NORTH LIBERTY– It was a joyful event to honor a somber occasion.
When the news spread that North Liberty Fun Days– the community’s long-standing three-day June event that served as a fundraiser for local nonprofit organizations and ushered in the summer for the last 30 years– was cancelled this year, city staff and administration pitched in with a substitute celebration to honor the late Mayor Tom Salm, who passed away May 18.
The “Salute to Salm” event was held Friday, June 30, in lieu of the traditional Fun Days parade. Afterward, the public was invited to Penn Meadows Park to view city equipment from the Johnson County Metro Bomb Squad and the North Liberty fire, police, streets and parks departments. Staff and administration members organized free games for kids, including waterball fights by the fire department, and North Liberty police officer Juan “DJ Juan” Santiago played music to lend a party atmosphere to the affair.
Police Chief Diane Venenga spearheaded the event, a role the city previously played in the Fun Days parade, which was one of Salm’s favorite annual celebrations.
“We knew that Mayor Salm loved the parade,” said Venenga. “It is always very well attended and is a fun event in North Liberty. Once the parade was over, I had a concern of where the families could go to continue enjoying each other and showcasing North Liberty.”
The idea started with a vehicle display in Mayor Salm’s honor, Venenga said.
“I knew that Mayor Salm represented North Liberty on (Johnson County) Emergency Management commission and I made a call to the coordinator, Dave Wilson, to see if they would be willing to display any vehicles in Tom’s honor. He said absolutely, and started working on getting vehicles lined up from the Tiffin Fire Department, the bomb truck, EMA and haz-mat vehicles,” Venenga said.
The North Liberty Fire Department jumped into the planning as well, and agreed to display their vehicles and hold the water ball fights, another traditional activity of Fun Days. North Liberty’s streets and parks departments were on board as well.
Another North Liberty police officer suggested having a children’s fair.
“Sergeant Tyson Landsgard started to coordinate with the community center staff to help set up the games and provide prizes. He had an excellent vision of what it should look like and was able to make it happen,” said Venenga. “We did not know the end result would be something so incredibly special and positive.”
Venenga gave credit to all the city staff who helped set up, work the event, and tear down afterward, and the other departments that donated to the children’s prizes.
“I was very honored that city staff came together to put this together, on short notice. This was not just one city department: the street, parks, library, recreation center, city hall, city attorney, telecommunications, fire department and the police department were represented, as were the families of city staff. We even had city council members and families volunteer to work a game. I think that says a lot about this dedicated staff and how we care.”
City Administrator Ryan Heiar echoed Venenga’s remarks.
“From the staff’s perspective, they were happy to help,” said Heiar. “They all knew Tom and appreciated the support he provided to them as city employees, but also appreciated the work he did as mayor and the dedication he had for his community.”
Heiar, who operated the duck pond game at the children’s fair, said his impression of the evening was that families appreciated having a place to go after the parade and an opportunity for their kids to run and play. It was an event Salm would likely have taken his grandchildren, who often attended community events by his side.
“I think this event, along with the other support they have seen, really reminds them just how well respected, accomplished, cared for and appreciated Tom was,” Heair added.
Venenga told Salm’s family the event in his honor was a way for the city to give back to the community
“Tom’s only granddaughter thought her grandfather would say ‘enough already,’ and we agreed, because he was a very humble man,” said Venenga. “The parade was a great time for the family to come together and reminisce about Tom. His youngest grandson, Jackson, got to enjoy some of the games and won some great prizes.
Venega said Salm would have been proud of the city for stepping up and hosting such a successful parade and post-parade event.
“I want to thank Tom’s family for allowing us to host this event in his honor. We were able to bring smiles and excitement to many kids in North Liberty. Everyone involved should be very proud of the commitment and great service to our community. For me, that is what Mayor Salm did for North Liberty.”
Heair agreed that Salm would have supported the event.
“Tom was a family man and loved attending events like this one with his grandkids. He was so proud of his community. As for the name of the event, ‘Salute to Salm,’ he probably would not have been as excited about that,” said Heiar. “He was a humble man and knew it took a team to make positive things happen. He never sought credit for any of the positive things happening in North Liberty. Still, the name of the event was very deserving. For those of us who knew Tom, we know he was a selfless leader who always put others before himself.”
Heair also offered thanks for everyone who attended, and to those who helped make the event an outstanding one.
“But mostly, thank you, Mayor Salm,” Heiar said. “Thank you for being a great leader for this community and bringing civility and consensus building at a time when it was sorely needed. Thank you for being a mentor and teacher to many, always offering guidance and support. And thank you for being a good friend. You will be dearly missed.”