Columbus Days week kicked off with the traditional sense of pomp and circumstance Monday night with the crowning of this year’s King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.
Mike Hansen, president and CEO of Columbus Community Hospital, and Jo Suess, development director for the Columbus Area United Way, are this year’s royalty, chosen because of their continuing contributions to the greater Columbus community.
“We usually look for somebody who has contributed to the community,” said Deb Loseke, director of the Platte County Convention and Visitors Bureau and one of the organizers for Monday’s event. “That is usually the standard, whether that’s through their volunteer work, their employment or a mixture of both. We really look for people who contribute to the success and growth of Columbus.”
Loseke said she feels that both Hansen and Suess have done just that, through Hansen’s role as the head of one of the largest employers in Columbus and Suess’ work with the United Way, particularly through the Lazy River Duck Run, one of the most anticipated events of any Columbus Days weekend. Past winners agreed with her, selecting the two out of a group of six (three men, three women) nominated by their peers.
“Each past royalty has their reasons why they chose them, but I think it’s just the outstanding work that they’ve done in the community and the contributions they made to make Columbus a better place to live,” Loseke said.
Hansen has been the head of CCH for the last decade, and despite only having about a decade in Columbus, he’s happy to be recognized for his work in the community in that time.
“It’s a great honor,” Hansen said. “I’ve only been in the community for 10 years, so to be able to be honored by the city of Columbus and (be) represented in Columbus Days and the parade, it’s an extreme honor.”
Hansen said he feels that he has accomplished plenty in his time leading CCH, from a 30,000-square-foot facility expansion to the opening of the Columbus Wellness Center, in conjunction with the YMCA. Now, he hopes to have a little bit of fun during Columbus Days as King Ferdinand XLV.
“(I’ll) go where they tell me,” Hansen said, laughing. “There are a lot of activities going on. Some of the things I know I’ll be doing (are) some lunches, judging the talent contest and attend things like the wiener dog races and the barbecues and just having fun with the (residents) of Columbus.”
Suess was speechless when she found out that she would be receiving this honor alongside Hansen. She remembered the days when she was first starting out in Columbus with the Girl Scouts and worked alongside two leaders who were former Queen Isabellas.
“Two of the very first people that I met here are past queens,” Suess said. “Sandy Riley and Marilyn Gangel were two of the first women that I met. They were very involved in Girl Scouts and looking back on that, how in awe I was of their roles in the community (is) where my disbelief falls in. I am following in the category of all of these past queens and all of the good that they have done.”
Wherever she goes, someone is there to congratulate her on becoming queen, even while she plays golf, normally a quiet and tranquil activity.
“It has been a lot of fun,” Suess said. “I get reactions from all over the community. Even on the golf course yesterday, I had a group next to us hollering over at the queen. Stuff like that is kind of fun.”
In addition to their many perks, Suess and Hansen get to be the faces of Columbus Days, even at events they have a direct hand in. Both will pick the winning duck at the Lazy River Duck Run, an event that Suess is involved in through her work at the United Way. For many years, she has had the opportunity to see the King and Queen pick the lucky duck out of the pond to declare the winner. Now, she will be the one plucking the duck out of the pool.
“Picking the first duck out of the duck race, I mean, I’ve worked that event for the last 22 years, and now I get to be the one who picks the winner out,” Suess said. “I’ve been on the Columbus Days board for years, so I know how much fun it is putting together this event. Participating in everything will be all that more special.”
As King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, Hansen and Suess said they want everyone in Columbus to come out and have fun with the many events that will be available, many at little or no cost.
“My first decree will be for the citizens of Columbus to enjoy each other’s fellowship and company and have a great time with their families,” Hansen said. “(I want them) to spend some good quality time with their families. Many times, we just get so busy with our lives, activities and work, and sometimes you have to take a step back and appreciate life.”
“My first proclamation is to have the entire community participate in Columbus Days,” Suess said. “There are a lot of fun events downtown and the more, the merrier.”
Zach Roth is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at email@example.com.