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Make-A-Wish® Iowa Honors North Iowa Volunteers, Donors


January 28, 2015



Make-A-Wish® Iowa recently released the names of their annual award winners. Several area volunteers and donors were recognized for their efforts to support wish kids and a local wish child was recognized for his inspirational story.

Dennis Burke of Mason City was given the Tommy Austin Award, an award that is closest to Make-A-Wish’s core mission. The award is given to the volunteer who best exemplifies Tommy Austin’s zeal, enthusiasm and dedication to our Make-A-Wish® children. Austin was one the police officer involved with the wish that started the organization.

“Dennis has been involved with Make-A-Wish for many years and his efforts go above and beyond for everyone, including wish kids, families, volunteers and sponsors,” said Chris Voggesser, CEO of Make-A-Wish Iowa. “His passion for wish kids and our organization is obvious – he believes in the mission and the difference it makes to the families we serve.”

Burke is respected among his volunteer group, who describe him as someone who is “always available, always goes the extra mile and always does it with a smile on his face. Every person he meets is touched by his warmth, generosity and passion for the organization and our wish kids.”  

Val Plagge of Latimer was honored with the North Iowa Committee’s Volunteer of the Year award, for an outstanding local volunteer who does the most to advance the mission of the Foundation in their area.

“We’re proud to have Val on our team of volunteers,” said Voggesser. “Her contribution to our mission is invaluable. Without volunteers working with us on a daily wish, we wouldn’t be able to accomplish our goals.”

In her nomination, fellow volunteers recognized Val’s leadership and organization skills being instrumental in bringing in new volunteers to the North Iowa Committee. “While managing a growing family, she’s still managed find time to help with new fundraising initiatives and recruiting efforts,” shared committee members. “Because of Val, the committee meetings are filled with new members and new ideas are being put into action.”

Hayden Despenas of Mason City was given the chapter’s Circle of Inspiration Award, given to an area wish child who was especially inspirational in the last year. The nomination described Despenas as someone who has a happily infectious spirit that inspires so many people.

“During this year's Wish Upon A Par event, I was lucky enough to ride shotgun in the golf cart with Hayden,” shared Nancy Lund. “For about an hour, Hayden and I careened around the golf course picking up signs and giving volunteers rides back to the clubhouse.” This brought Hayden, as well as Nancy, so much happiness. “He is so full of joy despite his challenges, which rallies and inspires everyone who meets him, said Lund. “We could all learn a lesson from Hayden: when life gets bumpy, drive over those bumps at top speed!”

The Mason City Fire Department has been a cherished supporter of Make-A-Wish Iowa for many years.  This year, Hayden was this year’s adopted wish recipient, which was very fitting, since Hayden loves firemen and fire trucks. During the big reveal for his wish, the department brought one of their trucks and blocked the house.  When Hayden arrived everyone chanted "Move that truck, move that truck" like the show Extreme Home Make-Over. The truck was moved and the reveal occurred. Many of the fire fighters were present for the reveal, volunteering their time to share in the power of a wish®.  After the reveal, the fire truck drove Hayden to his pizza party to celebrate his wish.  It was a magical evening that Hayden will remember forever, thanks to the Mason City Fire Department.

The Fire Department was also recognized, along with local law enforcement for their efforts in hosting the annual The Battle of the Badges hockey event. This popular event at North Iowa Ice Arena took first place in raising money at an external event, contributing more than $40,000 to support Make-A-Wish Iowa. Their 2015 event was held last weekend.

“The support our organization gets from North Iowa is really amazing,” said Jamie Rasko, Communications Manager for Make-A-Wish Iowa. “The entire community has really embraced our mission and made it a priority to make a difference in the lives of our wish kids.

Award winners will be recognized at the committee’s annual Wish Upon A Par golf event in July.  Make-A-Wish Iowa granted 153 wishes in their last fiscal year and anticipate granting 185 in our current year – that’s about a wish every other day.

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About Make-A-Wish® Iowa
Make-A-Wish® Iowa grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy. The Foundation has granted wishes to more than 3,000 children with life-threatening medical conditions since 1987 and currently grants a wish every other day in Iowa.  To find out more, visit  Share the Power of a Wish®

Press Contact

Lexi Konig
Marketing and Communications Manager
3009 100th Street
Urbandale, IA  50322-3220

Phone : (515) 334-2636
Fax : (515) 334-2638

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Make-A-Wish® Iowa
3009 100th Street
Urbandale, IA 50322-3220
(515) 334-2636
Toll Free Iowa Only (800) 797-9474