted Kennedy led the opposition. [But together we worked to] persuade Congress to support the President to close it down and minimize difficulty for poor people.
  • [At a classified briefing on the nuclear arms race I found myself] alone with president [Dwight Eisenhower]. I was so stunned [I couldn’t remember anything]. We talked about football…ISU vs Kansas. He relaxed me. Briefing the president, for a career person, was quite a thrill.

On the Limited Nuclear Test Ban following WWII:

  • We saw horrible destruction from the bomb. [It was] indescribable fury. I was terribly concerned about stopping the nuclear arms race. They can absolutely destroy civilization. It was THE most important security issue of the day.

On the rebuilding of Alaska after the earthquake of 1964:

  • 55,000 square miles of surface rose or dropped at least five feet [in] Anchorage, Kodiak, Homer, Valdez…two thirds of Alaska where the population was. When we got up there we couldn’t find an engineer who thought we would rebuild enough in the first season to save the state. That would have been economic disaster. I really spent horrible nights trying to figure out what to do when everyone said it was impossible. We could not succeed using “normal” federal processes and procedures. We’d lose the state. They gave me all kinds of freedom to innovate. An Anchorage Times editorial headline called it “Government at its best.” The federal people were heroes in Alaska.

In October 2011, Government Executive magazine named Ink one of the 20 “All-time Greatest Feds.” Joining him on the list were Theodore Roosevelt and James Web, manager of the moon landing. Here’s his reaction:

  • It was nice for my ego. But I kept thinking of others who were better qualified. [My wife] Donna said, “Just enjoy it.”

Dwight and Donna moved to Leesburg, Va., 10 years ago. At age 90, his eyesight is failing, and he’s working to finish his memoirs. Here’s Dwight on retirement:

  • I retired with the federal government when Reagan left office. I semi-retired at age 70 but worked part time until three months ago. [He is president emeritus of the Institute of Public Administration.] When I hit 90 I decided to almost – but not quite totally – retire. My wife says at 90 I should slow down.

Part I: The remarkable Dwight Ink

15 Apr

03-25-13 dwight 173F9890

Dwight Ink (’47 government) is a man who gets things done. Described as “The Remarkable Dwight Ink” in the book If We Can Put a Man On the Moon: Getting Big Things Done in Government by William D. Eggers and John O’Leary, Ink held major leadership roles in the federal government for seven presidents: from Eisenhower to Reagan.

Here are just a few of the many positions in which he served:

  • Assistant general manager for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission
  • First assistant secretary for administration in the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
  • Assistant director for executive management in the Office of Management and Budget
  • Deputy administrator of the General Service Administration
  • Assistant administrator of the Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean
  • Director of the Community Services Administration under Ronald Reagan

Ink also:

  • Supervised the reconstruction of Alaska after the earthquake of 1964
  • Helped establish the Environmental Protection Agency
  • Managed oil conservation after the Arab Embargo
  • And was instrumental in the design of Civil Service reform, the first major overhaul of that federal system in 100 years, during the Carter Administration

As part of VISIONS Across America, Mr. Ink invited Jim Heemstra and me to visit him in his Leesburg, Va., home. I have to tell you, it was quite an honor to have the opportunity to hear, first hand, a few of Mr. Ink’s fascinating stories. This post is part one of two, based on those stories.

On growing up poor on a Madison County, Iowa, farm:

  • In grade school, I had to drop out when it got too cold to go barefoot. My family could not afford shoes.

On his education at Iowa State:

  • I didn’t have much preparation for college. I almost flunked out my first year, but the university took a chance on me.
  • Iowa State provided the environment and opportunity to go into [public service], the very best field I can possibly imagine. It’s a field you can go to the top as an average type of person.
  • I did a lot of organizing on the Iowa State campus before and after [World War II]. When the debate coach got drafted, the university appointed me “faculty adviser” to the debate teams. They even gave me an office in Beardshear. I organized a national debate in the football stadium. I got to know political leaders in Iowa. These were experiences that very few universities would allow a student to do. I owe so much, so much to Iowa State University.

[Note: Mr. Ink donated 68 boxes of personal papers to Iowa State’s library archives in 2012.]

On public service:

  • I was a combat engineer for three and half years in World War II. I had a lot of time to think. I came back thinking that public service would be a field of interest. I’d never get rich, but it would provide a decent living and provide shoes for my kids.
  • I did whatever was needed to do. My view of the career I chose was that I should focus on wherever I might be needed the most.
  • In what other field could you have so much interest and excitement as public service? I can’t think of one. And you help people. It’s very fulfilling.

Next up: Dwight Ink on the projects, the presidents, and, at age 90, retirement from public service.

An urban educator

11 Apr


Of all the reasons Rohini Ramnath loves living in Washington, D.C. – the museums, the monuments, the food, the culture, her job – one thing stands out: the metro.

“I don’t drive a car,” she says. “I take the metro everywhere. It’s a great train and bus system. You can get anywhere in the city. I love taking the metro. It appeals to my Midwestern sensibilities.”

Rohini grew up in Clinton, Iowa. Both of her parents are Indian; her father grew up in India; her mother in Malaysia. She came to Iowa State as a George Washington Carver Scholar and took advantage of everything the university had to offer. As a triple major in political science, international studies, and Spanish, Rohini got involved in Government of the Student Body, the Committee on Lectures, the Honors Program, and in other groups across campus. She studied abroad in Spain and backpacked across Europe. She was named a Wallace E. Barron All-University Senior.

Following graduation in 2007, Rohini was selected as a Rotary Ambassadoral Scholar to Ghana, an experience she calls “life changing.” She received a master’s degree in international economics at the University of Ghana.

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Five years ago, she moved to Washington, D.C., as a member of the Teach for America corps.

“I fell in love with urban education,” she says. “I found my life path here.”

Rohini taught children at the Howard Road Academy and now works as a full-time data manager for CentroNia’s DC Bilingual Public Charter School. Her job involves working as an instructional coach with teachers and principals.

“I’m hyper-focused on what’s going to be best for student achievement,” she says.

Rohini recently bought a condo in the Georgia Avenue/Petworth neighborhood of D.C., which she describes as “the most grown-up thing I’ve ever done.” It’s one metro stop, or a 20-minute walk, away from her school.

“I look around this city, with the capitol and all the monuments,” she says, “and I’m still like, ‘I can’t believe I’m here.’”

Cherry blossoms? What cherry blossoms?

2 Apr

When I think back to our VISIONS Across America springtime trip to the Washington, D.C., area years from now, the thing I’ll remember most is that it snowed. And that – although we visited during Cherry Blossom Festival – there were no cherry blossoms.

Not that it mattered. We were not there to see cherry blossoms. We were there to meet Iowa State alumni: 10 of them total, in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, and D.C. itself.

We started out in Washington, D.C., with a fast meeting with Thomas Hoenig (MS ’72 economics, PhD ’74). Tom has been vice chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) since last April after serving with the Federal Reserve Bank in Kansas City, Mo., for 38 years. When I say “fast meeting,” I mean fast; he was on his way to catch a plane, so Jim took a few photos and I did a speed interview – and that was all the time we had with him.

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We headed north to Lancaster County, Pa., the home of our next two alumni. Located in the southeast portion of the state, the county is known for its “Pennsylvania Dutch” (actually, German) heritage and rolling Amish farmland. While we were there, Jim and I saw Amish farmers plowing fields with teams of horses and mules, families traveling by horse and buggy, and groups of Amish school children with their lunch pails heading to one-room schoolhouses. Bakeries abound, offering regional specialties like shoo-fly pie and individual black-and-white “whoopie pies.” We visited the Lancaster Central Market, America’s longest-running public farmers market, established in 1730. It was amazing.

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Also amazing: John Kaiser (MS  ’87 chemical engineering) of nearby Manheim, Pa., is a senior process manager for cocoa and chocolate at Mars and he TASTES CHOCOLATE FOR A LIVING. Well, he does a lot more than just that, but still, John has one of the greatest jobs in the world. When we arrived at his home, he not only had stacks of Dove chocolate bars to send home with us, he also had pans of wonderfully fragrant roasted cocoa beans and old-fashioned hot chocolate for us to taste and photograph. This was not one of our toughest assignments.

03-21-13 K SANDY 173F8402In keeping with the theme, our next visit was to Sandy Carosella (’88 industrial engineering), who greeted us with steaming cups of coffee and a big plate of whoopie pies. Sandy started her career as an engineer with Quaker Oats, but she shifted careers to teaching when her first child was born. She’s now a substitute teacher and focuses most of her energy on her family.


Our next stop was tiny Delaware, the nation’s second-smallest state but home to a healthy number of Iowa State alumni: 236 at last count. Delaware’s historic claim to fame is that it was the first state to ratify the Constitution of the United States, technically making it THE first state.

03-22-13 FANGQUI IMG_5551We spent a full day in Wilmington, meeting first in the snow-flurried downtown area with Fangqui Sun (MS ’97 economics and statistics), senior vice president of risk management for Citigroup. Fangqui, a native of northeastern China, told us wonderful stories about being warmly welcomed to the United States – and Ames, Iowa – to expand her education and launch a successful career in finance. I can’t wait to write her story!

03-22-13 ROWING IMG_6857Our afternoon was spent on the Christina River. Well, Jim spent his afternoon on the river; I hung out on solid ground near the boathouse. Jim was photographing alumna Marie Peters (’81 industrial administration), a math teacher and faculty adviser to the crew team at Concord High School. It was not an especially warm day to be outside, on or off the river, but Marie said the crew team had been on the water regularly since February. Brrrrrrr! Marie has led the crew program – the first in a public Delaware high school – for more than 10 years.


03-23-13 MICHELLE IMG_7149Leaving Delaware, we moved on to Maryland. Our first meeting (in Silver Spring, just inside the D.C. beltway) was an absolute joy. Michelle DeFayette  (’87 political science) had Jim and me laughing the entire time. Michelle has worked in training and development for Youth for Understanding International Exchange, the Peace Corps, and USAID – and she’s also played soccer since she was eight years old. And she’s just a fun person. (That’s Michelle, far left, in downtown Silver Spring with partner Shannon England.)We had a blast spending the afternoon with her – we would have stayed much longer, but the D.C. traffic freaks us out, so we wanted to get to our overnight location before it got too late.

Our next morning (a Sunday) was blissfully unscheduled. We drove into D.C. and took a walk around some of the monuments: the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial. All around us were disappointed tour-bus visitors, clearly in D.C. for the cherry blossoms but greeted only with sharp wind and a gray sky.

03-24-13 BOBBI IMG_7941We spent the afternoon in Annapolis – a quintessential American city. The combination of historic architecture (including the Maryland State House), U.S. Naval Academy, and the Chesapeake Bay makes Annapolis a wonderful place to visit. Annapolis is also the home of Bobbi Doorenbos (’92 finance), a former U.S. Air Force F-16 pilot. Bobbi currently works at Air National Guard headquarters at Andrews Air Force Base. She and Jim bonded over their shared Dutch heritage!


The next morning – the start of the work week – we awoke to snow on the ground, snow covering the trees, snow still coming down, and the anticipation of a day of driving in and out of the city in what we could only assume would be weather-fueled gridlock.

We were pleasantly surprised, because Monday’s traffic was far lighter than any other day. Did people stay home? Did they take public transportation? We don’t know, and we don’t care – we were just very happy that we were able to make it to all three of our appointments without incident.

03-25-13 KAREN IMG_8318Our first photo/interview was on the north side of Washington, D.C., We met with Karen Keninger (MA ’92 English), director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped – part of the Library of Congress. She showed us the incredible services provided to patrons all across the country – services she herself has used since she was young. I will tell you more about Karen in an upcoming blog.

03-25-13 dwight 173F0169From there, we headed west to Leesburg, Va., where we met with one of our most esteemed alumni, Dwight Ink  (’47 government). Mr. Ink (I can’t bring myself to call him Dwight) has literally made history as a public servant for the federal government; he worked with seven U.S. presidents, from Eisenhower to Reagan. He has so many stories to tell – I’m sure we only heard a small fraction of them. I’ll tell you some of those stories soon in a two-part blog.

Our last meeting of the day (and of this trip) was with Rohini Ramnath (’07 international studies/Spanish/political science) back in D.C. Rohini moved to Washington, D.C., with Teach for America but has stayed in the city to work as a data manager for CentroNia’s DC Bilingual Public Charter School. I’ve been following Rohini’s career ever since she was a student at Iowa State – she was a Wallace E. Barron All-University Senior and in the first class of STATEment Makers – so it was really fun to catch up with her on her own turf. That’s Rohini below in the Columbia Heights metro station near her school.

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I’ll be spending the next few weeks writing profiles of each of these alumni (some of which will be posted here), going through Jim’s photos, and planning the next trip (to New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut), which is coming up way too fast…. But we now have 31 states completed!