“I see Variety associates and friends from all around the world and they ask, ‘How in the world do you generate $4 million or more a year?’ Well, it goes back to the people of Iowa … they just care about our state, they care about our communities and, most of all, they really care about our kids. And they are very philanthropic by nature.”
~Sheri McMichael, executive director of Variety – the Children’s Charity of Iowa, in “Hangin’ with Winners”
Originally called The Variety Club, this organization founded an Iowa chapter in 1937. It produced less than impressive results until the quartet of Stanley Reynolds, Ray Johnson, Mike Reilly and Steven Blank founded an annual telethon beginning in 1975. Since then, Variety – The Children’s Charity of Iowa has raised nearly $125 million, which has positively impacted organizations serving children in each of Iowa’s 99 counties.
WOI-TV has always served as the telethon’s home. Our company acquired this station in March 1994 just one week prior to that year’s production. My very first meeting was with Stanley Reynolds and Ray Johnson. Their dedication to the telethon and Iowa’s children was undeniable, and we quickly reaffirmed our commitment to remain the telethon’s home. In fact, we expanded the carriage of the telethon to include our stations in the Quad Cities (WHBF-TV) and Sioux City (KCAU-TV) the very next year. Susan and I were especially proud to serve as honorary chairs of the telethon in 2012.
While the telethon is the organization’s largest and most visible fundraiser, Variety hosts a number of other events throughout the year such as Polo on the Green, the Miller Lite Golf Invitational, and the Central Iowa Stag. The funds raised are used to support Variety’s mission: improving the lives of children who are at-risk, underprivileged, or live with special needs. The challenge of this mission is met head-on through many different and valuable programs.
The statewide Grant program offers funding to nonprofit children’s organizations which provide essential medical equipment for infants and children of all ages, and programming that helps children make positive choices. Another core program is the Compassion Fund which provides much needed financial assistance to families when a child is hospitalized. The organization is also well known for its Variety Vans which transport children to activities, playgrounds and recreational opportunities. The very popular Kids on the Go program is all about mobility in the form of bicycles, helmets and locks awarded to children who might not otherwise own a bike. Variety even gives specialized bikes to children with special needs, and recently expanded this program to include gait trainers, standers, specialized strollers and specialized car seats to enable more children to experience the freedom to explore, engage and play. One of Variety’s more recent initiatives involves the building of Star Playgrounds in communities throughout the state so that children with special needs will have a greater opportunity to climb, roll, swing and laugh!
Variety Iowa is a recognized leader within the Variety International network. Several past presidents of Variety Iowa have gone on to serve with distinction as international presidents. Stan and Jody Reynolds, in particular, were the heart and soul of Variety Iowa. It was many years ago when their third child, Brigid, died at an early age from complications developed at birth. Jody told Stan on the drive back from the funeral, “We are going to make her life count.” The two of them devoted their lives from that day forward to children across Iowa and around the world.
Variety Iowa held a “Roast & Toast” in November 2013 to honor Stanley’s 40 years of dedicated service to Iowa’s children. It was fun to join with the other presenters that evening to poke fun at Stanley. I started off with an old Winston Churchill line about the “modest little man with much to be modest about!” I also made reference to the fact that “many within the Variety family consider Stanley to be an institution; the rest of us think he belongs in one.” But I concluded my remarks on a serious note that borrowed heavily from a poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and affection of children; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a better place … and to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
Jody Reynolds was immensely successful in her own right, and she contributed mightily to the Variety mission until her passing in June 2019. Notably, Jody was the first female president of both Variety – The Children’s Charity of Iowa and Variety International. It was my privilege to give the opening address at Variety’s North American Region Conference in October 2018 where she was deeply engaged, and in the audience flashing the patented smile she was known for.
The breadth and depth of Variety’s statewide impact is irrefutable. “We’ve had a relationship with Variety at Blank Children’s Hospital for 40 years,” said David Stark, UnityPoint Health’s chief executive officer. “Blank Children’s was the recipient of the very first telethon dollars, which is unbelievable. There is literally not an area or department at Blank Children’s that hasn’t been impacted by Variety during that period. It could be the emergency department, intensive care unit, nursery, therapy or developmental clinic. We’re treating patients from all over Iowa — from every county — so Variety has truly had a statewide impact.”
Variety is a WINNER for the countless ways in which it serves thousands of children across Iowa, helping them to fully share in the experiences of life — no matter the challenges — and encouraging them to reach their full potential.
“Variety International” Retrieved from www.variety.org
“Variety the Children’s Charity IOWA” Retrieved from www.varietyiowa.com
(October 6, 2017). “Monty Hall was a wonderful friend to Iowa“ Retrieved from www.desmoinesregister.com
(June 8, 2019). “Jody Reynolds Obituary” Retrieved from www.legacy.com
Last Updated: October 30, 2022