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LASTING LEGACY

New Fort Dodge distinguished alumni honor named after Tom and Norma Schmoker

Messenger photo by Britt Kudla: Members of the Schmoker family stand with the freshly-minted Tom and Norma Schmoker Distinguished Alumni Award at the Fort Dodge Hall of Fame banquet. Pictured (left to right) are Tracy Schmoker, Joe Schmoker, Julie Schmoker, Luke Humble, Tom Schmoker, Kelly Wilson, Lisa Wilson and Dave Wilson.

The Fort Dodge Community Schools Foundation’s new Distinguished Alumni Award will forever honor the legacy of a family that tirelessly invested its own time and resources into making their hometown a better place to live.

Tom and Norma Schmoker were recognized during last Friday’s Fort Dodge Senior High Athletic Hall of Fame ceremony at the Cardiff Center inside Fort Frenzy. The family knew that much beforehand.

What they hadn’t been told was the FDCSF’s master plan: not only were the Schmokers going to be the inaugural recipients, but the award itself would bear their names moving forward as a tribute to their adamant loyalty and commitment to the Fort Dodge area.

“I was very surprised they picked us,” said Tom, a 1953 Fort Dodge High School graduate. “There are so many other worthy people who have done great things here or in their own communities who are from Fort Dodge (originally). As the first to be recognized, it obviously means a great deal. But to see our names on (the award) and know it will be (associated with the winners moving forward)…it kind of leaves you speechless.

“It was just a very nice evening, being a part of it all. We greatly appreciated it.”

The Schmokers, who were in the same graduating class a few years before the high school moved to its current location and became Fort Dodge Senior High, got married in 1956. Tom and Norma co-founded the Quality Plus Essar Corporation, which manufactured veterinary pharmaceuticals, in 1961. The couple ran the firm until selling it in 1989 to the Paris, France firm Sanofi Animal Health.

After retirement, the Schmokers helped develop The Woodlands and River Forest housing areas in Fort Dodge.

Norma Schmoker was a member of the Fort Dodge Community School District Board of Education from 1976-1988, and served as the board’s first female president from 1981-1983. She served on the Trinity Hospital Board for 12 years, the Iowa State Workforce Development Board for 12 years, Iowa Central Foundation Board for eight years and YMCA Board for four years.

Today, the Norma Schmoker Women’s Center at UnityPoint Health — Fort Dodge provides breast cancer diagnostic services. Norma passed away in 2020 at the age of 85.

The Schmokers were married for 64 years.

“There really wasn’t even a question of who — and what — we wanted this honor to represent,” said Nik Moser, Executive Director of the Fort Dodge Community Schools Foundation. “Their story is one all of our kids need to know. Fort Dodge graduates. College graduates. Return home to run a successful business. Investing both their time and passions in making our community a better place to live and work. Then, after retiring, they get even more heavily involved (philanthropically) in the hospital, Friendship Haven, the (Rosedale Rapids Aquatic Center) pool (land at Schmoker Family Park)…

“It’s inspirational. We wanted to preserve their legacy and not just pay tribute to them today, but for many years to come as we continue to recognize distinguished (FDSH) alumni.”

Lisa (Schmoker) Wilson, Tom and Norma’s daughter, also lives in Fort Dodge with her husband, Dave. She attended the ceremony last Friday night with her brother, Joe; sister, Julie; and other relatives.

“Mom and dad were always willing to give back,” Lisa said. “They were born and raised in Fort Dodge, and took a lot of pride in helping it grow as a community from the time they came back (after college) on. They loved being from here, and all the years they’ve been associated with its development and progress.

“I know this meant a lot to my dad especially. We had a vacation planned, but when we heard about the award, we delayed it a week because we wanted to be there for him. This has always been our meeting place for family get-togethers when everyone comes back. The investment for both (the Schmokers and Wilsons) in Fort Dodge has always been important to us. This is home.”

Moser added, “they’re living proof that you can graduate, come back to Fort Dodge, be successful and create a legacy worth passing on and preserving.”

“This distinguished alumni award is something I’ve wanted to see happen from the time I interviewed for this position,” Moser said. “The district needs to celebrate our graduates and the amazing lives they’ve built. We’ve done it with former athletes…now it’s time to do it for others. And there’s no better name for it to be synonymous with than the Schmokers.”

Tom Schmoker always felt a mutual respect and appreciation for the passion his family shared.

“It was pretty simple: we wanted to start a business, and we wanted to do it in our hometown,” Schmoker said. “We figured there was no better place. We always tried to make the most of our opportunities, and Norma especially took a great deal of pride in being involved in as many things as she could for the betterment of the community.

“Fort Dodge has always been good to us.”

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