OTTUMWA — Ordinary Ottumwans have done some extraordinary things.
At the third annual Heroes of the Heartland breakfast Friday morning, six Ottumwans were honored for their selfless work helping others: Desirae Payne, Don Kirchner, Tom Shafer, Myles Sauer, Becky Smith and Ruth Seim.
Larry Jarvis, Southern Prairie American Red Cross board member, said the event honors southeast Iowa’s “everyday heroes.”
Ottumwa’s Red Cross response coordinator, Brandon Holstrom, said the event began three years ago as a localization of a similar event he saw at Des Moines’ American Red Cross of Greater Iowa.
“Anybody can nominate anybody,” Holstrom said. “Anyone can be recognized as a hero.”
He said it gives those in the community who serve and help without asking for thanks or praise a chance to be recognized for the work they do. The event also allows the Red Cross to receive monetary donations in order to provide services during times of disaster, such as recent flooding and structure fires in Ottumwa.
Don “Moose” Kirchner, who served with the U.S. Marine Corps in the Vietnam War, now helps fellow veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and drug and alcohol addiction. He also works as a chaplain for the Patriot Guard Riders and is the co-founder of Brother’s Keeper Ministries.
“He exemplifies a message of love and caring,” said Miranda Bickford, of Walmart, where Kirchner volunteers as a greeter, Santa Claus and even officiant over a few marriages between Walmart associates. “Don’s efforts are non-judgmental.”
Tom Shafer has given countless hours helping out at the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, Habitat for Humanity, Ottumwa Kiwanis, American Home Finding Association and in classrooms with local students.
“Chances are if you’ve been through any charitable organization, Tom has been there already,” said Marsha Parker, of John Deere. “It’s clear his efforts are nothing short of heroic.”
Andrew Woodard, of Elliott Oil, said Ruth Seim, known around town as the “Mother Superior” of music, “has always been there to serve.” Seim worked as a music teacher in the Ottumwa school district for decades, teaching between 500 and 600 children every year, and while she’s now retired, she continues to play piano at music contests, churches and for choirs.
“I didn’t know I was going to be talking this morning — I’d rather play piano,” Seim laughed.
Jon Pedersen, of Mediacom, said there is no mistaking Payne — more commonly known throughout Ottumwa as Dizzy the Clown — when she shows up with her wig, makeup and her infectious laughter. Payne takes her humor therapy to patients at the hospital, leads anti-bullying assemblies at schools, and started a “Clown Ministry” for churches and Bible schools and camps.
“Dizzy the Clown has become a fixture in southeast Iowa,” he said. “Her work is serious, but it doesn’t mean she can’t have fun doing it. Of those she touches, she makes their lives that much brighter.”
Payne said her work as Dizzy is a “gift from God” that allows her to go out into the community to teach, help and entertain.
Sauer and Smith were among the first people to respond to a single-engine aircraft crash at Ottumwa Regional Airport on June 30, 2011. Sauer helped pull the pilot out of the plane; Smith then began providing first aid. Though the pilot eventually died from his injuries, Tom Lazio said the pair “acted without fear for their own safety for someone they didn’t know.”