Discover Ames is the official destination marketing organization for the city of Ames and the surrounding area. We attract and secure meetings, conventions, events, and visitors for Ames and Iowa State University. We provide unparalleled services to groups and visitors as well as enhance the quality of life for the Ames community.
The Ames tourism industry accounts for a major and irreplaceable source of revenue for our restaurants, shops, cultural organizations, attractions, and hotels. Discover Ames enhances the overall Ames experience and contributes to the economic well-being of the city through leadership and innovation in the hospitality industry.
Kim Abels, director of visitor experience, gets to spend her professional life recruiting and providing event coordination for the state, regional and national association market. Before she joined the Discover Ames team in 2017, Kim spent 15 years as sports director for the Iowa Sports Foundation. She is a member of Meeting Planners International (MPI Heartland Chapter) and the Iowa Society of Association Executives (ISAE).
In her free time Kim spends time with her husband, Brian, and children Madison and Mason. She enjoys camping, golfing, bowling, Clone Cones at Hilton and she is actively involved with her kids’ school events. She is an advocate for organ and tissue donation and is a past member of the Story County Go Red For Women program.
Favorite Ames memory: Ames has provided me with a lot of milestones – graduating from ISU, obtaining my first professional job, meeting my husband, purchasing my first home, the birth of my children – so it is hard to pinpoint one favorite memory.
Dan joined the Discover Ames team in April 2022. “I am excited to promote Ames to a variety of different sports organizations around the United States,” he said.
Dan received a bachelor’s degree in sports administration from Simpson College. He has worked as an account executive at the Iowa Wild and later worked in marketing and business development for the Iowa Sports Foundation.
When he’s not out promoting Ames or working at events, Dan likes to spend time with family and friends, golfing, boating, fishing, hiking, and exploring the breweries around the state of Iowa.
Favorite Ames memory: “One of my favorite Ames memories is attending the ESPN Gameday experience and seeing the sold-out crowds in Jack Trice Stadium.”
Sharon Black, Director of Sales, is responsible for the leadership, development, and implementation of conference, convention, and event and meeting sales & services for state, regional, and national clients. Sharon is a people person in every form of the term which makes her an excellent asset to our team to connect with existing clients and new market development. She brings 25 years of experience in the travel and hospitality industry with no shortage of knowledge in the corporate, leisure, and military travel industries. In her most recent position she served as the Sales Manager at Prairie Meadows Hotel and Conference Center.
While she enjoys golfing, riding her bike, and flower gardening, Sharon’s absolute favorite activity is spending time with her grandchildren!
Great Memory in Ames: I’m an Aerosmith fan and a great Ames memory that popped into my mind was attending the Aerosmith Concert at Hilton Coliseum in Feb of 1998. We had GREAT seats due to “knowing somebody”. We were in the 1st row of the parquet, right next to the stage. There was a runway stage right next to our seats. Joe Perry came out on the runway and played a song right next to us. After he finished his song, he reached out to hand his guitar pick to me and this little kid standing next to me grabbed it and took off. I’m still mad about that.
Kevin Bourke, Head Honcho (aka President/CEO), brings a wealth of community, ISU, state and event experience to the organization. After coaching the ISU Cyclone Track & Cross Country Teams for 17 years (which included coaching 6 NCAA Champions, 31 All-Americans and 22 Drake Relays Champions), Kevin applied his skill sets to serving as the COO for the Iowa Sports Foundation based in Ames and was responsible for statewide programs including the Iowa Games (summer and winter), Adaptive Sports Iowa and the Iowa Corporate Games.
Living in Ames for more than 35 years, Kevin claims he bleeds cardinal and gold (but we’re still waiting on hospital records for proof), demonstrates a love for the outdoors, and admits he’s a fervent birder. Favorite bird? CY, of course! Kevin loves the “big city, small-town feel” of Ames, and especially enjoys the fact that even with so much offered here, there are still no traffic jams (except on football Saturdays, of course).
Best sports memory in Ames: Experiencing Hilton Magic on December 19, 1987. ISU’s Lafester Rhodes scored 54 points to lead the #20 Cyclones in an overtime victory over #7 Iowa. Tom Kroeschell – ISU’s Sports Information Director at the time – said this game was “arguably the greatest and most exciting ever played in the state of Iowa!”
Sam Franzen is an events coordinator with Conference Planning and Management. Sam’s career has been focused on the tourism industry, where he developed, maintained, and executed tour itineraries for destinations all over the world. Sam is also a licensed Realtor and is engaged to Luke Boeck, his domestic partner of 3.5 years. Sam and Luke live with their two dogs, Briggs and Stella. Sam enjoys reading, watching movies and going to Broadway shows/stand-up comedians, playing cards and board games, traveling, and relaxing at home. Originally from Montana, Sam has lived in Ames since 2019.
Carole Gieseke is our director of marketing and communications. She spends her days creating new and innovative ways to promote the city of Ames and its tremendous services, facilities, and community spirit.
When she joined the Ames CVB in July 2021, Carole brought decades of communications and marketing experience from her career in higher education: She was the editor of VISIONS, the Iowa State University alumni magazine, and managed other communications projects for the ISU Alumni Association. Although she’s a Missouri native, she’s a bit of an Ames and state of Iowa connoisseur, having written a blog about Iowa travel (and beyond) for 10 years. She says she loves the uniqueness of Ames, with its independent shops and restaurants, historic neighborhoods, coffee shops, and breweries. She takes great pride in her own neighborhood and community and looks forward to the weeks when Ames overflows with enthusiastic people on Cyclone football game days, at farmers markets and downtown festivals, and when students return to Iowa State each fall.
Carole loves to travel – she’s been to all 50 states and around 15 countries – and to explore Iowa’s hiking trails, vibrant small towns, unique restaurants, and state parks. She’s not a bicyclist herself, but she eagerly looks forward each year to the announcement of the RAGBRAI route (the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa) because she likes to drive that route from one end to the other and explore every county road and town along the way. She says that Ames has been a wonderful place for her and her husband, Dave, to raise their two daughters.
Favorite thing about Ames: I love the mix of arts and culture in Ames, from the art on the Iowa State University campus to live music in downtown Ames to Broadway touring shows. There’s nothing better than strolling down Main Street during an art festival and then capping off the day with a show at Stephens Auditorium.
Tim Grewell, Director IT and Registration Services, oversees all the IT and software used by our team and registration clients. Translation: he’s our tech genius that keeps us connected and out of the dark ages. Tim is a master of the technology platform tracking all events, clients, registrations, members and activity of the organization. At his foundation, Tim is a Business Management turned Hotel Restaurant Institution Management graduate – a guy who made the major switch after discovering the wonderful world of events while working at the Memorial Union as a student.
A native Amesian (Ames-ite? Ames-er?), Tim’s out-of-office time is spent hanging out with his wife, kids and yellow Labradors. He loves the small-town feel of Ames even though there’s always so much going on. A life-long Cyclone, Tim is also the two-time office champion of Wii Bowling.
Only kids who grew up in Ames in the 80s (OK, 70s) would remember: Sitting in the “airplane” at the South Duff Hardees (where Panera is located now). I was really young, but it was fun. Trust me.
Zach grew up in Indianola but currently lives in Des Moines in the Beaverdale area. He and his wife, Rose, have a terrier mix named Luna, and he likes hanging out with both of them. He also enjoys playing guitar, watching movies, and (pandemic permitting) attending live shows and music. He says that he gets “really excited about really nerdy things” – like Star Wars and heavy metal.
Zach graduated from ISU in 2017, and he says it’s fun to be back in Ames. “I’m really happy to be here!” he says.
Kate Kurka Gillum is the person behind the social media and email newsletters of Discover Ames. Kate previously worked in the email newsletter department at Meredith Corporation under publications like Food & Wine, Travel + Leisure, and Martha Stewart Weddings. She also spent time working as the digital marketing manager at a financial tech start-up before coming to Discover Ames.
Kate is passionate about building community and Iowa; working with Discover Ames gives her the opportunity to combine these two passions. She loves being able to share local businesses and hidden gems with the people of Ames and beyond.
“Central Iowa is a best-kept secret in my opinion,” Kate says. “We have amazing restaurants, beautiful hiking and biking trails, and the ‘Iowa nice’ mentality can’t be beat. People will search far and wide to find what Iowans already know to be true – Midwest is best.”
Kate is an avid reader and animal lover. When she isn’t curled up with a new book and her two dogs, Kate is likely to be hiking or trying a new restaurant with her husband, Hunter.
Kate’s favorite Ames memory: The first time I ever visited Ames was with my dad, an ISU alum. We were touring potential colleges for me to attend and spent all day in Ames wandering campus, visiting the buildings my dad used to frequent, piecing together the town I knew only from pictures.
Jody Larson is interim director for Conference Planning and Management. Jody has over 20 years of experience in event management, most of which has been spent in Iowa State University’s conference services. Jody most recently served as project manager for the vice president for Extension and Outreach. She and her husband, Brent, have a farm north of Story City where they grow corn and soybeans and have a cow/calf operation. Jody and Brent have three children: Riley is a junior in high school; Blake is a freshman; and Emma is in seventh grade. Jody has been involved in every Odyssey of the Mind since 2002. She’s worked with Special Olympics National Games, Farm Progress Show, National Order of the Arrow, high school music…a truly diverse mix of large events, smaller meetings, conferences, and sales. As interim directory, Jody says, “I’m excited about reconnecting with past clients and meeting new ones. My short-term focus is current events on the calendar and rebooking events, but we’re also looking at new events for 2023 and beyond.”
Jean McBreen provides administrative support to Discover Ames, including accounting and staff relations responsibilities. She also gives special direction to the annual Community Grant program. Before joining Discover Ames team in 2018, Jean spent nearly 30 years in the hospitality industry, which included earning awards for “Property of the Year” and “Hotelier of the Year” (Iowa Lodging Association), and “General Manager of the Year” (Ledgestone Hospitality). Jean brings a coveted mix of tremendous customer service experience and a love of numbers and budgeting. Yes. That’s right. She loves budgeting.
Jean is an avid fiction reader and enjoys vacationing on Sanibel Island doing absolutely nothing. She walks 5 miles a day (when weather permits) … she should be closing in on the Grand Canyon by now. And she has a thing for chicken decorations.
Favorite Ames memory: During the floods of 2010, we flushed the toilets in the hotel using the water from the swimming pool.
Kaleena Middendorf, Services Coordinator, is responsible for monitoring all financial transactions related to each event along with closing out the events after their completion. She joined the Conference Planning and Management team in February of 2020 and has been quick to adapt the numerous changes as a result of COVID-19! Kaleena dawns prior experience from working in the road construction industry, childcare, and long-haul trucking. While these fields may seem very different from one another, Kaleena says that the skills that she has learned in each area have complimented her adventure nicely. She loves when all of the financial puzzle pieces fall into place and everything balances back to zero at the end.
In her free time Kaleena loves to travel, attend concerts and sporting events, and spend time with family and friends. She has a big heart for Ames, with her favorite time of year being Iowa State Football season! That is the only time you will find her willingly rising at 4:00am to join in on the fun with her large tailgating group comprised of both family and friends. A little known fact on Kaleena is that she competed with the Iowa State University Ballroom Dance Company when she was in high school and during college and she has the ribbons and trophies to prove it!
Favorite Ames Memory: My absolute favorite Ames memory is from Nov. 18, 2011! This was the night when Iowa State beat No. 2 Oklahoma State in double overtime. Being in the student section that night was electric, and you could feel the magic in the air! Rushing the field with all of the fans, and singing ‘Sweet Caroline’ is something that never gets old!
Andy Moore serves Discover Ames as our creative & digital services specialist. In that role, he handles a wide range of creative services – from print and digital design, to photography and social media. Andy has been with Discover Ames since September of 2021. He spent the previous 10 years pushing pixels at a marketing agency, two publishing companies, and a couple of sign shops.
Andy says he’s thrilled to be joining the Discover Ames team. Being born and raised in central Iowa, he’s always thought of Ames as a beautiful and vibrant community, so he enjoys promoting the city and helping visitors and locals rediscover all that Ames has to offer.
Andy loves new experiences and wants others to join him, whether that’s checking out the latest brewery, hiking a new trail, or listening to a local band. In his spare time, Andy enjoys working on home improvement and woodworking projects, going on road trips, and playing board games with his family. And, not to brag, but he was runner-up 3 years in a row at an annual chili cook-off competition!
Maddie Reed is the woman behind the ginormous stacks of registration materials and piles of conference publications. As our Registrations Coordinator, Maddie assists with the entire event registration cycle while enhancing the attendee experience by providing great customer service along the way. Her first introduction to the team was as an intern with Conference Planning and Management. After spending time as an event venue supervisor in Des Moines, Maddie happily made her return to Ames and ISU to join the Registrations Team.
Music has an almost weird (her word – not ours) control over Maddie’s mood, and she’s always on the lookout for her next concert. Other interests include traveling, hiking, biking, running, yoga, and, well, sleeping.
Favorite time in Ames: The years spent tending to the crowds as a bartender throughout college during exciting ISU games.
Amanda Ruckdaschel, Event Coordinator, helps clients of ISU Conference Planning & Management plan from beginning to end. Her ISU career started in Catering, but her event management experience goes back to her first job after college where she worked with Junior Achievement of Eastern Iowa. Amanda joined the Conference Planning & Management team in 2019 to pursue her love of seeing an event come together after a lot of good old-fashioned hard work.
A great Ames memory: I’m new to Cyclone tailgating, but my first one was in 2018 for the (short-lived) ISU vs SDSU game, which was a lot of fun … at least before it started pouring rain! But even though we ended up drenched and walking down Lincoln Way, it was a great memory.
Amanda Sawyer has joined the Conference Planning & Management team as an events coordinator. Her focus will be with Iowa Department of Public Health. Amanda is a former senior branch office administrator with Edward Jones Investments and is the owner of an event planning business, “Memories in the Making Event Planning & Design.” She lives in Toledo, Iowa, with her husband, Nick, and two sons, a 4-month-old named Jasper and a soon-to-be-2-year-old named Kane. She’s excited to meet new people and to spend time doing what she loves to do – planning events and watching her boys grow.
Veronica is originally from Libertyville, a northern suburb of Chicago. “I moved to Iowa because my grandfather attended Iowa State University and pushed me to visit. I ended up falling love with the atmosphere, environment, and the people. I love trying new adventures, food, places, and meeting new people/making friends and I was able to see myself doing all that in Ames and Iowa State!”
Prior to joining the Discover Ames team, Veronica worked with the Ames Golf and Country Club and the Iowa Events Center. She says she saw the event services coordinator position as a great opportunity to be in the event industry while exploring other areas of marketing and sales. “I have always loved being involved with events, and this position provides the opportunity to improve and expand my knowledge on creating a successful event experience.”
Veronica’s hidden talent is playing the saxophone. She enjoys the outdoors: hiking, biking, kayaking, beach volleyball, and lacrosse. “Ever since Covid, I got into baking and cooking,” she says. “I have always enjoyed photography and sewing, and I do enjoy my lazy days binge watching movies and TV series!”