The Story County GOP honored volunteer extraordinaire, the late Wendy Jensen, with a chili dinner Monday night in Story City. Jensen was an avid Republican who devoted countless hours of time for the campaigns of Congressman Tom Latham, Governor Branstad, presidential hopefuls John McCain, Tim Pawlenty and Rick Santorum, and GOP candidates up and down the ticket.
Jensen made more than 100,000 phone calls on behalf of Republicans between 2007-2011. She was a member of the Story County central committee. Jensen was also a very sweet lady who touched many lives, including mine.
Here are my thoughts on the first Wendy Jensen Memorial Chili Dinner:
The Food: Chili, obviously. Lots of different types. I tried a few different ones and they were all good. Some interesting toppings were provided, too. Along with the standard crackers and cheese, nacho chips, jalapenos and other interesting accoutrement were provided. Some tasty cupcakes and brownies were available for dessert. Good stuff.
The Setting: The Story City Community Center provided the ideal location. The size of the room was perfect and the central committee did a great job setting up the event. Behind the podium was a U.S. flag that Wendy Jensen had donated to the Ames Victory Office. Two Story County GOP posters hung to each side of the flag, providing a nice backdrop.
More important was the impressive display honoring Jensen that greeted attendees after checking in. It included several pictures of her posing with a veritable who’s who of prominent Republicans, including Sarah Palin, John McCain, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Tim Pawlenty, as well as several prominent Iowa Republican officials. There were also hand-written notes about Jensen from Governor Branstad, Tom Latham, Pawlenty and Santorum, as well as an official proclamation from the Republican National Committee.
The Crowd: About 10 of Wendy Jensen’s family members were there. One of them travelled all the way from Washington. This was a special night for Wendy and I’m sure her family was touched by the incredible outpouring of praise for their late loved one.
Overall, there were around 100 attendees, mostly from Story County and the surrounding area. Several Iowa State College Republicans were on hand. Notable attendees included State Auditor Mary Mosiman, U.S. Senate candidates Sam Clovis, Scott Schaben and Matt Whitaker, State Senator Amy Sinclair, House Rep. Chip Baltimore, RNC National Committeeman Steve Scheffler, and several local officials.
I was most pleased to see longtime Hamilton County GOP activists David and Becky Kepler. About 19 months ago, doctors gave Dave 12-18 months to live. He’s still fighting and seeing him there made an already emotional evening even more so. We’re still praying for you, David!
The Event: Story County GOP Chair Dane Nealson was very close to Wendy Jensen and he put a lot of time an effort into making the event special. Dane succeeded.
After everyone grabbed some chili, handwritten notes from Governor Branstad, Congressman Latham, Rick Santorum and Tim Pawlenty were read aloud by their former campaign staffers. I read the one from Branstad, and to be honest, got a little choked up. I thought the reading of the notes added a nice touch. Governor Branstad called Wendy Jensen “one of the very best political volunteers of all-time”.
The highlight of the event was an 8-minute tribute video honoring Jensen. It was well produced and included comments from three of the people who knew her best. You can view it below:
The Speeches: All three U.S. Senate candidates in attendance provided basic stump speeches. Sam Clovis, Scott Schaben and Matt Whitaker each did a good job, I thought. They kept their speeches under 10 minutes and they were all fairly well received. However, nothing really stood out that separated one from the other.
I did find it interesting that on the eve of a likely federal government shutdown, none of them specifically addressed that issue, but did spend significant time talking about the federal government.
The two best speeches of the night were delivered by Senator Amy Sinclair and Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds. Sinclair, who is from Allerton in southern Iowa, was invited to the event two and a half hours from her district because she has a history with Ames Democrat Herman Quirmbach, a fellow state senator. Quirmbach tried to belittle Sinclair on the senate floor during the 2013 session. Story County Republicans are targeting the ultra-liberal Quirmbach in 2014.
Sen. Sinclair’s speech was quirky, fiery and strong. I think Quirmbach angered the wrong woman and it’s going to come back to haunt him:
Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds capped off the evening very well by bringing the discussion back to Wendy Jensen. She provided some personal stories of her experiences with Jensen during the 2010 campaign. It was a great way to conclude the event.
Overall: During the event, I pictured Wendy Jensen looking down on us, blushing, and occasionally giggling in her unique, mischievous laugh. She would be extremely proud that so many people still miss her very much and would participate in an event in her honor. Congratulations to Dane Nealson and the entire Story County GOP for a job very well done.
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