Meet Mary, a founder of Altoona Palooza

people of altoona mary simon

The next time you’re diving headfirst into the muck while defending your Mud Volleyball tournament title, take a moment to thank Mary for helping orchestrate Altoona’s zaniest, most iconic—and yes, muddiest—event of the year: Altoona Palooza.

This is the (highly abbreviated) story of Mary Simon, a longtime resident, volunteer, banker, mother, neighbor, and leader of the Altoona community.

There and back again

Like many of us, Mary Simon’s life has followed the path of a boomerang—or perhaps a returned volleyball—taking her far away from home before bringing her right back where she started.

Mary lived in Altoona briefly in the 1980’s. She quickly fell in love with the town’s character, but eventually moved out of state to pursue a career in banking.

(Today, when she isn’t orchestrating the delightful madness of Altoona Palooza, Mary is a mild-mannered Vice President and Consumer Services Manager at Bankers Trust. She’s worked in the banking industry for 32 years.)

Years later, as their family grew, Mary and her husband Pat decided to return to Iowa to raise their two boys, Alex and Harrison. The family considered many communities, from Des Moines and West Des Moines to Johnson and Ankeny.

In 1996, the Simons packed up their things and moved to Altoona, a community on the east side of the Des Moines metro known for its small-town atmosphere, excellent schools, quiet neighborhoods, public parks, career opportunities, and close proximity to other communities around central Iowa.

Not too big, but not too small. Not too busy, but not too quiet. Altoona was just right.

“The charm and smaller-town appeal of Altoona seemed like it would be a great fit for us, and it has proven true ever since,” Mary said.

Paying it forward

Since returning in the 1990’s, Mary enjoyed living in Altoona so much that she wanted to give back.

She began volunteering around town. In 2010, she became a founding board member of Altoona Palooza, a (pretty much) annual event in which the Altoona community comes together to celebrate summer’s grand finale with live bands, DJs, a Kiwanis breakfast, games and activities for kids, a car show—and, of course, the famous Mud Volleyball Tournament.

Since helping launch Altoona Palooza in 2010, Mary has served as the event’s treasurer, coordinating logistics and landing sponsorships.

Mary says that she started volunteering as a way to give back.

Over the years, she’s received something invaluable in return.

“I started volunteering as a way to get involved in Altoona and to help give back to the community where I live and work,” she said. “Through volunteering, I also found that you have the opportunity to meet some truly amazing people and develop lasting relationships.

“Honestly, it’s one of the best ways to pay your civic rent.”

Discover Altoona

Just minutes from Des Moines, Altoona is home to numerous amenities—from major entertainment attractions and shopping destinations to beautiful metro parks—as well as good schools, cozy neighborhoods, fun community events, and a thriving economy.

Want to learn more? You can meet a local business owner, take a walk with a resident who’s lived here for 50 years, or learn more about life in Altoona.