Dale Wambold receives inaugural Reinbeck Citizen Spotlight Award

Retired educator ‘spotlighted’ for reinvigorating the Lions Club, helping ensure adopted hometown thrives well into the future

Retired educator/coach and current Reinbeck Lions Club president Dale Wambold pictured at the Reinbeck Public Library on Thursday, June 27. Wambold was recently named the inaugural recipient of the Reinbeck Development Board’s ‘Reinbeck Citizen Spotlight Award’ after receiving the most nominations from members of the community. PHOTO BY RUBY F. MCALLISTER

REINBECK – Dale Wambold may not have been born and raised in Reinbeck – or even Grundy County, for that matter – but after spending nearly four decades living in, working for, and giving back to the small town community he loves, Wambold has certainly earned his Reinbeck cred. Which is why the retired public educator was recently honored with the first annual ‘Reinbeck Citizen Spotlight Award’ — an inaugural effort by the Reinbeck Development Board to ‘spotlight’ a local citizen who “inspires and empowers our community to thrive through collaborative projects that drive sustainable growth and well-being.”

In short, to spotlight someone who works to make Reinbeck a great place to live – now and well into the future.

“I feel awkward talking about this,” Wambold admitted during a sit-down with the newspaper at the Reinbeck Public Library last week on a rainy Thursday afternoon. “I’m honored but there are so many good people in our community who do so many good things behind the scenes who don’t get recognized.”

“I’m just a good old boy from Madison County, Iowa.”

After growing up on a farm in rural Winterset – two miles from the famed Roseman Covered Bridge featured in the film “The Bridges of Madison County” – along with his three siblings, Wambold traded the big skies of Iowa for those of Colorado in order to attend Adams State College (now University) in Alamosa centered in the agriculture heavy San Luis Valley.

2024 Reinbeck Citizen Spotlight Award recipient Dale Wambold, left, pictured alongside Reinbeck Public Library Director Lenah Oltman last week Thursday as they both held the award’s car magnet. Wambold along with his family will be featured in this week’s Reinbeck 4th of July Grand Parade as part of the Spotlight Award, riding in style in a Shriners’ classic car. PHOTO BY RUBY F. MCALLISTER

“I had an uncle who was the head of the theatrical department down there [at Adams State],” Wambold explained of his decision to move to Colorado. “He had me as a kind of sidekick in the plays.”

Growing up, Wambold said he wanted to be a veterinarian but turned to business once he began college.

“I wanted to go into business but I also wanted to go into education, too. Really, I wanted to be a coach.”

As a newly-minted college graduate with teaching degree in hand, Wambold moved back to Iowa in 1976. For five years, he taught business classes at Audubon High School in southwest Iowa where he met the love of his life, his wife Sharon who was teaching biology at the time.

“From Audubon, we moved to Reinbeck because Sharon wanted to go to grad school at [the University of Northern Iowa] and I wanted to be a head wrestling coach,” Wambold explained. “I taught [28] years here in this community, retiring in 2009. This became my home.”

Dale Wambold speaks to a crowd of bingo players gathered at The Dig Inn in downtown Reinbeck back in March of 2022. The Reinbeck Lions Club bingo/trivia night fundraiser along with the club’s annual flag fundraiser – both implemented since 2019 when Wambold joined the service organization – have proved wildly successful and allowed the Lion’s Club to invest tens of thousands of dollars back into the community. PHOTO BY RUBY F. MCALLISTER

Upon retirement, Wambold thought he would do what retired teachers often do – substitute teach some, volunteer, maybe pursue a hobby – but instead, he found himself back in the classroom at a neighboring district for another decade.

“Somehow I spent another 10 years at Union [Community School District],” Wambold said with a chuckle. “Five years in the classroom, then instructional coach for five years. I was also the [technology] person.”

Following his (second) retirement in 2019, Wambold at last found the time to pivot to that aspect of his character he is so well known for today – service.

We Serve!

Thirteen individuals and one organization were nominated by the public this year for the inaugural Reinbeck Citizen Spotlight Award for which Wambold received the most votes, Reinbeck Public Library Director and Development Board member Lenah Oltman told the newspaper. She also said Wambold was extremely “bashful” about accepting the award in light of his position as vice president/secretary of the board administering the honor.

Dale Wambold, right, helps with the Lions Club fundraiser Flags Over Reinbeck back in 2021. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE REINBECK LIONS CLUB

In addition to his service on the Reinbeck Development Board, Wambold also serves as a member of the Gladbrook-Reinbeck Community School District’s facilities task force, on the Grundy County Heritage Foundation’s Pioneer Trail Committee, and as president of the Reinbeck Lions Club. But, Oltman said, it’s because of all the time he spends serving that so many folks from the community — board members were not allowed to submit nominations — put him up for the award. As one of Wambold’s nominators succinctly stated, “He does everything.”

“Dale has almost single-handedly transformed the Reinbeck Lions Club from maybe 10 members to over 40 in just a few short years,” another nominator wrote. “He is still teaching whenever they ask him, active in the community development board, helps with the Vision Reinbeck Committee whenever asked. He loves this community and does whatever it takes to help improve it. He is the friendliest person you will ever meet. Most of all he CARES about our community.”

A third nominator wrote they were putting Wambold up for the award in light of “all he does for [the] community and school system.”

And a fourth wrote: “Dale’s energy and vision for the community is unmatched. Whether it’s for his work with the Lions Club, the Development Committee, or working on numerous other projects, he facilitates, pitches in, and stands back to promote others. I can think of no other person more deserving of an honor like this recognizing Dale’s myriad contributions to the City of Reinbeck.”

Wambold’s dedication the last five years to reinvigorating the previously somewhat beleaguered Reinbeck Lions Club – whose motto is ‘We Serve!’ – is probably what he is best known for these days among those in Reinbeck and beyond.

“Five years ago when I joined, [the Lions Club] had, maybe, like 10 guys and a total bank account balance of $300,” Wambold said. “We now have a membership of over 44 people and over $10,000 in the bank. This fiscal year – from January to now – we’ve given over $8,000 to the community [for various causes].”

Wambold said during his teaching years, he was always too busy to join a service organization like the Lions Club but upon retirement in 2019, a Lions Club member reached out and asked him to stop by a meeting.

“Come on down and join us, [they said], have a free meal. It was once I saw where [the direction of the Reinbeck Lions Club] was going, I felt we needed a kick in the butt. And that kick in the butt was this flag business.”

By ‘flag business,’ Wambold refers to the Reinbeck Lions Club’s yearly fundraiser ‘Flags Over Reinbeck’ which places American flags at residents’ homes five times a year courtesy of a $50 annual fee. The venture has been wildly successful.

“I did my homework,” Wambold continued. “I talked to Charles City, Winterset, Grimes … they all said it’s good a fundraiser. And it was an easy fundraiser, too, because it was during the COVID years when you couldn’t have pancake breakfasts.”

In just the first year alone, Wambold said, the fundraiser exceeded all expectations.

“I thought, if we could get 20 or 30 flags in the ground, we’d have a shot. Well, that [first] year we had 80 people that wanted to have those flags.”

Last weekend, Wambold and his fellow Lions Club members placed 276 flags around Reinbeck for the Fourth of July week; the other four flag fundraiser holidays include Memorial Day, Flag Day, Labor Day, and Veterans Day. But as well-received as the flag fundraiser has been, it plays second fiddle to the fierce popularity of the Lions Club’s monthly bingo/trivia nights hosted fall through spring by The Dig Inn.

Just one example of a local project that has benefited greatly from the Lions Club’s fundraising over the past few years is the Reinbeck Public Library’s summer reading program, Director Oltman told the newspaper.

“Just seeing [the Lions Club’s] stats and finances over the last three years has been incredible,” Oltman commented. “The library relies on the Lions Club a lot. This summer, they are paying for the almost $800 dinosaur program, our ‘Last Huroar.’

The program — courtesy of Feller Express Dino Encounter of Nebraska — is set for Saturday, July 13, beginning at 10 a.m. at the Memorial Building. During the interactive program, participants will “meet” two life-size dinosaurs as well as interact with baby dinosaur puppets including a spinosaurus, stegosaurus, and pteranodon. Oltman said if attendance at the Last Huroar is anything like it’s been at her other summer reading activities this year, every square foot of space in the Memorial Building room will probably be filled.

“Enrollment this summer has been way up. Last year we had 197 people. We had 350 people at the kickoff this year. Numbers are just huge. And we couldn’t do it if the Lions [Club] didn’t help.”

Spotlight on Reinbeck

This week Thursday, as the Reinbeck 4th of July Grand Parade makes its way through town beginning at 1:30 p.m., Wambold and his family including his wife Sharon and their two young granddaughters, Gwenna Rae and Clara, will all be riding in style in a Shriners’ classic car as part of the Citizen Spotlight Award.

And as much as Wambold would like that spotlight to fall on anyone but him, he said he is honored to accept the award if it means the spotlight also illuminates his adopted hometown.

As Director Oltman spoke last week about the Last Huroar program, Wambold was seated next to her, smiling away and beaming with obvious pride. Helping nurture a community where young families want to live is something the Reinbeck Lions Club champions in everything they do, he later explained.

“Reinbeck has a lot to offer. Not just businesses but also parks and recreation. And we are a caring community. We are just a good, strong rural community.”

Bringing aboard young members from that good, strong rural community has been key to the Lion Club’s success as of late, Wambold further said.

“Some are even my former students. That’s what’s important – drawing in young people. I have a whole gamut of people who are putting their heads together to make this a better place.”

Several times during the hour-long interview last week, Wambold mentioned his Madison County upbringing – mostly because he was asked about it – and what it means to be ‘of Reinbeck’ but perhaps not necessarily ‘from Reinbeck.’

“I don’t have a grave up here,” Wambold said at one point, motioning toward a rain-splattered window behind him. “There’s no Wambolds in the town cemetery here. No one will remember me when I’m gone.”

But then he pivoted – much as he did five years ago following his second retirement – and said, “But they might remember what I did.”

Congratulations to Mr. Wambold on being the very first recipient of the Reinbeck Development Board’s Citizen Spotlight Award! A well-deserved honor!