The Mount Vernon Community School District Alumni Association is pleased to announce the following alumni have been selected as 2021 Alumni Hall of Fame winners:
Achievement — Phoebe Ball, 1991
Fine Arts — Jefferson White, 2008
Athletic — Shelby Kintzel, 2009
Service — Crystal Cardon Eskelsen, 1993
Community Impact — Gwen Stewart Drahos, 1970
They will receive their awards during Homecoming weekend on Friday, Oct 8, 2021, along with the 2020 winners; Fine arts recipient Braden Pospisil Rood class of 1993, athletic recipient Steve Andrew class of 1968 (d), service recipient Scot Christiansen class of 1978, community impact recipient Sonia Essex Redmond class of 1982, and achievement recipient Peter Kollman, class of 1962 (d).
Achievement Hall of Fame recipient Phoebe Ball, class of 1991, was nominated by alum Karen Miller Thornton, class of 1974. Ball is an attorney and currently lives in Oakton, Va. She has spent her professional career working on issues relating to disability law. She is a published policy researcher in the areas of employment, asset development, work incentives, self-determination, and benefits programs for individuals with disabilities, and has gained a national reputation as an expert in the area of guardianship.
“Phoebe has spent her entire life overcoming spinal bifida and the host of issues resulting from her disability,” said nominator Karen Thornton. “Her high school career was plagued with doctors, surgeries, infections and struggling with braces to walk. Phoebe has not allowed her wheelchair to limit her achievements. Through her own experiences and struggles, she has become an effective advocate for people facing a variety of disabilities. Her intelligence, wit and determination have been successful at promoting systemic changes that increase opportunities for economic self-improvement, expanded civic participation and capacity for self-advocacy.”
After high school, Ball earned her bachelor of arts from the University of Iowa where she had a full-tuition scholarship for academic achievement. At Iowa she co-founded and chaired a student disability rights group, Disability Action Resource and Culture, and participated in related activities. She went on to earn her Juris Doctorate from Northeastern University School of Law (NUSL) in Boston.
Ball was a staff attorney with Disability Rights Florida for seven years. She moved to the Washington D.C. area in 2014 to become the Legislative Affairs Specialist with the National Council on Disability (NCD), an independent federal agency that advises the President, Congress, and other federal officials and entities on policies and programs affecting Americans with disabilities.
She left NCD to join the staff of the U.S. Education and Labor Committee in 2019 and frequently meets with stakeholders and advocates on issues related to disability policy. Much of her work for the Committee is focused on policies that ensure access to high-quality education for disabled students and competitive integrated employment for disabled adults.
Ball is the author or co-author of several articles that have appeared in national publications, including Breaking the Cycle of Poverty: Asset Accumulation by People with Disabilities, Disability as Diversity in Fortune 100 Companies, and The Restoration of Capacity for Persons under Guardianship with Developmental Disabilities in Florida.
Fine Arts Hall of Fame recipient Jefferson ‘Jeff’ White, class of 2008, was nominated by alum Diane Zinkula, class of 1972. White is now a popular actor who lives in New York City, and has starred in series includingThe Americans, Manhattan, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Elementary, How to Get Away with Murder, Blue Bloods, House of Cards, Blindspot, The Alienist, Aquarius, The Good Fight, The Bite and currently Yellowstone where he is a regular listed in the opening credits. The fourth season begins Nov. 7 on the Paramount network.
White participated in speech and theatre every year of high school and took advantage of local community theatre opportunities as well. He enjoyed all the plays and musicals he was involved in, but the MVHS comedy Lend Me a Tenor his sophomore year was a favorite. He received All-State nominations every year for both individual and group speech events under coach Maggie Ellison’s tutelage. The highlight for him was being a part of the group improvisation team--along with 2007 classmates Ben Klaus and Greg Mlynarcyk and alum Jon Stoner ’04 as coach--that brought home the state banner in 2007. He participated in the band’s drum line for two years and in chorus all four years.
A National Merit Scholar, White majored in theater and performing arts at Iowa State. In 2012, the ISU production of Six Characters won national recognition in the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival, giving White and another cast member the opportunity for an internship at Actors’ Theatre in Louisville, Ky. That opportunity helped him to get his first professional break.
You can view a video about White that was created by the Mount Vernon High School journalism class in 2019 titled ‘From High School to Hollywood’ at https://youtu.be/JnfQCuG67cI
Service Hall of Fame recipient Crystal Cardon Eskelsen, class of 1993, was nominated by both Sherene Player and alum Sarah Allard Covington, class of 1999. Eskelsen lives in Lisbon, and has been Mount Vernon high school’s tennis coach for 18 years as well as creator of the Monsters Running Club for K-8 students. In addition, she is an assistant coach for middle school cross country, organizer of the Mustache Mafia, a half-marathon training group, plans and orchestrates the December Project every year for the last 10 years and is the mastermind behind the Covid quarantine group Airheads that encouraged people to get outdoors and moving.
Nominator Sara Covington said her nomination for the Monsters running club because of her selfless giving, loyalty and dedication to the community.
“Crystal is there in any weather condition to host the running club,” Covington wrote. “She does not miss. She does so much more than just ‘show up.’ She knows the children well and finds treasure in their uniqueness, oftentimes creating fun awards to hand out for their character at the end of the season.”
Covington said she’s also influential in organizing other races, including the Middle School’s 5K.
“Most of you have been touched by Crystal’s kindness,” Covington wrote. “People like Crystal make Mount Vernon the precious jewel that it is.”
“My goal when I started the Monsters program was to make the mile run in PE class less painful for a larger population,” Eskelsen said. “I hated the aspect of the physical fitness test when I was in school and now hundreds of Mount Vernon kids go into that test knowing they CAN run a mile. I always thought I would pass the club off to another when my kids outgrew it, but I can’t give it up. I love getting to know the kids in our community and hopefully showing them my love of being outdoors and moving.”
After high school Eskelsen studied statistics at Utah State University. She and her husband, Rich, lived in Idaho until he graduated from Idaho State University. Then they moved back to Iowa with their tiny baby and no clue what they were going to do. They lived in Coralville and Crystal started her 22-year career with the Mount Vernon-Lisbon Sun newspaper. Currently, Crystal works at Blooming Acres in Mount Vernon and is learning new skills.
Community Impact Hall of Fame recipient Gwen Stewart Drahos , class of 1970, was nominated by classmate Sara Gaarde. A Lisbon resident and 40-year owner of Gwen’s Restaurant, Gwen is well known in the Mount Vernon-Lisbon community.
“Gwen’s story has been one of endurance, determination, and commitment,” wrote Sara Gaarde. “It’s very unusual these days for anyone to run an independent business, and especially a restaurant, in a small town for that long a period of time. And Gwen’s has not just been a restaurant. It has been a community center for both Mount Vernon and Lisbon. Service groups, weddings, anniversaries, class reunions, memorial gatherings, and many other events have been held at Gwen’s for many years.”
“What makes the restaurant special is Gwen herself,” classmate Judy Hess Greco said. “Food is her love language. She makes people feel special and cared for with her quick smile and easy laugh.”
Drahos grew up on a farm on Ivanhoe Road south of Mount Vernon, on the edge of the Mount Vernon School District, where her parents, Caroline and Don Stewart, farmed 40 acres and Don also worked as an electrician.
Drahos got involved in 4-H early. Cooking, not surprisingly, was her favorite, but she also wanted to show animals at the county fair.
“To do that, I had to join boys 4-H, so I did,” Drahos said.
As much as she loved cooking, she hated sewing and remembers in home economics class in high school she passed a skirt she was sewing under the table to her good friend Rita Pospisil and whispered “put the zipper in for me, okay?”
In high school, Drahos was president of the home economics club (despite the sewing dislike) and president of GRA, the Girls Recreation Association.
After graduation, Drahos enrolled at UNI with plans to become a first-grade teacher. But she changed her mind and entered the workforce. She worked as a nurse’s aide at Hallmark Care Center and cooked at Hallmark and at the Holiday House restaurant. In 1975, she went to work at The Last Straw restaurant, north of the railroad tracks on Hwy. 1.
She met and married Butch Ferguson and they had two children: Korey and Jodi. Gwen and Butch later divorced and Gwen married Gary Drahos. On Feb. 11, 1981, Gwen and Gary opened the restaurant for business.
“People told me that a restaurant would never work in Lisbon, and I told them that I HAD to make it work because my dad bought the building and I needed to pay him back,” Drahos said.
Two years later they also bought the empty lot just west of the restaurant and expanded to double the original size. Gwen and Gary persevered through the farm crisis in the 1980s, and Gwen’s Restaurant has been going strong ever since, celebrating 40 years in business earlier in 2021.
In 1982, Gary and Gwen’s daughter Caroline was born with Down’s Syndrome. At that time, the special needs students were bused to Cedar Rapids. “When I put Caroline on that bus as a very little girl, I knew that wasn’t the best thing for her,” Drahos said.
Dr. Kim Brandt approached Gwen and Gary along with Ralph and Cathy Jordan of Mount Vernon, about proposing to the Mount Vernon and Lisbon school boards that the school move to “full inclusion” of all students living within the districts. Eventually they succeeded, but not without a lot of persuading. Full inclusion has been the policy in both school districts ever since.
All of Drahos’s grandchildren have worked at the restaurant at one time or another, as have many Mount Vernon high school students and alums.
Athletic Hall of Fame recipient Shelby Kintzel, class of 2009, was nominated by Mount Vernon High School teacher and head volleyball coach Maggie Lessmeier Willems, class of 1996.
“Not only was Shelby an absolute powerhouse in three sports at Mount Vernon, she was at the top of her class as an exceptional student,” Willems said. “This tall, graceful young woman was such a positive contributor to her class of 2009, and an absolute force in a graduating class of outstanding female athletes.”
Kintzel was a member of Coach Willem’s volleyball team that earned Class 3A State runner-up in both 2007 and 2008. She was named team captain both of those years, and was voted team MVP by teammates in her sophomore, junior and senior years.
In high school, Kintzel was a multi-sport athlete, a letter-winner in volleyball, basketball and track. But more than that, she was a leader and star on teams filled with talented athletes. In volleyball, she earned First Team All-Conference as a junior and senior, Class 3A First Team All-District for three years, Class 3A All-State Honorable Mention 2006, First Team 2007 and 2008, and then Elite Team in 2008, was named a member of the Class 3A All-Tournament Team 2007 and 2008, 3A Volleyball Player of the Year as a senior, and was named to the Des Moines Register Elite Team (all classes) and 3A First Team as a senior. Kintzel was also named an Iowa Senior All-Star, and earned a spot on the Prep Volleyball Top 250 (National) listing. In 2016, she was inducted into the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union Volleyball Hall of Fame.
In basketball she was named to the Unanimous First-Team All-Conference for three years, and then selected as a Senior Select All-Star and Class 3A All-District as a senior.
In track she was a state qualifier in 2006, 2008, 2009, earning several state awards. As a senior she was a member of the first place distance medley (3A Elite All-State) team and first place sprint medley team. The team went on to place first in state. Shelby was a Drake Relays qualifier as a junior and senior.
Among her honors are Linn County Female Athlete of the Year in 2009, Des Moines Register ‘50 Greatest Iowa High School Volleyball Players of All Time’ (Nov. 5, 2018) and Academic All-State member.
Kintzel went on to play volleyball for the University of Northern Iowa where she earned multiple all-district and all-region honors. She completed her time in college as sixth all-time in sets played at UNI and 10th all-time leader in block solos and total blocks. Shelby was a team member at four NCAA tournament appearances, three of which went into the second round. She was team captain in 2013.
Kintzel earned college honors on the MVC Scholar-Athlete First Team in 2011, 2012, and 2013. She graduated with a 4.0 GPA, Summa Cum Laude, and was awarded UNI’s Purple and Old Gold Award in both volleyball and elementary education. Shelby says she is most proud of her NCAA Division 1st First Team Academic All-American award because it encompasses accomplishments both on and off the court.
Shelby went on to play professional volleyball in Spain for one year. She has spent five years teaching and coaching volleyball (two years for Ankeny High School, one state tournament appearance), and earned a masters’ degree in Education while working full-time. She moved to Denver where she was a kindergarten teacher and pre-kindergarten teacher, and currently works for Procare Software, an educational software company.