A (Cyclone) golf life


By Kate Bruns

In 2012, Nick Voke emailed about 50 American collegiate golf coaches to see if anyone might be interested in working with an up-and-coming Kiwi. Voke, who grew up in Auckland, New Zealand with parents who couldn’t tell a hook from a slice, had used the sticks Mum and Dad reluctantly purchased to golf his way into the World Junior Golf Championship and was now facing the potential of turning a childhood hobby into a fruitful career.

Five years later, Voke (’17 kinesiology & health) found himself golfing in New Zealand once again – this time in the Asia-Pacific Amateur Golf Championship, where he rubbed elbows with some of golf’s biggest names while serving as an ambassador for the host country. Voke’s father, who still doesn’t know a draw from a fade, saw his son in his element: as one of the country’s biggest sports stars, surrounded by cameras and crowds, representing New Zealand at press conferences and publicity events.

“He said he was a proud chap,” Voke remembers, “which was quite nice to hear.”

The golden-headed lad Voke’s father remembers schlepping to youth golf meets had transformed into a soon-to-be pro. It happened 7,940 miles away, thanks to a reply to one of those hopeful emails.

Andrew Tank, then in his second year at the helm of the Iowa State men’s golf program, offered Voke a scholarship. Without having ever set foot in Ames, Iowa, Voke accepted – and tucked an extra dose of blind faith in his golf bag.

Today, Ames has become a special place to Voke. It’s not only a place he considers a home away from home, but a place he’d someday like to call a long-term home. It’s a place where he rewrote the Iowa State golf record books, where he earned academic all-Big 12 accolades while studying kinesiology and health, where he overcame a potentially career-ending injury after a freshman-year longboarding accident, and where he found the coaches — Tank and assistant coach Chad Keohane — he says will be his mentors for life.

“What’s allowed me to succeed has just been having coaches who were so honest and open and willing to do things to help you succeed,” Voke says. “If you combine the facility we have here and the coaches, I haven’t seen a better combination in America. It truly is a phenomenal place to develop.”

Voke’s impact on the Iowa State golf program was immediate, as he broke ISU’s rookie scoring mark and notched four top-10 finishes as a freshman. And once he recovered from his accident, things only got better for Voke on the course. He left Ames as an honorable-mention Ping All-American and ISU’s all-time career stroke average leader (71.89). As a senior, he led the Cyclones to a national championship berth by shooting a jaw-dropping, school-record 61 as the NCAA Austin Regional individual medalist.

“That was the second time we made it to nationals in four years, and what a great group of guys to share that with,” remembers Voke, who seems more gratified by the team achievement than by the individual performance that turned heads across the country. “That was probably the pinnacle of my time [at Iowa State].”

As Voke prepares to move from a collegiate amateur to a touring professional, he reflects with great admiration on the unique team aspect of the college game. “College golf is very cool. You take all your own individual ambitions and funnel them toward a collective purpose,” Voke says. “If we’re all collectively doing our thing to better the program, then that’s the ultimate thing. My favorite Greek proverb reminds us that society grows great when wise men plants trees whose shade they’ll never see. If in 10 or 20 years’ time we can understand that we were an influential part of helping the program rise, then that’s our great responsibility.”

Voke sees the Iowa State golf pro-gram as well-positioned to become one of the nation’s best, not just because of the proverbial trees he and his teammates planted but because of the leadership of the program and the quality of university it represents.

“[Iowa State] is a place where, if you put your head down, do the best you can, you can have a happy day. The community packs Jack Trice, it packs Hilton, it support all sports. They genuinely love this place – they support the athletic pursuit to be the best, the academic drive, and the desire to improve not just individual students but also to improve society. The culture is special.”

img_7998Voke finished in a tie for 10th Oct. 29 at the Asia-Pacific Amateur, an event he would go on to say was officially his last as an amateur golfer. In November, he finished just out of qualifying at the Web.com Tour Q School second round at TPC Craig Ranch in McKinney, Texas, so he now plans to make his professional debut on the Austalasian Golf Tour in 2018.

“It’s a good place to learn the trade and almost like an apprenticeship to become a tour professional,” Voke says of the Australasian. “There aren’t a lot of big purses, but it’s certainly a good stepping stone.”

Voke says there are many paths he can follow to achieving his ultimate dream of playing on the PGA Tour, leading with his long-consistent reputation for strong ball-striking and iron play.

“The best way to describe my game right now is that it’s pretty solid,” Voke says. “I know that if I putt and drive well, I’ll shoot well. I’ve had a big emphasis on those two components lately.”

And along the way, no matter where he is, Voke knows he can rely on the support of the Iowa State community – even in the middle of rural Japan, where an opponent’s caddy recently remarked on the Cyclone emblem emblazoned on his golf bag.

“Wherever I go to compete, I hear ‘Go, Cyclones’ from the crowd,” Voke says. “It gets me pretty pumped up and excited. If you’re proud to be a Cyclone, they’re always happy to cheer for you.”

This article was originally published in VISIONS magazine. To receive the full issue delivered to your mailbox four times per year, become a member of the ISU Alumni Association.


The Landowners

Who owns the 200,000+ acres of prime Iowa land that helped finance the beginnings of Iowa State University? ISU Extension and Outreach is connecting with landowners and telling their stories.

Here are three of those stories.


Butcher Family

Bob Butcher (A)(’74 animal science) of Holstein, Iowa, attended the ISU Extension and Outreach Land-Grant Legacy celebration at the Clay County Fair in 2016 thinking it might be interesting. What he didn’t know was how involved he would become in the project.

“I thought, ‘Well, I’ll just see what this is about.’ They were talking about different farms that were legacy farms, and they said, ‘Come back and look at the map of where all these farms are.’ So, I went back there thinking maybe I’d know somebody or at least a neighboring county, but the closer I got, I’m like, ‘There’s Hwy. 20, there’s 59, and that’s kind of where we are,’ and I got closer and closer, and then I was looking at the township map and we’re three down and two over and it was just unbelievable! The whole section lit up where we live.”

The Butcher family has owned land-grant parcels in Ida County since 1901 when Bob’s great-grandfather, Robert L. “Jake” Butcher purchased the land.

Bob’s father, Robert, and mother, Betty, raised pure-bred hogs on the farmland, then added a dairy herd and sold milk. They had two chicken houses, selling both the eggs and the chickens.

“We were diversified,” Betty said. At age 90, she’s still regarded as the best cook in the family.

Bob and his two sisters, Renea Ogren (’80 home ec ed) and Ronda Edwards (’85 dietetics), grew up on the farm.

“It was a typical farm,” Bob says. “We had cows and chickens.”

“And lambs and a big garden,” Renea adds.

“Dad was progressive.”

Both siblings give credit to 4-H and to Iowa State. The Butchers are Cyclones through and through: Bob has four children, all of whom graduated with ISU degrees – Katie Merrill (A)(’02 logistics), Wendy Weber (’04 elem ed), Andrew Butcher (’08 ag studies), and Ben Butcher (’10 ag studies). He has eight grandchildren and is married to Connie Butcher.

Bob and his two sons run a cattle operation, and he’s also president and CEO of Community Bank in Holstein. Long involved on the 4-H Foundation Board and with other community projects in Holstein, Bob also took the lead in bringing together landowners in Ida County to help ISU Extension and Outreach identify the land-grant parcels in their area.

“We invited all the landowners in Ida County that owned legacy land, and there were lots of them,” Bob said. “We probably had 50 or 60 people there.”

Ida County is the first Iowa county to have all of its land-grant landowners identified.


Maxwell Family

Helen Logan Maxwell’s father instilled in her that if you had Iowa land you’d probably never go hungry.

Helen’s family owned land in Iowa’s Woodbury County, but didn’t farm it themselves. They lived in the town of Moville, where her father, Charlie Logan, was a local banker. He purchased the land after the Great Depression and paid farm workers to
raise crops, hogs, and cattle.

Helen (L) attended Iowa State, graduating in 1951 with a degree in child development. She met Earl “Doc” Maxwell (L) on campus; he earned a DVM in 1949, and the couple married in 1951. They settled in Moville and bought land from Helen’s father. Doc set up a veterinary practice, while Helen kept the family’s books and worked in the local bank.

They had four children – Stee Maxwell (L)(’78 DVM), Chantry DeVries (L)(‘78 English & history), Tad Maxwell (L) (’80 ag biz), and Reed Maxwell – and were named ISU Parents of the Year in 1977.

But despite the family’s close connection to Iowa State, it came as a total surprise that the land that had been in the family for more than 70 years was a part of the university’s land-grant legacy.

“We got a call from Iowa State saying they wanted to come up here,” Helen explained. “They wanted us to get the deed out because they thought we might be one of the ones” who owned a land-grant parcel.

And, in fact, the first page of the abstract recited the Morrill Act.

“It’s right in the deed, and that’s the first we ever knew of it,” Doc said.

“They were really excited to see it right in the deed,” Helen continued. “We didn’t have a clue. If my father was alive, I’d know a lot more. I think my dad would be real proud that he purchased this farm.”


Doolittle Family

For Pam Holt Doolittle, who went to Iowa State some 50 years ago, it was one thing to know she was attending a land-grant university, but quite another to own a piece of its history.

“You knew and you always heard it was a land-grant college, but you never really knew what it meant,” she said. “It’s been interesting finding that out, and to now be part of it is really neat.”

Pam (’67 sociology) married Dennis Doolittle (attd. ’62-66), whose father, Don, owned the first land-grant parcel deeded in Hamilton County. Dennis farmed the land beginning in 1969. Son Eric graduated from Iowa State in 1996 in ag business and took over the farming business that year.

“I never wanted to be a farmer,” Eric said. “I went to Iowa State, and halfway through college I decided to farm. I guess once you live in town for a while you realize how much you want out of it. That’s kind of how I felt.”

Eric’s younger brother, Grant, graduated from Iowa State in 1999 in liberal studies and is a physician in Ames.

Krystal Doolittle, Eric’s wife, did not attend Iowa State, but she’s become an integral part of the ISU Extension and Outreach Land- Grant Legacy project. An active advocate for agriculture, she’s provided stories, photography, and videography for the project’s website.

“When the Extension staff came out and met with Eric and me and Eric’s uncle and grandfather, I snapped some pictures and asked if I could write a blog post about it because I thought it was kind of a neat story,” Krystal said. “Then they said they were looking for somebody who is a part of one of the land-grant farms to help tell the story, so it worked out really well.”


Iowa State’s Land-Grant Heritage


Who owns the 200,000+ acres of prime Iowa land that helped finance the beginnings of Iowa State University? ISU Extension and Outreach is connecting with landowners and telling their stories.

By Carole Gieseke

Ray Hansen’s a-ha! moment came during an Emerging Leaders Academy meeting.

Hansen (’83 ag ed, MS ’03), an Iowa State Extension director of value-added agriculture, was listening to an ISU history lecture by retired professor of sociology Gerald Klonglan when his ears perked up. Klonglan was explaining the process of identifying the land granted to support the young land-grant college back in the 1800s. Like so many people, Hansen didn’t fully understand where the land came from and how the profit from the sales came back to Iowa State.

“I understood the land-grant concept and mission, but I had no idea that it was 200,000-plus acres,” Hansen said. “Until I heard Gerald speak, I didn’t realize the massiveness of the land that was used in the land-grant process.”

Hansen pondered this bit of information but didn’t do anything with it for a couple of years, he said, “because I thought I was the only person that didn’t realize how big it was.” But then, during a chance meeting with an Iowa State colleague, an idea was formed to plot the original parcels of land on a map.

The Land-Grant Legacy Project was born.

Our land-grant history
Ray Hansen and his ISU Extension and Outreach colleagues now knew the scope of land involved, and they already had boots on the ground in every county in Iowa State’s Extension offices. They were eager to learn more.

But first, it’s important to understand the basic timeline of Iowa State’s beginnings, because there’s still a lot of confusion:

  • March 22, 1858: Iowa’s legislature established the Iowa Agricultural College and Model Farm.
  • June 21, 1859: Ames is chosen as the site of the new college.
  • 1859: The original college farm of 648 acres is purchased from Story and Boone County landowners (note that this happened BEFORE the land-grant act).
  • July 2, 1862: President Abraham Lincoln signs the Morrill Land-Grant Act, providing parcels of land to the states to create colleges that would provide instruction in agriculture and mechanic arts, based on science and open to all.
  • July 3, 1862: Iowa Gov. Samuel J. Kirkwood calls a special session of the legislature, saying that Iowa needs to be first in line so it can get the very best available land.
  • Sept. 11, 1862: The Iowa legislature officially accepts the provisions of the Morrill Act, the first state in the nation to do so.
  • September 1862 – January 1863: Peter Melendy, appointed by Gov. Kirkwood to implement the selection of the land, travels to northwest Iowa to view the available land parcels (state apportionment was based on the 1860 census).
  • March 29, 1864: Iowa legislature approves the land-grant funds to the Iowa Agricultural College and Model Farm in Ames.
  • Oct. 1, 1868: The first students arrive at the new agricultural college for “preparatory training.”
  • March 17, 1869: Iowa Agricultural College is formally opened for the admission of students; the class contains 136 men and 37 women coming from 55 Iowa counties.

So, that’s the creation story in a nutshell. The part of the story that so intrigued Hansen and his colleagues is the tidbit about Peter Melendy selecting the land. This is a story that really hadn’t been told before.

Brandon Duxbury (MA ’17 history), a graduate assistant and PhD candidate in Iowa State’s Department of History, was brought on the project to research the historical aspects of the land-grant story. Like most people, Duxbury’s knowledge of the land-grant process was limited, and flawed.

“To be honest, coming into it, I had no idea,” he said. “When I heard ‘land-grant institution’ I never even asked myself what it meant. I just assumed the land that campus sits on is the land-grant. Come to find out, it’s a lot more interesting than that. There’s a lot more land involved, and it’s nowhere near the actual campus.”

He learned that Melendy – an Ohio native, cattle breeder, and future mayor of Cedar Falls – was on the original board of trustees for the college and model farm between 1858 and 1862. When Congress passed the Morrill Act, the state of Iowa already had a framework in place, so it was able to act very quickly.

Melendy’s assignment was to evaluate all the unclaimed federal land in Iowa and claim the finest 200,000-plus acres on behalf of the state. He acted fast, spending a month in Ames and Des Moines going over surveyors’ maps and notes to learn what might be the prime agricultural land with the highest values.

“Then he spent two months traveling around northwest Iowa, meeting with federal land agents, meeting with people who had local knowledge of the area, and he selected about 1,240 quarter sections of 160 acres each,” Duxbury explained. “The land he chose represented the best ground at the time, with very specific parameters: high, well-drained slope soils, access to open water, close to transportation. They wanted the first settlers to be successful so they could recruit new settlers.”

Traveling mostly on horseback, the parcels of land he chose were scattered throughout northwest Iowa in counties like Kossuth, Palo Alto, Emmet, Clay, and Ida – 27 counties in all.

Why northwest Iowa? Because much of eastern Iowa had already been settled.

“Melendy did it very fast, because that’s what the governor wanted, and the legislature was in agreement,” said Klonglan (L)(’58 rural sociology, MS ’62, PhD ’63), who is also a retired assistant dean for national programs in the ISU College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and assistant director of the Agriculture and Home Economics Experiment Station.

Within a few years, the land Melendy identified began producing income for the Iowa Agricultural College and Model Farm to fund its infrastructure, buildings, and faculty hires.

The people behind the land
Fast forward to today. While the settlers who moved onto the 160-acre parcels of land in northwest Iowa in the 1800s may or may not have known that their land payments were helping finance the ag college in Ames, today’s current landowners certainly did not know.

“I don’t think when people bought the ground it made any difference to them that it was used to fund Iowa State or that there was any personal connection at that time,” Hansen said. “They weren’t doing it because of that; they were doing it because it was cherry picked as the best ground available. They were more interested in the quality of the land.”

Duxbury went to state archives in Des Moines and to county historical societies and museums in northwest Iowa, uncovering historical documents that tell the history of the land-grant act in these small parcels of land.

“I think the most fascinating part to me is looking at the people involved within the history,” Duxbury said. “That’s what makes history interesting – people can sit down and read a couple of paragraphs on the Morrill Land-Grant Act, but when you start looking at the individuals involved, that’s what gets people connected to it.”

Once the land parcels had been confirmed and plotted on a map, ISU Extension and Outreach staffers began personally reaching out to landowners, county by county, to inform them of their connections to Iowa State’s history and, in turn, to learn more about the history of the land.

“Once we had the map, it kind of added the ‘wow’ factor,” Hansen said.

The first public unveiling of the project occurred in September 2016, when families in 13 northwest Iowa counties – who own all or part of a quarter-section of land that was first leased or sold under the terms of the Morrill Act – shared their family stories at the Iowa Land-Grant Legacy celebration at the Clay County Fair.

Bob Butcher (A)(’74 animal science) of Holstein was at that celebration, and his reaction to learning he owned land-grant land was one of the highlights of the event for Ray Hansen.

“When we go to an event and somebody totally unexpected comes up and starts looking at the map, and they say, ‘Oh, my gosh, that’s my place!’ like Bob Butcher, those are great moments, when they find out for the first time.”

What started with a red square on a map had turned into a celebration of commonality between Iowans who care for the land.

“We want to let these land-owners know about their special connection to Iowa State and land-grant history,” Cathann Kress (A)(’83 social work), then vice president for extension and outreach, said last year before leaving Iowa State for another position. “We also hope they’ll share, for our archives, their history of growing up on this land and caring  for it.”

The Extension and Outreach staff, including regional directors and county staffers, have just begun to scratch the surface of what will be a long-term project that has the potential to bring communities together, engaging a whole new population of Iowans.

“I think it’s been a theme with most of the people we’ve talked to: After they get over the excitement of owning this parcel and understanding its history, they always talk about the legacy of it, with their family who’s owned it before, and what they plan to do with it in the future,” Duxbury said. “It’s like one big community, and they’re very proud of that.”

Additional reporting by ISU News Service and ISU Extension and Outreach

This article was originally published in VISIONS magazine. To receive the full issue delivered to your mailbox four times per year, become a member of the ISU Alumni Association.

Curriculum of opportunity


By Avery Amensen

Ask a human sciences student what a dream research project looks like, and you may hear the words “leading-edge,” “multi-generational,” “insightful,” and “comprehensive.” Enter the Family Transitions Project, an Iowa State-based research initiative that has focused on the evolution of families since 1989.

The project began as a study of rural families coping with the 1980s farm crisis, a severe recession that impacted the entire U.S. agriculture economy. The study focused on more than 500 adolescents, along with their siblings and parents. Since then, the project has kept up with the original subjects, wherever they’ve ended up, and their romantic partners and children, with researchers collecting information on their social, work, financial, and romantic lives, as well as genetic data. A grant from the National Institute on Aging is currently funding work focused on the original parents in the study.

Olivia Diggs, a second-year graduate student at Iowa State, works with Tricia Neppl, director of the Family Transitions Project, to help collect the data. “I chose to pursue human development and family studies because I am interested in the relationships between parenting behaviors and child outcomes,” Diggs said.

Studies like this are not only unique in structure, but they offer valuable insights. Researchers can assess how the participants’ relationships as couples have evolved and changed over time, helping them decipher why they make the decisions that they do. One of the biggest findings is called the “Family Stress Model,” referring to how economic pressures can impact the quality of romantic relationships, parenting skills, and child developmental outcomes.

Diggs is able to spend 20 hours per week on the groundbreaking project as a recipient of the Ruth and Vincent Mahoney Student Opportunity Fund. Richard Mahoney (L)(PhD ’11) and his wife, Lois Hartman, established the scholarship specifically to provide students with opportunities to pursue internships and research.

Learning opportunities beyond the classroom are a quintessential aspect of the Iowa State experience – yet without scholarships, many students would not be able to participate in them. That’s why student support is a key priority for the Forever True, For Iowa State campaign. Since the start of the campaign, donors have created more than 600 new undergraduate and graduate scholarships. Gifts to the ISU General Scholarship Fund – or to scholarship funds in each college – also make a well-rounded Iowa State experience possible for thousands of students each year.

Having a hands-on research role in such a unique and long-running study is precisely the type of opportunity that could also launch a career for Diggs. After completing graduate school and receiving both her master’s and doctoral degrees, she hopes to become a college professor at a top-tier research institution – where she could one day mentor students like herself.

“Being a Cyclone is about embracing all of the opportunities this school offers,” Diggs said. “It’s about disseminating the knowledge and skills learned here on campus to take the world by storm.”

This article was originally published in VISIONS magazine. To receive the full issue delivered to your mailbox four times per year, become a member of the ISU Alumni Association.

The (big) sky’s the limit at French Conservation Camp


By Steve Sullivan

After hiking a richly forested Montana mountain range, a team from Iowa State gathered around a campfire to make s’mores.

That’s when the moose made its dramatic entrance. The great beast bounded down a path, stopping briefly to glance at the stunned s’more-makers before plunging into a nearby pond.

Wild moments like this make the new Rod and Connie French Conservation Education Camp a dream classroom for ecology-minded Iowa State students.

The camp was established in 2016 through a $4.1 million gift of a ranch owned by Connie French, of Des Moines, and her late husband, Rod, longtime supporters of and donors to Iowa State. The 50-acre former resort is now a learning facility that is preparing students for environmental careers.

At the camp, students “learn about ecology hands-on, in a natural setting. There’s no better way to learn this material,” said Jennifer Schieltz, camp director and lecturer with Iowa State’s Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management (NREM).”

“This is definitely the most hands-on experience I’ve ever had in any of my classes. We’re using methods that professionals use,” said Drew Jaspers, an animal ecology major who was part of the camp’s first class last summer. “The experience has been way beyond all my expectations.”

The camp is about 50 miles west of Missoula and nestled at the foot of the Bitterroot Mountains, part of the Lolo National Forest in western Montana. The forest is blanketed with a variety of tree and plant species. The region has nearly 1,000 named streams, including Fish Creek, which runs through the camp. Fish Creek is home to several fish species, including bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout, both of which are endangered. The forest’s other denizens include wolves, bears, elk, deer, mountain lions and, yes, rambunctious moose.

Overseen by NREM, the camp was launched last summer with two courses: Wildlife Population Methods and Field Ecology. A Forest Fire Fuels Management course and a Fall Forestry Camp are planned for the future. All these courses have been specifically designed for the location and are open to students in any major at Iowa State.

“Most of our students come from the Midwest and are used to flat landscapes and managed environments, and the animals and plants that live around the  region,” said Mike Rentz, an NREM lecturer who co-teaches the Wildlife Population Methods class. “The camp requires them to learn concepts and processes and apply them in an entirely different ecosystem with different landscapes, and animals  and plants they’ve never seen before.”

A typical day involves brief lectures before the students go into the field. They might set up camera traps to monitor wildlife populations, survey ground cover and fallen trees to determine available wildlife habitat, or examine trees to compare a burned population to one that’s unburned. Some of their work will provide valuable information for Montana state officials.

“You’re surrounded by whatever you’re working on that day,” said Collin Alfers, an animal ecology major who was among camp’s first students. “It’s total immersion – as if you have a job in the field you hope to go into.”


This article was originally published in VISIONS magazine. To receive the full issue delivered to your mailbox four times per year, become a member of the ISU Alumni Association.

Pete’s Feat


Pete Kostelnick’s 3,067-mile journey to break a 36-year record for the fastest run across America

By Carole Gieseke

It seems like an unbelievable achievement: Running 72 miles a day for six weeks – the equivalent of nearly three marathons every day – through desert heat and mountain snow, along empty roadways and on busy streets, from San Francisco to New York City, to break  a record that’s stood for 36 years.

Ultra-runner Pete Kostelnick (’09 international business/finance) accomplished the remarkable feat last fall, running 3,067 miles in 42 days, 6 hours, and 30 minutes, breaking the long-standing cross-country record by four days.

“People always ask me why I did it,” Kostelnick said. “I think it was just kind of the nature of the competitiveness in me and wanting to break a record, [combined
with] my love of travel and seeing the country. Road trips are my thing. It was a fantasy I wanted to live out.”

Simple – but competitive
We met up with Kostelnick last summer – eight months after his record-setting run across America – at his parents’ house in rural Boone, Iowa. When we arrived at 6:30 a.m., Kostelnick had already logged an 11-mile run, but he looked fresh if not quite relaxed. Routinely running 200 miles (about 40 hours) each week on top of working around 50 hours a week, you have to wonder: Does he ever relax?

“Oh, yeah,” he said. “I’m a pretty simple person. I like to just kick back, lounge, have some beers, talk to people. I think with all the running I do, sometimes it’s nice to just be still for a while.”

But it takes a driven personality to do what Kostelnick has done. He ran track and cross country in high school but did not compete at Iowa State. He continued to run recreationally, mainly to keep his weight down.

Before the run across America, he’d competed in shorter races – 5Ks, 10Ks, half-marathons, and marathons – and eventually found his groove in ultra-
distance road races. He was the first person to run an entire 423-mile RAGBRAI route – Iowa’s iconic bicycle event – in 2013.

He’s finished (and won several) 100-mile and 24-hour races, running as many as
163 miles in one 24-hour period.

After finishing the grueling Badwater 135-mile ultramarathon in 2014, Kostelnick won the race in 2015 and broke the course record in 2016. That event is described
as “the world’s toughest foot race,” with a 135-mile course starting at 279 feet
below sea level in Death Valley and ending at an elevation of 8,360 feet at Mount Whitney. Adding to the length and elevation, weather conditions during the summer race are especially extreme, with temperatures often rising above 100 degrees.


The run for the record
Kostelnick trained for the arduous run across America with 30-mile-a-day training and the accumulated effect of building his legs up gradually over the past decade.

“I think the main thing I had going for me was that I was prepared to do it,” he said, sitting at his parents’ kitchen table. “There are some people who have gone for the record, and they’ve tried doing it on running 10 miles a day. You’re just not going to be able to train that little and all of a sudden magically run 70 miles a day.”

He credits his professional support crew of four, who handled all the logistics – the public relations, the route planning, the medical assistance, and the meals – with keeping him healthy and allowing him to do just one thing: run. He points specifically to one team member, licensed sports massage therapist Cinder Wolff, who not only drove the RV in which he ate his meals and slept each night but also cooked the meals and gave him much-needed therapeutic massages each day.

Nutrition was a huge part of his ability to run long distances each day, he said. During his high-mileage training, Kostelnick routinely consumed 5,000 calories each day, and that number jumped to 10,000 or more during the run across America.

“Essentially, I was burning 100 calories a mile on top of just normal calorie needs, so I was burning well over 10,000 calories most days,” he said. “I think training my body to be able to rapidly digest calories and turn them over into energy was huge going into the run, because for a lot of people that’s a big struggle – they kind of go into a death march in ultramarathons because they can’t keep food down. But for me it wasn’t an issue at all. So that, and then Cinder just cooked really good, nutritious meals.”

Run, eat, sleep, repeat
During the run across America, Kostelnick’s daily routine did not vary. He woke each day at 3:30 a.m. and hit the road by 4 o’clock. At around 11 a.m., after running about 40 miles, he met up with the RV and ate lunch. After a half-hour break, in which Wolff massaged and stretched his muscles, he got on the road again and ran another 30-35 miles. He tried to finish the day’s run by 5:30 or 6 p.m., eat a high-protein dinner in the RV, get a 30-minute massage, and fall into bed.

The first mile of the day, he said, was always the hardest. Sometimes his legs were so stiff that he had to be helped out of bed. The first mile was little more than a shuffle. But after that, he said, those early morning hours were some of the best.

“It’s a little daunting to know that you have 60 to 70 miles left, but the first 20 in the dark are peaceful,” he said. “Sometimes you’re running at 4:30 in the morning on a deserted highway in Nevada and you haven’t seen a car drive by in two hours, and it’s just like, ‘Wow.’ Running through ranch land, which I was for a lot of the run, I’d look to my left with my headlamp and I’d see a cow staring back at me. It was just kind of unreal; it’s you’re on like Mars. [At one point] in Nevada, there wasn’t a single gas station or anything for over two days. It was just nothing on top of nothing.”

During the run, a support vehicle leap-frogged ahead every mile or two, providing food and water. But even with a support crew nearby, the run was all his. He battled snowstorms in Utah, 35-mile-per-hour winds across the plains, high elevations, and desert heat.

Kostelnick said he always looked forward to the last 10 miles of the day when, if his pace had been fast enough throughout the rest of the day, he could slow down to a walk and enjoy the scenery. It allowed him to reset his mind, look at his surroundings, and “not be in go-mode anymore.”


A ‘self-healing body’
Pounding the pavement with 120,000 to 130,000 steps each day took a toll on Kostelnick’s body. Even with his high-level training, during the run across America he suffered from badly bruised feet, tight hamstrings, a swollen knee, tendonitis, and minor injuries from two falls. And yet, he completed the run despite the physical challenges.

Warren Franke, ISU professor of kinesiology, said Kostelnick must have an exceptional combination of good genes, good training, and mental toughness.

“The repetition involved with taking this many steps over this many days would almost invariably lead to an overuse injury in most people,” he said. “The fact that nothing severe enough to hinder him occurred is a testament to good genes.

He also must have prepared adequately. The endurance aspect of running this
distance every day is incredible. The enzymatic ‘machinery’ in the skeletal muscles needs to ‘work’ for a very long time for him to run this distance. The physical trauma of running this cumulative distance would have crippled most runners.”

Franke continued: “Finally, the mental toughness needed to stick this out is incredible. Many people can ‘gut things out’ for a brief period, but he did it for 42 days knowing what it’d feel like at the end of the day but getting up and running that distance day after day.”

In an article in Runner’s World magazine, Wolff said that one of Kostelnick’s most remarkable traits, and one of the biggest keys to his ultrarunning success, was his “self-healing body.” His ankles swelled during the first week, forcing him to rest a full 24 hours on Day 7. He suffered through shin splints and inflamed joints. One week his knee was twice its normal size; two days later the swelling was gone. His body recovered, and he journeyed on.

After the run ended last fall, Kostelnick’s legs were swollen and tight. He didn’t get back into the groove of running until April of this year, when he began competing again. He ran a 24-hour race and the 2017 Badwater 135 back-to-back during the summer.

09/13/2016 - Pete Kostelnick. California.Photo By Zandy Mangold

What’s next for the ultramarathon man?
Now that Kostelnick has crushed one of the oldest ultrarunning records recognized by Guinness World Records and broken the course record for Badwater 135, what’s next for this singularly driven young runner?

“I’m all about doing something better than I did it before,” he said. “I think with running, it became way more than just checking off a bucket list. When I did my first marathon, I just wanted to do it, but when I did the second one it became, ‘All right, if you’re going to keep doing them, and you’re going to have to keep doing them better.’ When I realized I wasn’t going to get much faster in a marathon, that’s when I started going further, because I couldn’t go faster.

“I definitely have a very competitive mind-set, not necessarily with others but just with myself,” he continued. “I’m never really satisfied with looking in the rear-view mirror. I like to look forward to new things.”

He says he’d like to do more 100-mile and 24-hour races. And there’s a six-day run record he’d like to break someday.

But he’s in no hurry.

“Ultrarunning is a sport that you can be very good at for quite a while,” he said. “Your peak window is much wider than most other sports. I’d love to keep doing it for a long time.”

Sidebar: About Pete Kostelnick
  • Born and raised in Boone, Iowa
  • Graduated from Boone High School
  • Earned a 2009 degree in international business and finance from Iowa State
  • Day job: Financial analyst for National Research Corporation
  • Parents are both teachers; mother Clare teaches at DMACC and father Charlie has been an ISU faculty member for more than 30 years
  • Now lives in Hannibal, Mo.
  • Married to Nicole Larson, a 2011 ISU chemical engineering grad
  • 8: The number of pairs of shoes he wore in his run across America
  • Sponsor: Athletics-shoe company Hoka One One
  • His guilty pleasure: Ice cream

Sidebar: What Pete Eats

Pete Kostelnick consumed 10,000-13,000 calories a day to provide fuel for
his run across America last fall. Here’s what he ate on a typical day:

  • First breakfast: oatmeal, toast, banana, protein shake
  • Second breakfast: Protein bar or trail mix, Gatorade
  • Brunch: Breakfast sandwich
  • Lunch: Foot-long sub sandwich, followed by something sweet and a big soda
  • Afternoon snacks: Sweetened dried pineapple and banana chips, Gatorade
  • Dinner: Steak and potatoes
  • Dessert: A pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream
  • On his nightstand: protein bars, water, juice, and animal crackers

Kostelnick often ate eggs, red meat, avocadoes, and high-calorie meals like
lasagna, tater-tot casserole, mac and cheese, and spaghetti. While he was
running, his body required nourishment every 20 minutes, and Kostelnick esti-
mates he almost never went more than two hours without eating for the entire six
weeks he was on the road, even waking up in the night to eat protein bars.
All the heavy meals did not weigh him down, however. “I’m really good at running
on a full stomach,” he said.


This article was originally published in VISIONS magazine. To receive the full issue delivered to your mailbox four times per year, become a member of the ISU Alumni Association.


A dark night in Hanoi

A chance encounter between two Iowans changes the course of many lives

By Kenneth Quinn

A casual conversation 40 years ago on a dark and empty street in post-war Hanoi led to a dramatic family reunification. But it was only a letter in 2016 that revealed that what began that night is truly a story with  a special Iowa State connection.

In March 1977, newly elected President Jimmy Carter, wanting to fulfill a campaign pledge he had made to address the remaining wounds of the Vietnam War, decided to send a special mission to Hanoi to begin the process of accounting for those military personnel whose bodies had not been recovered or whose fate remained uncertain. To that end, he asked Leonard Woodcock, the former head of the United Auto Workers Union, to lead a small but distinguished delegation.

This would be the first U.S. contact with the North Vietnamese government, following the capture of Saigon and the tragic end of the war in 1975. Even though I was still a relatively junior State Department officer, I had been added to the trip based on my six years of experience in Vietnam during the war, my prior service at the National Security Council, and my facility in the Vietnamese language (I had served as President Ford’s interpreter at meetings at the White House).

Before we left, the President convened a meeting in the Cabinet Room with Vice President Mondale and the entire traveling group. The President emphasized that we were going to Vietnam and Laos to inquire about our still-missing and not-yet-accounted-for POW/MIAs from the war.

In addition to using my language skills, I was also appointed as a diplomatic courier, so I could carry a sealed diplomatic pouch (a large orange bag) with an official seal. In it were our communication devices called one-time pads. These were encryption codes that were linked to an exact replica pad back in the State Department in Washington. It was an arduous, time-consuming, letter-by-letter process to create an encrypted message. For each letter in a word, I would have to look  up the substitute in the pad (“A” would become “J,” etc.)

As the code officer, it would be my job to translate the messages prepared by the delegation head into written messages that would just seem to be jibberish, and then transmit them in a commercial telegram back to Washington reporting on our trip. This was necessary because there was no American official presence in Vietnam with secure communications capability.

Hanoi in 1977 had very few signs of any economic activity. There were almost no shops, no market stalls or food for sale on the streets, no restaurants, and no bright signs or neon lights. The one and only sign lit up at night was the large portrait of Ho Chi Minh that sat atop the Vietnamese National Bank building, which was surrounded by lightbulbs.

Moreover, there was almost no automobile traffic, no motorbikes that were ubiquitous in South Vietnam, and almost no vehicle movement of any kind. The few people who were moving about were on bicycle. You literally could walk across any street without first looking in either direction without fear of being struck.

Following our two days of meetings, Woodcock wanted to send a message back to the President, reporting that the visit had gone very well. He had met with the North Vietnamese president Pham Van Dong, and we had been told that 10 sets of remains of American service members would be returned to us before we departed. It was very positive news.

So, I sat up at the hotel using the one-time code pad to encrypt the entire message. We had some clerical staff on the trip who then typed it up for me in  the code letters. Next I needed to walk  over to the telegraph office. It was about  11 p.m. Even though there was no real danger, one of the military officers on the trip, a young Air Force major, offered to go with me. His name was Paul Mather.

As we were walking along the broad, deserted streets of Hanoi, we made small talk. It turned out that, like me, he was from Iowa, from a small town called Greene. I explained that I had grown up in Dubuque. Next we were talking about our experiences during the war, and he said he had been stationed in Saigon when the war ended and was urgently evacuated out of the country. I told him what I had done during the war as an advisor in the Mekong Delta, adding that my wife was from Vietnam.


Paul Mather (center) with his wife, Loan, and their three children a few days after they arrived in Bangkok from Vietnam in September 1977.

And then, what Paul Mather said next literally stopped me in my tracks. He told me that he had a fiancé, a Vietnamese woman named Loan. When I asked him when they would be married, he said he didn’t know, because she was trapped in Saigon.

Standing there under only a dim street light, I turned to face him and asked, “Are you doing anything to get her out?” He replied that there was nothing that could be done and that the situation seemed hopeless. It appeared that they might never be reunited. I asked if he had discussed this with anyone on the trip. I said it was possible that the delegation could ask  the North Vietnamese to assist him.

I will never forget his reply. Paul said, “No, I could never put forward anything personal about myself that might in any way detract from or disrupt our mission. I just could not do that.”

I was moved by his devotion to duty and impressed by his selfless dedication to our mission. Walking through darkened Hanoi late at night, I thought to myself, “This is so admirable. Maybe I can help him.” So, after our stop at the telegraph office, I said to him, “Why don’t you tell me your fiancé’s full name, ID number, and address. Maybe I can do something.” Paul was hesitant, but I insisted, and eventually he agreed to give me the information.

The next day we were going to have  a final negotiating session with the Vietnamese delegation, and then after about an hour there would be a tea break, during which Woodcock and the senior Vietnamese official would go off alone in a corner and speak informally with just  the Vietnamese interpreter.

Before we departed to go to this meeting, I waited for the right moment to meet with Woodcock alone. I had to be sure that the more senior State Department officers didn’t see me, because in the State Department culture, a more junior officer like me shouldn’t be talking to the head of  delegation without his superior present. But there came a moment when I briefly had Woodcock alone.

Now, Woodcock didn’t know too much about me except from this trip, so I had to convince him of the merits of the case. I told him that I wanted to tell him about this terrific young Air Force officer on the trip, Paul Mather. I explained that he had
a Vietnamese fiancé trapped in Saigon, and I handed Woodcock the piece of paper that had Loan’s name and contact information in Saigon.

I then said to Woodcock, “The tone of everything on this trip is very positive. Watching the Vietnamese and listening  to them, I feel certain that they would like an opportunity to do something nice. They would like to be perceived as doing something special for you and the delegation. Letting Paul Mather’s fiancé leave  the country would be such a gesture.”

I emphasized to him that if he would personally and privately ask his Vietnamese counterpart to free her, there would be a very good chance it would happen.

Woodcock took all this on board, kept the paper, but didn’t really commit to doing anything. I thought I had given it my best shot. Later, after he had his private tête-à-tête with the senior Vietnamese  official, Woodcock privately said to me, “I gave it to him.” Later, I told Paul Mather about what I had done and what Woodcock had done.

We didn’t hear anything, and I began to think that nothing would come from my initiative. However, several months later, we were in Paris, and my boss, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, was now negotiating with the same official with whom Woodcock had interacted in Hanoi. When they had their first coffee break, the official told Holbrooke that he had good news for him – Miss Loan had been  given permission to leave Vietnam.

It would be difficult to overstate the gratitude Paul expressed to me when I passed on this news. For a few years, I used to get a Christmas card from Paul Mather and his family thanking me for getting his fiancé out so they could be married.

During the remainder of my diplomatic career, I continued to be involved in the effort to account for missing men from the Vietnam War, serving for four years as chairman of the U.S. government Inter-Agency Group on POW / MIA Affairs.

In that capacity, I returned to Hanoi on a number of occasions, including one where I personally negotiated in Vietnamese the first-ever access to a North Vietnamese prison to search for missing Americans who might still be alive.

Paul Mather worked on this same issue, culminating with his publishing a book in 1994 entitled M.I.A.: Accounting for the Missing in Southeast Asia. However, we gradually lost contact. After completing my service as American Ambassador  in Cambodia, I retired from the Foreign Service in 1999 and returned home to  Iowa to assume the leadership of the World Food Prize in Des Moines.

I didn’t think again about Paul Mather until I received a letter from him dated Dec. 10, 2016. It was in reading it that I learned about the Iowa State connection that runs like a thread through this entire story. Paul wrote:

“With the passage of time, I have come to realize that I never really adequately thanked you for your intervention, which led to many of the positive events in my life. It has been nearly 40 years since Loan and I were able to re-join…We married in Bangkok in September 1977, within three days of when she and her three children arrived there, compliments of you and Mr. Woodcock…”

Paul, who later confirmed for me that he was an R.O.T.C. graduate of Iowa State (’59 aero engr), explained in his letter that two of those three children also are Cyclone alumni. He wrote further that:

“…elder son Anh…[who] graduated from ISU at Ames [’84 comp & elect engr], has been a computer chip designer for Intel in Austin, Texas for many years…while younger son Thanh, also a graduate of ISU [’89 comp engr], is a software engineer with a company in Bellevue, Wash.”

Paul concluded the family update by sharing that their daughter Phung, the youngest, followed her Dad’s lead and is now a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force.

Reading that letter made me think about the small steps and moments that can have such significant ramifications on many individual lives. What if Paul Mather had not volunteered to walk with me to the telegraph office late that night? What if we had not talked about our Iowa backgrounds? Would Paul have still told me about his fiancé being stranded? What if Woodcock had turned down my request?

And, of course, what if I had just shrugged off the entire matter when Paul initially told me he was hesitant to have the issue raised? That I didn’t, I believe, reflects that special Iowa bond that I felt that night in Hanoi and my admiration for Paul Mather’s patriotism. That is what led to this family being reunited, able to live in freedom, and able to follow in Paul Mather’s footsteps onto the campus in Ames. What a wonderful Iowa State story!

About Kenneth Quinn:
Kenneth Quinn is president of the World Food Prize Foundation in Des Moines and a former U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia. In his role with the World Food Prize since 2000, he has worked closely with the ISU College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in implementing the Global Youth Institute for high school students. He retired from the State Department after a 32-year career in the Foreign Service, where he was a rural development officer in Vietnam, member of Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s national security staff at the White House, and a member of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in Vienna; he also played a key role in exposing Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge atrocities of the mid-1970s and helping to end them. An Iowa native, he served as a special assistant to Iowa Gov. Robert Ray from 1978-1982. In 2008, Iowa State presented Ambassador Quinn with an honorary doctor of humane letters when he delivered the university commencement address to December graduates. In 2014 Quinn became only the 23rd person in history to receive the Iowa Medal, the state’s highest citizen award.

This article was originally published in VISIONS magazine. To receive the full issue delivered to your mailbox four times per year, become a member of the ISU Alumni Association.