The two Citizens of the Year have a special connection: one babysat the other.
Joan Salts looked after Jim Flinspach when he was a little boy. In the ensuing years, Salts and Flinspach became pillars of their community through their selfless volunteering and service on countless committees. On Thursday night, the two shared the spotlight as they were named the Fairfield Area Chamber of Commerce’s 2019 Citizens of the Year.
“She raised me right,” Flinspach said of his former babysitter.
Per custom, the new Citizens of the Year are introduced by last year’s honorees. The presenter reads a long list of accolades of the current year’s recipient, waiting until the very end to reveal their identity. The recipient’s family is informed of the award ahead of time so they can attend, but keeps the reason for their attendance a secret so that the award is a surprise.
That last part was especially tricky in Flinspach’s case. Flinspach has three daughters who live out of state, so they would have to arrive at the end of the program without Flinspach knowing they were in town. Secondly, the family had to come up with a lie to get Jim there without raising suspicion.
The family told Jim that his mother Martha was going to receive an award that night. However, they told Jim that, since it was to be a surprise, they led Martha to believe that Joneane Parker was receiving an award, and that Martha was going to support her. In reality, Martha knew what was up, but she had to keep that from her son.
Jim and Sharon’s three daughters are Jaclyn, Sarah and Jennie. Jacyln drove into town earlier that day from her home in Lawrence, Kansas, where she’s a paraeducator. Sarah flew in from Washington, D.C., where she works at the National Council for Behavioral Health, a nonprofit that represents behavioral health care providers. Jennie flew it from the other coast in Eugene, Oregon, where she just finished graduate school and is hoping to work in arts education.
Sarah has a good friend, Michael Gookin, who lives in Des Moines. She and Jennie stayed at his house until Grandma Martha could pick them up and drive them to Fairfield.
“We weren’t surprised that Dad won the award,” Jennie said. “He does so many things at the bank and at the church.”
Sarah said the only thing she worried about was making sure her dad attended.
“When [chamber director] Darien Sloat told me he would receive the award, I asked, ‘How are you going to get him out of the darn tractor to come here? It’s April!’” Sarah said.
Ron Hunerdosse, one of last year’s honorees, introduced Flinspach. He began by reading a few quotes that epitomized the current recipient, such as Mahatma Gandhi’s quip that “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service to others.”
“Whether it be The Lord’s Cupboard, the Farm Bureau, the bank board the individual serves on, or the physical and mental contributions this person has made serving their church membership, this person has done just that,” Hunerdosse said.
Hunerdosse explained that the recipient worked in farming, served as president of Jefferson County Farm Bureau, is lay leader of his church’s congregation and served on the First National Bank board. On top of that, he’s donated 8 gallons of blood.
Flinspach said it was at that point in the introduction that he became certain Ron was talking about him.
“By the time he got to the 8 gallons of blood, agriculture, Lord’s Cupboard board, and bank board, it had eliminated a lot of possibilities,” Flinspach said.
Flinspach organized a capital campaign whereby Farm Bureau matched dollar-for-dollar the donations raised to move The Lord’s Cupboard into its current location on North Fourth Street. Ten thousand dollars was raised, which Farm Bureau matched for a total of $20,000.
Flinspach was also the construction engineer during The Lord’s Cupboard’s move, even volunteering space in one of his outbuildings.
“Dick Reed was the one who got me into The Lord’s Cupboard,” Flinspach said. “I came to a board meeting, and he said, ‘You’re going to need someone to coordinate the construction of this thing, and his name is Jim Flinspach.’ I went, ‘What?’ I thought he was going to say ‘Dick Reed,’ because he’s the construction guy, not me.”
Jim and Sharon are active members of First United Methodist Church in Fairfield. Jim is township clerk, and has been a remodeling volunteer for the past 10 years.
“I was born and raised in this church, and we got married in it,” Jim said.
“Grandma was music director in the church,” Sarah said, who added that her mother and father got together through the choir.
Gloria Countryman presented the Citizen of the Year Award to Joan Salts. Countryman spoke about how the recipient is a lifelong resident of Fairfield and has contributed much time and energy to community projects. And yet, this person is rarely in the spotlight for all to see, since her work is behind the scenes.
Countryman talked about how the recipient served on the support team for families with a member in the local Army National Guard unit deployed during Desert Storm; how she volunteered at First United Methodist Church as a member of the worship committee; how she prepares communion services; how she babysits children of parents in the Women, Infants, and Children program.
Salts said Countryman’s remark about helping with communion gave it away.
“I knew there wasn’t anybody else here tonight who fit that description,” Salts said.
Joan’s husband Jim was named Citizen of the Year a couple of years ago. Joan had to keep that a secret from him until the last minute. Now it was his turn to keep a secret. Joan said he did well, never letting any word of the award slip. The only thing that seemed a little suspicious was Jim’s insistence on cleaning the house, as if he expected company.
Salts has been the president of the local chapter of United Methodist Women, and served for eight years as a district officer for the Southeast District of UMW. Countryman remarked that because of Salts’s excellent cooking skills, she provides food for funeral dinners and fundraising activities at the church.
“The leadership skills that were honed during this recipient’s professional life were quite evident when serving [on] a committee of four who organized and supervised the serving of a thousand-plus RAGBRAI participants during the 2013 overnight visit in Fairfield,” Countryman said.
Salts serves as the chairperson of the Jefferson County Historic Preservation Commission, where she has written grants for the restoration of the Bonnifield Log House.
“You will also find our recipient serving as a greeter at the Maasdam Barns Welcome Center, and helping at different events that are held at the barns throughout the year,” Countryman said.
Countryman talked about how Salts has been a Fairfield Area Community Theatre board member for 25 years.
“You will not see our Citizen of the Year out front, acting or singing. However, you will see the result of the work that is done behind the stage,” Countryman said.
Salts is the board’s costume mistress, meaning she fits, alters and repairs the costumes for the performers in the show. She even helps with costuming when traveling productions visit the Sondheim.
“I like being behind the scenes,” Salts remarked. “I won’t get on stage to sing or dance. I’m just proud to see everyone on stage in their costumes.”