C.J. Niles is honored with the Citizen of the Year Award at the Carroll Chamber of Commerce banquet.
C.J. Niles is honored with the Citizen of the Year Award at the Carroll Chamber of Commerce banquet.

February 7, 2017

Moments after earning the City of Carroll’s top honor, C.J. Niles, one of the more highly visible advocates for the region for a generation, scanned the Carrollton Centre’s banquet hall.

She spotted Magistrate Eric Neu, son of the late Art Neu, a mentor and role model for Niles and a leader she said continues to inspire her many works.

That baton-passing, acknowledging the work of previous leaders, is what makes Carroll a standout community, Niles said.

The Carroll Chamber of Commerce Monday night named Niles, longtime Carroll and state economic-development professional, as its Citizen of the Year for 2016 at an awards event attended by about 250 people. Tam Milligan emceed the three-hour banquet.

Other top awards:

Heritage Business — Commercial Savings Bank, which is celebrating 100 years in business as a fourth-generation, locally owned bank.

New Business of the Year — GehlPRO’s Pat and Sue Gehling.

Young Professional of the Year — Dr. Michelle Sturm.

Humanitarian Service — Becky Windschitl, founder of All Strings Attached.

Good Neighbor Award — Jim Mohr of Coon Rapids, president of the Carroll County Fair Board.

Public Service Award — Veteran Carroll Public Works Director Randy Krauel.

In presenting the award to Niles, last year’s winner, Mike Franey, president Mid-Iowa Insurance and Real Estate, said she “has always worked tirelessly for the community of Carroll, not seeking personal accolades, but for the benefit of the community.”

Niles is a former executive director of the Carroll Chamber of Commerce and Carroll Area Development Corporation who also served in a statewide role as director of the Iowa Department of Economic Development under former Gov. Tom Vilsack. She also led the Carroll office of the American Cancer Society, driving it to the top of fundraising.

Some words that describe Niles, according to the nominations for the award:



“Connector of people”

“A true advocate for Carroll and its people”

In keeping with the tradition of surprising winners, Niles said came to the banquet Monday with no idea of the award in store for her.

“My prepared remarks are nowhere,” she joked. “I am blown away.”

Through the years, when people around Iowa would suggest Carroll has had a lot of luck with economic development Niles said she would shoot back, “That luck is spelled w-o-r-k. That’s what you do, is you work together, and you put other people first, and you put the community first.”

Iconic Iowa journalist Chuck Offenburger, upon learning of Niles’ award, said, “Great choice. One of Carroll MVPs for sure — and for a long time.”

Krauel, the only public works director in the history of Carroll, thanked the elected officials and city managers he has worked with since starting in that city role in 1979.

“I, like no one else, have a passion for Carroll public works,” Krauel said.

Mohr, who has been fair board president for 27 years, said the Coon Rapids location continues to make improvements.

“We use every square inch of grass we’ve got,” Mohr said.

He added, “Iowa and Carroll County are all about agriculture.”

Winschitl, said Dr. David Martin, a fellow promoter for classical music in Carroll, could not attend the banquet due to rehearsals. She’s now in her 40th year of teaching, and All Strings boasts a roster of 170 people from 38 communities.

Pat Gehling of GehlPRO said Carroll is favorable place for a small business.

“It’s a great community to be in,” he said. “I’m happy to serve everybody.”

The Milligan and Moehn families, the ownership group behind Commercial Savings Bank since 1917, earned a standing ovation for their commitment to Carroll, highlighted most recently with the donation of a $1 million bank building to the City of Carroll for use in modernizing the public library.

The bank employs 28 people, many of whom were present Monday.

“That’s pretty much what made us what we are today,” bank president Paul Milligan said.

Sturm, a Carroll dentist, earned the Carroll Young Professionals award for her work with that organization and for other causes, like FFA.

Sturm is “somebody I’ve never seen not happy,” said CYP president Austin Scott.

Read more coverage of the Carroll Chamber of Commerce banquet and award ceremony on Friday in a Daily Times Herald special section.