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Let's Catch Up: May Newsletter

Updated: May 28, 2021


At Monday evening’s meeting, the City Council approved a plan to provide incentives for City employees to live or rent within Des Moines city limits. The goal is to encourage more employee investment in the City and enhance employee-community relations.

Qualified employees who purchase a home in the City of Des Moines and maintain it as their primary residence for at least five years will get a one-time forgivable loan of $15,000, minus any other incentives. (A prorated portion of the amount becomes a lien against the home if the homeowner leaves City employment or relocates outside the City.) Qualified employees who sign a lease of at least 12 months for a City rental residence will receive two separate incentive payments of $1,000.

Residency incentives grew out of the Civil and Human Rights Commission’s Bridging the Gap program.


Saturday, I joined 30-plus volunteers from Central Presbyterian Church to knock out all the wall panels for a new Habitat for Humanity home planned for 1323 13th Street in the King Irving Neighborhood. Habitat staff plan to turn over the keys to the first-time homeowners this fall.

Without one nail gun, we cut and assembled all the exterior and interior walls for the 1,110 square-feet home, including the closets. Habitat valued our contribution at $3,848.

This year, the local Habitat chapter, working with BSB Design of Des Moines, plans to complete 34 affordable homeownership opportunities in the metro area.

These homes don’t get built by themselves! Here’s how to volunteer. To organize a group, call the Habitat offices at 515-471-8686 x 111.


If you were in the Court Avenue District Saturday night, you might have glimpsed the first Des Moines BCycle e-bikes assembled for the local fleet. Over the next two weeks, Street Collective employees will distribute 65 e-bikes to the 27 BCycle stations around the metro. (Total BCycle bikes in the fleet: 200.)

Des Moines has the longest-operating BCycle program in the USA. The local program started with four stations and 18 bikes in 2010. New BCycle stations in the metro include the Clive Aquatics Center, Clive Campbell Park, Windsor Heights Colby Park, and the Des Moines Water Works Park.

The expansion is part of a $170,000 Transportation Alternatives Program grant awarded to the City of Clive through the Des Moines Area MPO. According to Street Collective Executive Director Jeremy Lewis, “This project would not have been possible without significant financial investment from MidAmerican Energy Company, and the cities of Clive and Windsor Heights.”

Street Collective employee Muhamed Ibisevic invited his friends Rebecca Clay, left, and Alexis Rose, right, on a trial ride. Yes, smiles all around.


When it comes to planting pepper seedlings for summer gardens, generations of Ausilios in the Des Moines area are mighty picky about what to plant—no ordinary pepper will do: It’s gotta be the Ausilio thin-skinned Italian peppers.

How treasured are the seeds passed down through five generations? In 2017, Decorah-based Seed Savers Exchange added the family’s pepper seeds to its catalog of 20,000 items, declaring the Ausilio peppers as among the best-researched additions. Soon afterward, the Ausilio pepper seeds were added to the “doomsday” seed vault deep inside the Arctic Circle in Svalbard, Norway.

Well-regarded local chefs Tony Lemmo and George Formaro worship them. “They are such an important ingredient that embodies all the folks who immigrated to Des Moines from southern Italy,” Tony says. “Plus, there is no better pepper around that combines everything a pepper should be. They are truly divine after roasting and preserving them in oil.” If you are fortunate, you might find these cherished pepper plants at Gateway Market.

Chad Ogle-Riccelli, the owner of Action Auto Body, keeps the family tradition going and growing with more than 600 pepper plants started each spring in his backyard greenhouse. When July arrives, Chad; his wife, Michele, and their three kids harvest peppers that are fried, canned, dried, and added to family recipes. Cherished recipes include Sarda (a rolled bread with peppers and anchovies) and Pastachiena (a casserole laced with layers of pasta, cheese, hard-boiled eggs, meatballs, tomato sauce, and peppers).

Here’s a quick family and pepper history:

Giovanni “John” Ausilio, Chad’s great-grandfather, immigrated from Campana, Italy, in the early 1900s. He later met and married Rachel Scarcello, who arrived in Des Moines from Terravecchia, Italy. The young couple lived on Motley Street near MacRae Park, where they maintained a tidy garden that included peppers from cherished seeds originally sent from Italy. For the second generation, seeds from the local Ausilio pepper plants were a wedding gift for their daughter Theresa, now 96 years young, when she married Nick Riccelli.

Today’s Ogle-Riccelli garden consists of the Ausilio peppers, as well as tomatoes and herbs. “The peppers have always been consistent over all these generations,” reports Michele: bell to triangular-shaped peppers, with excellent, moderate to high-heat flavor, up to 3½ to 5 inches long and 1½ to 2½ inches wide. “Stewed, dried, stuffed, or fried, this pepper is at the center of our family’s culinary traditions,” Michele says. “Naturally, they require full sunlight, warm soil, water, conversation, and love.“

Yes, conversation and love! An observant Ausilio descendant talks to the pepper plants daily. Theresa, Chad’s grandmother, recommends giving a warm morning greeting to pepper plants. And of course, don’t forget to say “Good night.” With that, an Ausilio plant frequently grows 5 feet tall and produces 24 or more peppers.

Read more about the Ausilio family pepper plants.


This year has the makings of a long season to cover new graffiti in Des Moines. In the photo, Kat Rivera, a member of the City’s graffiti team, rolls gray latex paint over a slew of taggings beneath the Seventh Street Bridge and along the Meredith Trail.

Graffiti is a growing eyesore in Des Moines. Graffiti tickets reported to the City rose from 280 in 2018 to 497 in 2020. For the last fiscal year, the three-person team, supervised by Jody Rouse, used 100 gallons of paint to cover the vandalism beneath bridges, wooden buildings, and light poles. This fiscal year they’ve used 142 gallons. In addition, they have run through 70 gallons of chemical concentrate to power-wash the graffiti where necessary.

You can use the MyDSMmobile app to open a ticket to remove graffiti. Here’s a PDF you can download for additional information.


On Ingersoll Avenue and elsewhere, the City is installing permeable pavers, which allow water to pass through to the layers underneath. As you might imagine, a traditional street sweeper would quickly clog the gaps in the pavers, so the Public Works Department has replaced one sweeper with an Elgin Whirlwind street vacuum, purchased for $316,334 in late 2020. The City’s fleet now contains six waterless sweepers and four water sweepers.


Dinner Dispatch founders LeAnn Thongvanh, left, a nurse, and Jen Ordeson, a teacher, cooked up an enviable business plan, then watched their business grow more than 300% during the pandemic. Woohoo!

Dinner Dispatch is an affordable, local version of Blue Apron or Hello Fresh but with an added benefit—they prep everything. No chopping, dicing or sauce-making; the ingredients are ready to go. And they rely heavily on local suppliers: Ebersole Cattle Company in Kellerton sources grass-fed ground beef. Giddy’s Goodies provides excellent scotcheroos featured in some dinners. And Prep Kings is the go-to for addictive Energy Balls.

Every Monday, Dinner Dispatch delivers about 1,500 dinner servings to 100 or more households in the metro area. Two-thirds of the meals they prepare are intended for families, serving 4 to 6. The remaining third (half portions serving 2 to 3), end up at the doors of empty nesters and young professionals. (

The menus change weekly. Among the favorites: beef stroganoff, a meatball sub casserole, and Honey Sriracha Asian Chicken Salad. Other offerings are ready for the freezer.

What started as a partnership between friends has grown into a business supporting 15 part-time workers, including drivers (10 routes currently in the metro), prep workers, and support staff. While Jen’s mom was a professional chef, LeAnn had no background in culinary arts. But, she says, “Family shows through in our love for food.”

Dinner Dispatch is the first business to graduate from the Mickle Center Shared-Use Commercial Kitchen into its own space. Jen and LeAnn recently moved into a remodeled 1,200-square-feet prep kitchen at Apple Valley in Windsor Heights.

“It’s just so hard to fathom how fast we’ve grown,” LeAnn marvels. “We moved into the Mickle Center kitchen in November 2019. In January 2020, we were feeling pretty good about the opportunities. Then with COVID, our sales tripled almost overnight. Word of mouth and Facebook is where we’ve found a lot of new customers.

“We’re ready to grow again in our new space.”

Jen has effusive praise for the Mickle Center’s kitchen and its supervisor, Mary Kapler. “We couldn’t have started this business without Mary and this kitchen,” Jen praised. “Mary coached us through how to prepare for our state inspections and helped us ramp up our recipe development. We owe Mary a lot.”

Explore Dinner Dispatch’s menu here.


Think Waveland Golf Course is exclusive territory for duffers and the winter sledders? We have an event for you.

The Waveland Park Twilight Family Walk/Run is your opportunity to enjoy a leisurely evening walk or run on the oldest golf course west of the Mississippi River. It all kicks off at 8 p.m. on Friday, June 18. (The course is closed to golfers that evening.) Sponsors include the Waveland Golf Course, Friends of Des Moines Parks, the Waveland Park Neighborhood Association, and the Capital Striders Running Club.

On the 4-mile course—you can shorten your walk, if you wish—you’ll stick to the asphalt golf cart paths that wind their way through nearly 2,000 trees. Then, circle back to the historic Waveland clubhouse for a slice of Fat Joe’s pizza and a beer or soft drink.

Plan your walk here.


A $750,000 expansion and renovation of the Robert D. Ray Asian Gardens is taking place along the Des Moines River. The expansion north of a pagoda, installed in 2009, includes a wood-planked boardwalk and more than 25,000 new plantings in the Jim Muto Recreation Area. Looks for a re-dedication of the gardens in September.

When completed with updated lighting and security, the management of the Asian Gardens will transfer from the Riverfront Development Authority to the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden.

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