John Hunolt became choked up as the list of his accomplishments, many contributions to Ottumwa and messages from his family were recited.
Hunolt became the 21st recipient of the Gene Schultz Community Service Award at the “Celebrate Ottumwa” Partners in Progress banquet Thursday night at Bridge View Center. The award is based on the service of the late Gene Schultz, who contributed hours upon hours of his time to better the community.
“Gene was the everything guy around town,” said Heather Simplot, incoming Ottumwa Area Chamber of Commerce Board president. “Everyone knew Gene.”
The same can be said for Hunolt.
Simplot read pages and pages of Hunolt’s contributions, from serving with the Hy-Noon Kiwanis to helping out at the First Presbyterian Church’s food pantry, from washing dogs every month at Heartland Humane Society to reading to preschool children. The list went on and on.
Hunolt grew up in Trenton, Mo., and in October 1974, after graduating from Truman State University, he and his wife, Sylvia, happened to find their home in Ottumwa.
“He just happened to interview in Ottumwa on our way up to Des Moines,” Sylvia said.
Hunolt ended up working as a vocational rehabilitation counselor in Ottumwa for the next 35 years.
Sylvia and their son, Jason, prepared messages of support for Hunolt.
“My husband is a caring and compassionate person,” Sylvia said. “Helping others is a way of life for him.”
And he has followed in his father’s footsteps, she said.
“I’ve enjoyed contributing to the community,” Hunolt said as attendees shook his hand, hugged him and congratulated him following the ceremony. “My father has been deceased for several years, but he always did a lot for the community.”
Jason couldn’t be at the ceremony Thursday but sent a message of support to his father.
“My dad very much deserves this award,” Jason said. “He is the most caring person I know. Whenever I visit Ottumwa, he knows everyone, and everyone is happy to see him.”
While the audience stood and applauded him, Hunolt kept repeating: “This is a tremendous honor.”
Iowa Economic Development Authority Director Debi Durham outlined her department and Gov. Terry Branstad’s plan to foster private-sector job growth, increase family income, cut the cost of state government, re-establish Iowa’s education system and make Iowa the healthiest state in the nation.
Iowa has to have a more competitive business climate, Durham said.
“Our high corporate tax rate hurts small- and medium-size businesses and start-ups the hardest,” she said.
But it’s also about marketing, she said, and Iowa needs to re-frame itself in the national and international marketplace.
“We don’t necessarily have a negative image,” she said. “We don’t really have one. Our image is just corn.”
What she admires about Iowans is their humility — but that doesn’t bode well from a marketing standpoint, she said.
And communities like Ottumwa need to be places people want to live. That means appealing to a younger generation.
“The 19- to 29-year-old generation thinks differently than we do,” she said. “They’re the first color-blind generation, they’re global in their thinking, they’re environmentally sensitive ... and they’re very tolerant in their belief system. They want communities that are progressive in their thinking.”
Eight other businesses and organizations were also honored Thursday for their long-standing commitments to Ottumwa as “Outstanding Partners of the Year”:
• Messerschmitt Ice
• Curtis Architecture and Design
• Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation
• American Gothic House Center and Wapello County Board of Supervisors
• Las Palmas Night Club
• South Ottumwa Savings Bank
• Volunteer Community of Bridge View Center
Partners in Progress is the service provider for six nonprofit development organizations in Ottumwa: Ottumwa Area Chamber of Commerce, Ottumwa Economic Development Corporation, Ottumwa Property and Redevelopment Company, Main Street Ottumwa, Bridge View Center Inc. and Ottumwa Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.