Sages Over 70 – Nov/Dec 2018

You can see this year’s Sages Over 70 at the awards event on Nov. 8, but you can see their influence on our city any day. It’s visible in downtown developments. It’s apparent in the community’s social fabric. You can see it in the careers of people they have befriended and mentored. Their names are on buildings, landmarks and cultural programs—on scholarships, honors and awards.

We at dsm magazine are privileged each year to celebrate lives so well lived. Those we honor as Sages have risen to the challenge of being community leaders, agents of change in their professions and in the culture of our city. We honor their achievements and their generosity, and we pay tribute as a small reward for the richness they have added to life in Greater Des Moines.

Please join us in congratulating and celebrating the Sages of 2018 at the recognition reception from 5 to 7 p.m. Nov. 8 in the ballroom of the Hilton Des Moines Downtown, 435 Park St. Each of our honorees will share insights into their philosophies and principles—comments that are sure to inspire and motivate the best in all of us.

And you can hear from them now, in conversations videotaped by Duane and Dylan Huey of Good Plan Productions. View the video above.

As in previous years, proceeds from the event will benefit the Sages Over 70 Fund at the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines, our presenting partner. To learn more about the fund and how you can contribute, visit

Simon Estes

The big voice has won fans worldwide, but it’s his big heart that earned bass-baritone Simon Estes his place among dsm magazine’s legion of Sages.

Although he grew up under the oppression of racism in southern Iowa, he has generously rewarded his home state with his talents, his time and his philanthropic gifts.

Much has changed since he sang soprano parts in a Centerville high school choir, learning forgiveness, generosity and other principles from his parents in “a poor but beautiful Christian family.”

His regard for the well-being of others led him to consider careers in medicine and social psychology. His powerful voice led him elsewhere, ultimately to the world’s great operatic stages.

Today, at 80, Estes still performs but also focuses on teaching, mentoring young vocalists, and raising money for his educational scholarships and charitable work, including fighting childhood hunger in Iowa and diseases in Africa.

Estes has three daughters, Jennifer, Lynne and Tiffany. He and his wife, Ovida, have been married 20 years.

His Advice
Turn the other cheek and forgive people, even if they’ve hurt you.

Love and serve one another, without regard to a person’s race, ethnicity, gender or income level. We are all God’s children. Respond to the needs you see around you.

My longtime friend and mentor Charles Kellis, now 91, would tell me this: “Simon, there’s nothing you cannot do if you work hard and stick with it.” I believe that. Never give up.

Develop your talents. Everyone has a talent and you should try to discover what that talent is.

Put the Lord first, and thank him every day. Be grateful for the blessings in your life.

Look to the Bible for guidance. Any question in life is answered in the Bible.

Faith, education and love—it’s a sold tripod. Build your life on that.

Community Voices
“Simon continues to bless Iowa and the world with a clear and sincere focus on youth.” Rob Denson, president, Des Moines Area Community College

“He’s a passionate and dedicated humanitarian and philanthropist, using his platform to bring awareness to worldwide issues and serve the less fortunate.” Wendy Wintersteen, president, Iowa State University

“I admire and respect Simon, not only because he’s one of the greatest musicians ever but because of how he leads his life. He uses his artistry in selfless ways to help others, which I find very inspiring.” Joseph Giunta, music director, Des Moines Symphony

Among His Accomplishments
• Has sung for popes, presidents, royalty, heads of state and other world dignitaries. Has performed in five languages and in more than 100 roles.
• Established five foundations that focus on education, health and hunger concerns. His International Foundation in Switzerland supports the education and health of children, including the creation of the Simon Estes Music High School in South Africa.
• Recipient of the 2017 Lifetime Impact Award from the United Nations Foundation and the 1996 Iowa Award (the state’s highest citizen honor).
• Numerous medals and other awards from musical organizations worldwide.
• Recipient of honorary degrees from a variety of prestigious institutions. Currently he’s a professor at Iowa State University and Des Moines Area Community College.

James Hubbell III

Growing up in a family business, it should come as no surprise that one of Jim Hubbell’s mentors was his father, “a role model.” It’s less predictable that he would also list a business rival, Bill Knapp—“a force in the marketplace when I came to town, and he still is today. I learned a lot about how to do business, prosper and survive from his example. He has always been very strategic about what to do and when to do it.”

At age 70, the onetime history major at Trinity College has made some local history himself. He joined the family enterprise on the financial side and rose to lead the company. Many real estate projects in Des Moines have borne the Hubbell name. Many more bear his quiet fingerprints; he has been instrumental and influential in shaping the course of the city’s growth.

Hubbell has three children: Jay lives here, and Sarah and Andrew live in Vermont. Today, he and his wife, Ellen, split their time between Des Moines and Santa Fe.

His Advice
Change happens so fast, and in such dramatic ways. Pay attention, but don’t be afraid; just keep some powder dry and be ready.

Times of opportunity repeat themselves. The details are different, but you have to see it coming. Find opportunity in unsettled times.

Over time, the balance points between your work and your social life may shift a bit. But be careful not to let business be your life. Find time for family and friends. In the end, no one wishes they’d gone to more meetings.

Don’t get to where you look back and around and say, I wish I’d done that differently.

Community Voices
“He thinks strategically and acts decisively, which is why he always gets done what he sets out to do.” Michael Gartner, Iowa Cubs owner and former editor of the Des Moines Register

“While Jim only recently qualified for this honor by virtue of becoming 70, he has been a sage of the community for a couple of decades.” John Ruan III, chairman and CEO, Ruan Transportation Management Systems

“Jim was instrumental in the formation of the Iowa Health System, now known as UnityPoint Health. … He led with a grace not often seen in business circles.” Eric T. Crowell, president and CEO, UnityPoint Health

Among His Achievements
• Leadership of 160-year-old family-owned Hubbell Realty Co.
• Member, Iowa Business Hall of Fame.
• Recipient, United Way philanthropy award.
• Development of major properties, including Hub Tower, Kaleidoscope at the Hub, Capital Center and Riverpoint Business Park.
• Has served on the boards of Drake University, the Greater Des Moines Chamber of Commerce (now the Greater Des Moines Partnership), the Des Moines Art Center, the Downtown Community Alliance, Iowa Health Systems and Bankers Trust.

William Kimball

Growing up in Exira, Bill Kimball learned lifelong lessons from his parents: his father’s example of hard work on their dairy farm, his mother’s assurance that “I could be anything I wanted to be.”

Working through college at a drugstore in Oskaloosa may have shaped his destiny. With that experience and a business degree, he eventually became chairman and CEO of Medicap, overseeing the growth of that local franchisor for 30 years. More recently, he has focused on real estate through his firm Kimball-Porter Investments.

His career has included serving on the boards of prominent businesses, but his devotion to nonprofit organizations reveals the character of this sage.

Kimball, 70, has three children: Jenny in Urbandale, John in West Des Moines, and Holly in Johnston. His eldest, Chris, was killed in a 2010 car accident. Kimball has three grandchildren. He and his wife, Char, live in Johnston.

His Advice
Don’t be afraid to praise and thank people who do a good job. They deserve credit.

Don’t ever burn bridges.

Focus on the financials, the details—especially the expense line.

Surround yourself with good people who are smarter than you.

Roll up your sleeves and go to work.

Have some foresight, some vision of where you’re going.

Give your family quality time, knowing you’re not going to be at every basketball game.

Be good to people, whether you’re talking to the CEO or the janitor.

I like the advice of Kemmons Wilson, the founder of Holiday Inn: To be successful, you only have to work half days. It doesn’t matter which 12 hours you choose.

Community Voices
“Bill is a person of high moral character and unquestionable integrity in all that he does.” Bob Myers, former president and CEO, Casey’s General Stores

“He’s a role model and mentor for … dozens of individuals, [providing] assistance that made a difference in their lives.” Michael Ralston, president, Iowa Association of Business and Industry

“I have always found great counsel in Bill’s advice, seasoned by the wisdom of a remarkably successful life.” Mike Taylor, managing partner, Midwest Growth Partners

Among His Achievements
• Member and chairman, William Penn University board of trustees.
• Member, president and chairman, Iowa Society to Prevent Blindness (now Prevent Blindness Iowa).
• Member, Iowa Association of Business and Industry.
• Chairman, Iowa Coalition for Responsible Franchising.
• Chairman, America’s Walk for Diabetes.
• Board member, International Franchise Association.
• Board member, Iowa Council for International Understanding (now Iowa International Center).
• Member, the University of Northern Iowa’s College of Business executive advisory board.

William Lillis

Just a year after coming to Des Moines as an assistant Polk County attorney, Bill Lillis joined the law firm that bears his name today.

“I always wanted to be a lawyer; it’s been a great career,” says Lillis, who grew up in Williamsburg, Iowa, where his father was an insurance agent. In law, he says, “every day is a new life lesson.”

Community and political involvement came easily, as gestures of appreciation for all that he has received here. “I always have been in love with this city,” he says. “My wife and I are real advocates for Des Moines.”

Lillis, 75, sees Des Moines as “a boom town. The business community to me is just amazing, and the collegiality in my field has been awesome. It’s been a good ride.”

He and his wife, wife, Kathleen, have been married 51 years and have three children—Maureen and Megan in St. Louis, and Patrick in Leawood, Kansas—and nine grandchildren.

His Advice
Get up every day and enjoy the day.

If you do something that you like, it’s not a job.

My father-in-law taught me: Do a good job and you won’t have to worry about promoting yourself; that will take care of itself.

Always remember that family is precious.

Advice I learned from mentor John Connolly: Work hard, keep your head on straight, be honorable always, and never burn bridges because in this work you will circle back and deal with these people again.

Talk with everyone, regardless of age or position. And enjoy meeting them.

Never lose your sense of humor, a lesson I learned from Phil Dorweiler [who previously was honored as a Sage Over 70].

Community Voices
“Bill’s grace and compassion, his love for community and his lifetime of achievements make him an ideal mentor, citizen, leader and sage.” Russ Frazier, president, Anawim Housing

“He is smart, accomplished and completely devoted to helping stabilize low-income families by providing an affordable place to live. … He exemplifies the kind of person that Iowans should strive to become.” Loree Miles, past chairwoman, the Iowa Transportation Commission

“Bill and Kathleen have been instrumental in the good work of many organizations, for many years, that has shown ours is a community with a kind and generous heart.” Kathi Zimpleman, community volunteer

Among his Accomplishments
• Senior partner, Lillis O’Malley Law Firm.
• Four-time Lawyer of the Year designation by the peer-reviewed group Best Lawyers.
• 25-year board member of Anawim Housing.
• Service on numerous boards and committees for the Diocese of Des Moines, including the Bishop’s Council and the Affordable Housing Board.
• Member of the Dowling Catholic High School Foundation Board.
• Supporter and advocate for numerous organizations, including United Way, Men on the Move, the Des Moines Art Center, Drake University, Salisbury House, Easterseals, and Central Iowa Shelter and Services.

Patsy Shors

I really feel like I’m a citizen of the world,” says Patsy Shors, reflecting on her devotion to the care of children in far-off lands. But it’s her longtime dedication to the rights of women and to community service at home that has earned her a special place in the hearts of Central Iowans.

At 74, she says, “I just feel so grateful for the life I’ve had … that not to try to give something back would be unfathomable.”

The Des Moines native was inspired by the examples of her mother—“a wonderful, beautiful woman who treated everyone with such complete kindness”—and a mentor, Sister Mary Brigid Condon. They taught her to pursue bold goals at a time when women had fewer options in life.

“It’s wonderful that women today have so many more opportunities than were available to past generations,” she says.

She and her husband, John, have four sons—John, in Boulder, Colorado; Tom, in Boston; and Matt and Luke, both in Minneapolis—and seven grandchildren.

Her Advice
Don’t rely on a preplanned agenda following a straight career path.

Be open to all kinds of experiences.

Have faith in the support of family and your network of friends.

Be open to pivotal moments; you never know where those moments will fall.

Seize the opportunities before you. Don’t overlook the value of that.

Be fearless. Don’t put yourself in a position where you look back and say, I wish I had done this or done that.

Be aware of the tremendous needs in our world. One person can make a difference. The challenge is finding your way to serve, to respond to those needs.

Find your way to make life better and to improve the lives of others. Life is so very beautiful.

Community Voices
“Patsy Shors has been and continues to be the consummate volunteer, organizing major and important events. … Des Moines is fortunate to have an activist of her integrity and quiet presence.” Judy Conlin, community volunteer and former director of the Iowa International Center

“Her calm and gentle way of moving within the community with definite convictions and ideas for improvements draws people to want to assist her endeavors.” Trudy Holman Hurd, community volunteer

“Patsy’s legacy is her generous and giving spirit, which is apparent in the meaningful ways she has touched many lives in Des Moines and around the world.” Shannon Cofield, president, Mercy Foundation

Among Her Achievements
• CEO of Sage Assurity Financial.
• Surgical nurse and later director of patient relations, Mercy Medical Center.
• Developer of the House of Mercy.
• A founder of the Des Moines Choral Society, Iowa Runaway Service (now Youth Emergency Services & Shelter), Female Investor Network, and Children’s Cancer Nepal.
• Past president of the boards of directors of the Iowa International Center and the Iowa Center for Economic Success.
• Service on numerous local boards, from Ballet Des Moines and the Des Moines Community Playhouse to the Red Cross and the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center.

Catherine G. Williams

The only thing that makes a difference in life,” says Catherine Williams, “is when you can look back and see that you have done some good for someone else.”

For someone who will celebrate her 104th birthday this month, that’s a lot of looking back—and seeing a lot of good. It includes a distinguished career in social services and a dedication to service to others.

Williams’ career had a colorful start: She was a dancer—“a chorus girl,” she says—performing in shows from New York to Los Angeles. But the valedictorian of North High School’s class of 1932 returned to care for her ailing parents and worked her way through college and graduate school while beginning her career in social work, always focusing on service rather than enrichment or acquisitions.

“The things that matter to me now are the friends I have,” she says. “God has given me the strength and friends to enjoy my life.”

And what has she had to give up, at this stage of life? She smiles.

“I don’t drive in bad weather.”

Williams was married for about 30 years to Des Moines funeral director Richard Williams, who died in 1995. She had no children.

Her Advice
Read. I don’t understand how people manage if they don’t read.

Travel. The world is so vast, and there is so much to learn from travel.

Your conscience should make you courageous. Right now that’s what we need, to speak truth.

Believe in yourself, know what you believe, and be willing to work for it. Others will see that and be influenced to do the same thing in their life.

Have a desire for knowledge, not for a job or a promotion, but to understand the world around you.

Make a contribution, maybe just right on your street, that makes something in life easier for somebody.

Find opportunities to offer even small kindnesses. You don’t know what an impression that can make.

Other Voices
“I’ve watched her lead with a servant heart and demonstrate a can-do attitude … from a foundation of love, care, kindness and compassion.” Debra A. Carr, executive director, East Side Ministerial Alliance

“She is the personification of class and a woman of timeless grace. Others and I are the recipients of her sage advice, leadership and friendship. She remains a role model of quiet, assured dignity.” Ronald N. Langston, founder, Langston Global Enterprises

“It is because of her work and leadership in social work that I and so many other African-Americans were drawn to the profession.” Sandra L. McGee, assistant clinical professor, University of Iowa School of Social Work

Among Her Achievements
• Deputy commissioner of the Iowa Department of Social Services. She retired in 1981 as the highest-ranking black official in state government.
• Created the first statewide training program for foster parents of children with mental disabilities.
• Among her awards: National Public Service Award; Iowa Social Worker of the Year; YWCA/Mary Louise Smith Racial Justice Award; and distinguished almuni awards from North High School, Drake University and the University of Iowa School of Social Work.
• Inducted into the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame and the Iowa African-Americans Hall of Fame.
• In 2013, the Iowa Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers established the Catherine G. Williams Lifetime Achievement Award.

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