The Moser family: Making Fort Dodge a better place to live

-Submitted photo
The Moser family.

Back in the late 1970s, when 27-year-old Sam Moser and his young family arrived in Fort Dodge after he was hired as an assistant football coach at Fort Dodge Senior High, no one could have guessed the dividends that hire would make for the school and the city — dividends that continue to this day.

Not only did Moser perform to a level that he was inducted into the Iowa High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame, but also the members of his family — his wife Sharon, daughters Julie and Jill, son Nik and their spouses — have imparted their own mark in making the city a better place to live.

Ever hear of the parlor game, the Six Degrees of Separation of Kevin Bacon? Well, try this — the Six Degrees of Separation of the Sam Moser Family. While the family doesn’t have the fame of the actor, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in the city whose lives they’ve not touched — from its youngest residents to its oldest.

Sam Moser, now 72, impacted thousands of young people and many coaches in his 33 years of coaching, from his first assistant’s position in Aurelia to the conclusion of his head coaching career at Fort Dodge Senior High in 2003.

His wife, Sharon Moser, works part-time at Iowa Central Community College in the student resource center. She earlier served as a para-educator in the Fort Dodge Community School District for 35 years, working in school libraries and with students with behavior disorders. In 2017, she received the Innovative Creator Award by Iowa’s Area Education Agencies, cited for “the creative ways you offered students to stretch their minds in school and engage them in thoughtful, meaningful activities.” She was instrumental in creating an elementary maker space at Feelhaver Elementary School.

Julie Moser Thorson has served for 12 years as president and CEO of Friendship Haven, a nonprofit retirement community with 370 residents and 380 full-time and part-time employees. Her father is most proud of how she guided it through the difficult COVID era. She started out as a part-time social worker after she found that her first career — as a television journalist — was not for her. After working in Topeka, Kan., and Mason City, she returned to Fort Dodge and married Tjeran Thorson, a former Dodger all-state football player and the son of the late Sherwyn Thorson, a star lineman and NCAA heavyweight wrestling champion at the University of Iowa. Tjeran works for Fort Dodge Distributing.

Jill Moser Smith earned a nursing degree and was working at Trinity Regional Hospital as a dialysis nurse when in 2001, she met Ryan Smith, a wrestler at the University of Iowa under Dan Gable from 1990-95, who was in his fourth year of teaching at Fort Madison High School. They met when he was in Fort Dodge for a wrestling camp at Iowa Central Community College.

They married in Fort Dodge and live four hours away, in Fort Madison, where Ryan is a Spanish teacher and just retired after 25 years as head wrestling coach. Jill is a health science teacher at the high school.

Nik Moser and his wife, Katie, lived for a year in the Twin Cities after they were married, he in finance and she in marketing, before returning to Fort Dodge when Nik took a position at Northwest Bank and she joined Trinity Regional Medical Center. Nik had played for his father at FDSH as an all-state defensive back and was a starting safety at Iowa State under Dan McCarney. He started volunteer coaching in 2008 and that eventually led to becoming head football coach at FDSH, where he has completed four seasons.

Nik serves as executive director of the Fort Dodge Community Schools Foundation. Its mission is to help educators and students go above and beyond what district funding allows with grants for professional development, technology and other educational items and looks for perpetual giving funds through estate planning and legacy gifts.

Katie teaches biology at FDSH, and earlier worked with the Fort Dodge Middle School.

Sam and Sharon still live in the home on 9th Avenue North in the Round Prairie neighborhood that they purchased when they came to Fort Dodge with two young girls, Julie, born in Sioux Falls, and Jill, born in Cherokee. Nik was born in Fort Dodge in 1982.

Julie and Nik obviously liked the neighborhood, as they and their families live in homes within a block of their parents.

“They both had opportunities to go other places and do other things,” Moser said, “but I think they’re very happy they live in Fort Dodge.”

Life took Jill away from the city where she grew up, but she talks to her mother daily. “My mom is my best friend,” she said, “an overall amazing woman…I’m a Fort Madison Bloodhound, but there’s still a piece of me with Dodger identity, Dodger Pride.”

“I always liked Fort Dodge,” Sam Moser said. “It’s blue collar, we had tough kids, we played in a good league. Over the years, I looked at a job once in the Quad Cities area but it was the best fit for my family to stay. Fort Dodge just seemed a natural fit for us. Far enough away from home, but close to home, just three hours. It had a lot of things going for it.”

Home to Sam and Sharon Moser had been in far northwest Iowa, where they began dating in their sophomore year at West Lyon High School in Inwood. He grew up on a livestock/crop farm close to the South Dakota border with three brothers and a sister and starred on the football team as a 250-pound defensive lineman. She lived in Larchwood and competed in cheerleading, track and softball.

“He was the football star, I was a cheerleader,” Sharon said. “That’s kind of how I perceive myself now, with my kids and my grandkids. I’m the one on the sidelines cheering them on.”

They were married in 1971, a year after high school graduation, Moser played football at Worthington (Minn.) Junior College and Sioux Falls College (now the University of Sioux Falls), earning All-America honors at both schools. His high school coach, Gary Hoffman, ended up being his college coach his senior year at the Division II school.

“I had a lot of respect for him, and he influenced me in becoming a coach,” Moser said.

Moser’s entry into coaching was at Aurelia High School, where he spent three years as an assistant under Myron Radke, who remains one of his closest friends. His first head coaching position was at Clarion High School, where he coached two years before getting the call from Athletics Director Dutch Huseman to join the Dodger staff in 1979.

The Dodger head coach at the time was Doug Black, who Moser knew at Hampton High School when Moser was at Clarion. Moser was the Dodgers assistant under Black for four years and under Mike Woodley, Black’s successor, for six years before he succeeded Woodley as head coach in 1989. Moser coached track throughout his FDSH tenure.

Moser retired after the 2003 season — his 15th as the Dodger head coach. The team won 57 games during his tenure, ranking third in school history behind Matt Miller (75, from 2004-19) and Forrest Marquis (74 from 1942-54). Fort Dodge qualified for the playoffs four times during Moser’s tenure, and reached the state quarterfinals in 1994. He led the Dodgers to conference championships in 1989 (Big Eight) and ’94 (CIML National).

Moser was 55 years old when he retired from teaching in 2007. He worked in sales for Mid Country Machinery in Fort Dodge for seven years before fully retiring.

When nominated for the 2013 State Coaching Hall of Fame class, Moser gave credit to his former players and assistants, saying, “This certainly isn’t about me. It never has been. I’ve always said through the years that I coached and taught for as long as I did to build relationships and try my best to have a lasting impact on the lives of my (players and students). I hope I can say I did that. I hope the kids and my staff would agree. That’s all I could ask for, looking back now.”

Julie Thorson said that in addition to her father’s influence over kids, “I’m pretty sure there are many coaches out there who would mention dad as a mentor. Including my brother and (former head coach) Matt Miller. But even other coaches from the state over the years I believe they have looked up to dad.

“One thing my dad will often comment on is questioning whether he had a significant impact on his players. I think this ‘questioning’ is what makes him so special. He’s never claimed to have all the answers but always worked hard to bring the best out in everyone he was around including the three of us. He also was a silent champion for so many kids…buying them shoes, gear whatever they may have needed for football. He found great joy in teaching…especially teaching mentally challenged students…he just always had a way with kids.

“Mom is equally humble but also has a tremendous impact on kids…Her love for reading also inspired many kids over the years. She was at both Cooper and Feelhaver and absolutely loved finding the right book for each child. She took great pride in her work and going above and beyond for kids to inspire a love of reading.”

Moser said that what he loved most about coaching was the “day-to-day contact with the kids. Games were fun and important, but I had a lot more fun with actually practicing and being around the kids, without the pressure that comes in a game.”

So it’s no surprise that he still shows up for Dodger practices under Nik, who said, “Dad is at the majority of our practices. He’s around, a coach but not on the staff, he still talks to kids, watching what we do, giving me advice, but from a distance. I don’t think you ever take the coaching out of him. A lot of things I do that my dad did, and a lot of things I do that he didn’t do.

“One of the things that stood out to me is how many relationships he had with people for years and years after playing with him and coaching with him. After learning and being in the family for a while, that’s just what we do, part of being a coach and teacher, do whatever you can for the kids. Do it without anyone knowing. Sometimes that’s kind of the best gratitude you can get.”

In a bit of deja vu, Nik will be coaching his oldest son Sam III when he is a sophomore this coming season at FDSH. He was on the freshman team as a safety last fall.

When Nik was playing at Iowa State, his parents purchased a conversion van so they could more comfortably travel to Cyclone games in Ames and on the road. They have continued that same passion by being there for the activities of their grandchildren. Sam and Sharon also enjoy golf and an annual trip to Arizona for a couple weeks each winter.

It comes as no surprise that sports are a big part of the lives of the eight Moser grandchildren.

Julie and Tjeran’s daughter, Lehr, was an outstanding swimmer at FDSH and Iowa State, and now, at 25, works for a company in Grimes, TAAG Companies, as its director of impact reporting. Their son, Asle, 22, will be starting his fifth year at Iowa State this fall playing football for the Cyclones and earning two degrees.

Jill and Ryan have three children: Teague, a senior who plans to attend Wisconsin-Oshkosh to play football and earn a teaching and coaching degree; Mara, a sophomore who is on the girls’ wrestling team as well as volleyball and track, and Lyla, an eighth grader, who plays volleyball, runs track and is involved in show choir.

Nik and Katie have three boys — Sam III, a freshman at FDSH; Lou, a sixth grader, and Mack, a fifth grader. All three are involved in football, wrestling and track.

Perhaps no one outside the Moser family has a longer history with them than Matt Miller, who was an assistant in football and track during Moser’s entire tenure before succeeding him as head football coach, a position he held for the next 16 years. When Nik and Katie moved to Fort Dodge in 2008, he immediately hired Nik as an assistant — and when Miller retired in 2019, Nik succeeded him as head coach.

“First thing that comes to mind about Sam is a caring leader,” he said. “Sam and Sharon have touched the lives of thousands of kids, caring about what happens in their lives.

“I have known Sam since the early ’70s when he got his first job at Aurelia. He taught seventh grade English and coached high school football and middle school basketball. I was fortunate enough to be on his seventh-grade basketball team. I looked at him as the John Wooden of basketball. Sam and Sharon were good friends with my parents and our relationship grew from there. I know there are so many student-athletes who are now adults who are better people because of the values and compassion they learned from both Sam and Sharon.

“I was lucky enough to get a job with the Fort Dodge school system later in the summer about two weeks before school started. Sam was a big reason I landed in Fort Dodge. Over the next 30-plus years, I was fortunate enough to learn more than X&Os from Sam — a lot of it was how to handle student-athletes with the kind of caring that made everyone who was around him feel good about themselves.”

Outside of sports, Sam and Sharon served as reception hosts when Miller and his wife, Staci, were married. Staci and Matt were hosts when Nik and Katie were married. And this summer, Nik and Katie will serve as hosts when the Millers’ daughter, Tehya, is married to former Dodger wrestler Cayd Lara.

“The families have been close for a long time,” Miller said.


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