Since moving to Altoona in 1992, Steve and Ann Moyna have done as much to grow the community and bring its residents together as anyone—volunteering with numerous local organizations, taking on leadership roles, building bridges between various local groups, and helping organize Altoona Palooza.
In this post, we remember Ann, who passed away in early 2021, and thank Steve for his decades of hard work and passion. Altoona wouldn’t be the same without them.
Even in a city of tens of thousands, it often comes down to a handful of people to bring the community together.
In Altoona, the Moynas are those people.
A pair of lifetime Iowans, Steve and Ann Moyna married in a DeWitt chapel in 1988. A few years later, they moved to Altoona, a community on the east side of Des Moines, which made it easy to visit family and friends in eastern Iowa. Here, they pursued new career opportunities and raised their children, Connor and Claire.
They may have been newcomers to the city, which was more of a small town in the early 1990s. But, as soon as they put down roots, the Moynas, with their seemingly boundless energy, their enthusiasm for helping others, and their supernatural talent for throwing a good party, became an Altoona institution.
One of the things that brought Steve and Ann together—and would later bring the entire Altoona community together—was a strong sense of civic duty. They both loved building things. They felt a responsibility to help those around them live happy, successful lives. They were, as we say in Iowa, good people.
For decades, Ann worked as a freelance court reporter at Petersen Court Reporters in Des Moines (she later purchased the business with a partner). Meanwhile, Steve literally built the communities around him as an earthwork contractor, an engineer-surveyor, and currently as the Vice President of Business Development at Elder Corp.
The Moynas have long been active in their local church, serving on the Parish Life Committee, the Faith Formation Kitchen, the Building Committee, the Teen Group, and the Knights of Columbus. They have also served—and continue to serve—many nonprofits and civic organizations around town: the Planning and Zoning Board and the Park Board for the City of Altoona, the Iowa Court Reporters Association, the Lions Club, and Visit Altoona, to name a few.
In 2019, Ann and Steve were jointly awarded Altoona’s Outstanding Citizens of the Year award. No one should have been surprised.
A big idea
Being involved in so many groups around town, the Moynas made more than a few friends. And they loved bringing them all together. Whether it was a cul-de-sac party, a Sunday evening dinner or just a typical Friday night, the Moynas’ home was often packed with people: neighbors, coworkers, local officials, fellow parishioners, and perfect strangers who wouldn’t be strangers for long.
It was at one of these parties—or maybe a chance meeting at a local watering hole—where Steve was approached by a few members of the community. They had an idea, a big idea. And, well, they needed his help.
This was 2010, and the big idea was what would become Altoona Palooza. Since the early nineties, Altoona’s population had grown by about fifty percent (it would more than double by a decade later). And yet, there was a sense that the community was missing something: a huge summer party to bring everyone together.
In the past, there had been Altoona Balloona (a hot air balloon festival) along with a few others. But these events had faded and, while there was plenty to do around town, nothing had emerged to take their place.
One evening, Jeremy Boka, who currently serves on the Altoona City Council, along with Adam McRoberts, owner of Ted’s Body Shop; Mattia Wells, a Senior Content Strategist at Grinnell College; and Mary Simon, Vice President and Consumer Services Manager at Bankers Trust, approached Steve with a vision for a big end-of-summer blowout: thousands of people, live music, car shows, competitions, beer gardens… maybe even mud volleyball? They knew that pulling it off could be a logistical nightmare—it usually is, with new events—but, if they made it happen, it would be a huge win for the Altoona community.
If anyone knew how to throw a good party, it was the Moynas. Would they be willing to help?
Steve thought about it. Organizing an event for thousands of people would take dozens of hours and a ton of energy. And it’s not like he and his wife had energy to spare; they were already focused on raising their family, doing their jobs, and managing their many roles within the community. He shrugged, then said yes.
“One of my problems is that I seldom say no,” Steve later said.
Sunny days & summer storms
Organizing Altoona Palooza turned out to be even more challenging than Steve imagined.
“When you’re doing an event for the first time, you have no idea what you’re doing. You have all these uncertainties: How are you going to get funding? Are you going be dealing with five people? Five hundred? Five thousand? How do you get enough volunteers to make it a good experience?”
Despite all the unknowns, Ann and Steve rolled up their sleeves and helped make Altoona Palooza happen. The first iteration was in the summer of 2010. It was relatively small, but just pulling it off was a big success. Over the next seven years, the organizers dealt with terrible weather, scheduling conflicts, a budget with a razor-thin margin, and volunteer shortfalls (they needed about 100 volunteers to make things run smoothly; they usually had about 40).
Somehow, every year, it all came together.
Ann served as the event’s Secretary and Steve, most recently, as a Vice Chair. Together with a dedicated core of volunteers, they took their skills at organizing a good block party and applied them to an event that drew thousands of residents and visitors together for live music, good conversations, and some very muddy sporting events. Every year was an entirely new challenge. It could be exhausting. But, Steve said, there were moments that made it all worthwhile.
“When someone new comes to Altoona Palooza and I see them smiling as they leave, saying they’ll be back next year—that’s a good feeling.”
In 2017, on what would have been the event’s eighth iteration, Altoona Palooza was put on hold. There were logistical challenges, and many of the volunteers were burnt out. Plus, the community was already busy planning a four-day festival to celebrate Altoona’s 150-year anniversary.
That summer, Steve, Ann and many of the volunteers who had previously run Altoona Palooza helped organize the 150-year celebration.
During the event, Steve and Ann were approached by many of their friends and neighbors. They wanted to know: When was Altoona Palooza coming back? How could they help?
In 2019, Steve, Ann and the core group of volunteers from 2010 through 2016 brought Altoona Palooza back to the community.
It felt good to see everyone come together again, Steve said, even if the timing could have been better.
Palooza is usually held in late August, when local schools are back in session and most families are at home. In 2019, it was moved up to June, which conflicted with vacations and other events in the area. The weather didn’t help. It rained—once in the morning and again later in the evening, right in the middle of the live music acts. The headliner band had to cut their set short. Those who stuck it out, waiting for the weather to cooperate, eventually moved the party to Fireside Grille.
Although 2019 was a tough year for the event, the organizers were intent on bringing it back in 2020. Then, in the early spring, people began talking about a new virus that had just arrived in the States. Soon after, the event was cancelled.
This year, Altoona Palooza will return on August 28th at the Sam Wise Sports Complex. Steve expects attendance to be big this year, with old favorites like mud volleyball and the pancake breakfast making their return, along with new activities and competitions.
While it’s going to be a good opportunity to come together and celebrate the Altoona community, this year’s event is also a chance to reflect, remember, and begin to heal. Earlier this year, Ann passed away due to complications with ovarian cancer. She left behind a family, countless friends, and a legacy that will continue to impact the people of Altoona for years to come. Some of her memorial funds are being used to support this year’s event.
For Steve, who has continued to help organize Altoona Palooza, the event is an opportunity to honor his wife and best friend.
“I’m going to do my best to make her proud.”
Steve and the other Altoona Palooza organizers are still looking for volunteers to help with this year’s event. To register, click here and hit the SignUp button.