SIOUX CENTER—Aaron Van Beek is not your average 23-year-old.
Not only is Van Beek president and director of Midwest Honor Flight, he’s also a full-time third-grade teacher at Kinsey Elementary in Sioux Center — through which he earned and “Above and beyond” award from the school district in his first year of teaching 2018-19 for his patriotism.
Before he was 21 years old, he also helped found the Sons of the American Legion Squadron 199 of Sioux Center, Sioux Center Wreaths Across America and Leadership and Citizenship Focus through which he’s a certified D.C. tour guide.
Because of all that Van Beek is being recognized as an Iowan of the Day, one of 10 throughout the state receiving that honor at the Iowa State Fair.
“It’s an honor but I certainly wasn’t expecting it and certainly it’s not why I do what I do,” Van Beek said. “And if they give me the mic on stage, which might be a mistake, I know exactly what I’m going to be talking about — not about me but about Midwest Honor Flight. Any opportunity to bring Honor Flight into something I’m going to take full advantage of that.”
Day of recognition
Van Beek’s day of recognition will be Sunday, Aug. 11. He will be recognized with a 2 p.m. presentation on the Anne and Bill Riley stage. Along with accommodations at the Des Moines Marriott Downtown, he will receive a gift bag, grandstand tickets, use of the Iowan of the Day golf cart, a cash prize, Iowa State Fair admission tickets and VIP parking.
Founded in 1997, the Iowan of the Day program allows the Blue Ribbon Foundation to recognize Iowa’s most outstanding individuals. The program continues to honor Iowans across the state who have made a difference in the lives of others, while upholding the characteristics associated with Iowa — dependability, integrity, hard work and sense of community.
“When I think of Aaron Van Beek, I think of someone who eminently loves his country,” said one of his nominators, Matthew Volker. “ … Aaron’s foresight and passion to give back to his American heroes is overwhelming.”
Van Beek credits his family with instilling within him a patriotic spirit. Three of his great-grandpas and one grandpa are veterans.
One great-grandpa, Bert Regnerus, was a World War II veteran. Retired Master Sgt. Klaas Van Beek of Sioux Center is his grandpa.
“Bert was still living when I was old enough to decorate my bike for the VFW bike contest on Memorial Day,” Van Beek said. “Those in the contest get to be part of the parade. Being able to be in the same parade as my grandpas when they’re dressed up in their uniform was a neat tradition.”
Later in high school and part of college, Van Beek was part of the quartet that sang during the Memorial Day service.
He also joined the Sioux Center Boy Scouts in the first grade, completing his Eagle Scout project in high school and becoming an assistant Scoutmaster through his sophomore year in college.
Completing his Eagle Scout project (raising funds to purchase a defibrillator for First Reformed Church in Maurice) ignited his personal interest in supporting veterans.
“The project did it’s job,” Van Beek said. “Through those, you’re to demonstrate leadership skills while doing a project for the benefit of the community. I wanted to do more.”
As a junior in high school in 2013, he became a founding member of Sons of the American Legion Squadron 199 of Sioux Center. He graduated from Sioux Center High School in 2014 and that summer he took a trip out Washington D.C. through a 4-H leadership program.
“I just wanted to see it,” he said. “I was impressed with Arlington National Cemetery, which made me follow them on Twitter and learned about the Wreaths Across America program.”
So he brought that to Sioux Center in 2015.
He became certified as a D.C. tour guide and gave his first tour in 2016.
He also saw a need in Northwest Iowa, South Dakota and Southwest Minnesota: Veterans were not having the time or the funds to see their memorials in Washington, D.C. In 2017, he started the Midwest Honor Flight program through the Honor Flight Network which allows veterans from a 90-county area to fly to D.C. under the care and supervision of Honor Flight Guardians.
“Midwest Honor Flight recognizes American veterans for their sacrifices and achievements by flying them to Washington, D.C. to see their memorial at no cost,” Van Beek said.
Midwest Honor Flight has completed four missions, taking more than 300 veterans to D.C.
“The veterans are why I do what I do,” Van Beek said. “From volunteering or teaching, in everything I do it’s my goal that people know patriotism is more than just saying the pledge every day or knowing The Star-Spangled Banner. It’s about knowing why those were written, how our flag was fought for over the years We need to remember those who fought for it all.”