The 2019 Robert D. Ray Iowa SHARES Humanitarian Award is honoring an Iowa couple who have dedicated themselves to improving the lives of many. The World Food Prize will honor R.W. and Mary Nelson, founders of Kemin Industries, a Des Moines-based ingredient manufacturer, with the award on Oct. 14 during a luncheon that’s part of the World Food Prize annual symposium in Des Moines.
Iowa SHARES stands for Iowa Sends Help to Aid Refugees and End Starvation. The award will be given to the Nelsons for their humanitarian commitment and outreach to remote parts of distant countries. Their efforts have helped alleviate the suffering of villagers and help rebuild communities affected by devastating natural disasters. Over the years, the Nelsons have also granted many works of charity and assistance closer to home.
“From my first meeting with R.W. and Mary Nelson shortly after returning to Iowa to assume leadership of the World Food Prize until today, I’ve been impressed and deeply touched by their humanitarian instincts and commitment to alleviating human suffering no matter the ethnicity, religion, race or cultural background of the people involved,” says Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, president of the World Food Prize. “It can be said that R.W. and Mary truly emulate the humanitarian character that Gov. Ray displayed in his outreach to the Cambodian genocide victims in 1979 through the Iowa SHARES campaign.”
‘Privilege’ to give back
The announcement was made Sept. 26 at the Borlaug Hall of Laureates in Des Moines by Quinn during a press conference, held annually on the late Ray’s birthday. “We are deeply honored by this award as Gov. Ray was a true humanitarian in every sense and served as a pillar of community and leadership for Iowans and so many others around the world,” said R.W. Nelson. “It is a privilege to serve the communities in which we live and work, and to give back into the world what we earn from our endeavors.”
For decades, the Nelsons have supported hundreds of organizations and contributed significantly to central Iowa organizations, including the Science Center of Iowa, Living History Farms, Dowling Catholic High School, Drake University, Iowa State University, and others focused on science and education, affordable housing, disaster relief, and the creation of vibrant communities. In addition to their local endeavors, the Nelsons have been dedicated to humanitarian support around the country and the world.
Nelsons’ humanitarian work
A selection of the Nelsons’ humanitarian accomplishments over the last 60 years:
- Beginning in 2000, the Nelsons, through Kemin Industries, have raised over $725,000 to help provide gifts and cover expenses during the holidays for children at YESS (Youth Emergency Services and Shelter).
- After a devastating tsunami hit India in 2004, the Nelsons led a campaign to help a village that had lost all its boats in the disaster. Through the Nelsons’ encouragement, Kemin employees raised $30,000, which was matched by corporate funds, to buy boats, motors and fishing equipment.
- After an earthquake devastated the Sichuan Province in China in 2008, the Nelsons led the Kemin team by donating funds to help rebuild the area. Through employee donations and a Kemin corporate match, Kemin funded the rebuilding of a primary school in Qin Chang village, and the Kemin Hope Primary School opened its doors in 2009. In the decade since, Kemin has contributed support to the school by awarding scholarships to the highest achieving students each year.
- After a devastating earthquake in Nepal directly impacted a Kemin employee, the Nelsons and Kemin employees rallied to donate money to the victims of the tragedy. Through employee donations and a Kemin corporate match, Kemin sent $90,000 to assist Habitat for Humanity with relief efforts.
The award will be presented at the Iowa Hunger Luncheon on Oct. 14 at the Des Moines Marriott, with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds participating. The event is free and open to the public. RSVP at iowahungersummit.org/register. While the Hunger Summit is free and open to the public, registration is required. The summit runs from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 14 at the downtown hotel.