The story of Lora and Russ Talbot is a classic success story about the significant attraction of Iowa State – not only to students and alumni but also to friends of the university. Neither of them ever attended Iowa State, yet here they are today: extremely proud to be Cardinal and Gold.
For Lora Howell, going on a blind date on New Year’s Eve was a new low.
But her friends Jane and Ed, who were dating, insisted she meet this guy from Wartburg College, Russ Talbot. They were sure Lora and Russ would be a great match. So she agreed to meet him. It was Dec. 31, 1966.
Of course, the evening was a huge success. Lora and Russ began to date. Russ transferred from Wartburg to the University of Iowa to convince Lora that he was the one she should marry.
And then, one evening in the fall of 1967, when Lora decided to help Russ improve his laundry skills, Russ popped the question.
“We were walking to a laundromat in Iowa City to have a lesson in laundry protocol. I was going to teach Russ to separate clothes by color so that he didn’t end up with pink underwear,” Lora remembers. “Instead, I ended up with a fiancé.”
The couple married in February 1968. Ed and Jane were in the wedding party. After the academic year ended, they both transferred to Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, where they received bachelor’s degrees, Lora in elementary education and Russ in business administration / economics.
A solid work ethic
Lora was born and raised in Belmond, Iowa. She has two older sisters. Lora started working at the age of 9 as a carhop at one of her parents’ businesses, Gov’s Drive-In. At the age of 12, she was promoted to being a waitress at their Mello Maid Café, a popular gathering place on Main Street. Lora also worked at her parents’ laundry and dry cleaning business and helped with the bookkeeping for her father’s jukebox locations. In her free time, Lora enjoyed riding her unicycle around town.
Russ grew up in Streator, Illinois. He has an older brother and two younger sisters. As a teenager, Russ worked detasseling corn, as a carhop and crew leader at a local drive-in, and as an usher and doorman at the movie theater.
Both Lora and Russ had parents who taught them the importance of hard work.
“At a fairly young age, we formed the beginnings of a solid work ethic, which stayed with us throughout our lives,” Lora said.
Their parents were also giving in nature and taught their children to save and plan for their future.
“Over time, this grew and developed into a hallmark of who we are and how we have conducted our personal, professional, and financial lives,” Russ said.
Early in their highly successful professional careers, Russ worked in the executive management training program of S.S. Kresge/Kmart Corporation in Waterloo while Lora taught first grade in the Wapsie Valley School District. In 1972, Russ was hired as a special agent for the Criminal Investigation Division of the Internal Revenue Service in Des Moines, a position he held for nearly 25 years. Lora worked for the Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System for more than 30 years as a retirement benefits counselor and as an executive officer. During that time, the Talbots lived in Ankeny, Iowa.
A philanthropic spirit
In the 1980s and ’90s, the Talbots became committed and active donors and volunteers with local organizations and activities.
“Our philanthropic spirit was energized, developed, cultivated, and put to good use,” Lora says.
The couple became involved in, among other organizations, the Friends of Iowa Public Television, the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation, the Very Special Arts Iowa, and the Animal Rescue League of Iowa. Their contributions were multi-faceted: they volunteered as well as making financial contributions.
Russ retired from the IRS in 1996. In 1998, Lora’s father suffered a stroke, and Russ volunteered to move to Belmond to help care for him. He continued to stay in Belmond to care for Lora’s mother until Lora retired in 2004.
By then, the Talbots were deeply involved in the Belmond community. They purchased Lora’s family’s property as well as two adjacent houses, which they later donated. In 2008 they decided to sell their house in Ankeny and make Belmond their retirement home.
In Belmond, their volunteer and philanthropic spirits are well known. They’ve served on boards and donated artwork. They’ve led, been involved with, and been major donors to highly successful capital campaigns for the public library, a scholarship foundation, school building project, and the local hospital. Two libraries are named in their honor.
Lora and Russ have demonstrated creative philanthropy. They are also not afraid to get their hands dirty when volunteering. They purchased a downtown property and donated it to the Library Foundation. Along with other volunteers, they salvaged and restored the property to be used as a temporary library and to later be sold by the Foundation. In addition, they purchased and donated a house to the Iowa River Players, a multi-community theatre in nearby Rowan, for them to sell as a fundraiser. For their longtime community support and extensive volunteer work, the Talbots were presented Belmond’s Outstanding Community Service Award in 2007.
The Talbots are a team but, surprisingly, they don’t always agree on where their time and money should be spent.
“Some people think we’re completely alike, that we’re joined at the hip,” Lora said. “It helps that we are at our best working as a team, but we’re quite different, especially when it comes to risk or determining the projects we want to support. We’ll weigh the pros and cons and talk things through before making a joint decision.”
Before the age of 40, the Talbots established endowed scholarships at Wartburg College, their alma mater. Their contributions to Iowa State, a university they first “discovered” in 1998, are many. In fact, they say, Iowa State has become their main philanthropic focus. Between trips to Ames and their involvement in Belmond activities, the couple stays busy – but flexible.
“Throughout our lives, we have worked hard. We started early in our marriage to plan and systematically save for the future. We have invested wisely over the years,” Russ says.
“Our focus has been on thinking and acting long term, not for immediate rewards,” Lora says. “As we reflect on our lives and see how we have been richly blessed with success, wonderful health, and good fortune, we understand that we have a responsibility to share and give back, to help others, and do what we can to make the world a better place in which to live. All of this gives us great happiness. We have experienced the joy of giving time and time again.”
Lora and Russ emphasize, “We have tried to live in the same way we now advise young people at Iowa State and in our community to emulate: ‘Think big! Set goals! Work hard!”