Rising Stars 2023: Jack Mescher

Jack Mescher in detail

Age: 30.

Job title/occupation/place of employment: CEO of Hills & Dales.

Volunteer activities: Various initiatives and committees promoting human dignity and supports for vulnerable populations. Various initiatives and work with the Catholic Church.

Education: St. Francis Xavier Elementary, Dyersville, Iowa; Beckman Catholic High School, Dyersville.; Loras College, Dubuque.

Family: Wife, Karan; sons Richard, 2, and Elmer, 6 months.

Person most inspirational to me and why: Mother Teresa of Calcutta: She modeled that major human impact is possible through small and otherwise inconsequential acts of kindness and sacrifice.

Favorite thing to do outside of work: Meeting and visiting with friends, family and new people. Having engaging conversation and learning. Observing the wonderment and playful spirit of my children.

One word to describe me: Curious.

What’s one thing that most people would be surprised to know about you: Not too much.

Greatest fear: Apathy, in all its forms.

What’s the one thing you are most passionate about in your life: People, not things.

After serving as a direct support employee at Hills & Dales during college, and then working for the federal government post-graduation, Jack Mescher returned to Hills & Dales, first in direct support, and then as assistant director.

He stepped into the role of CEO in 2021 following the long tenure of Marilyn Althoff, who had been with the organization for 32 years, including 17 as CEO.

As if that wasn’t daunting enough, he did it in the midst of a pandemic.

“It was a very challenging time,” Mescher said. “We had to really struggle through understanding regulations that didn’t really contemplate our population, and we had to implement a federal vaccine mandate alongside the worst job crisis in health care in a century.”

But Claira Sieverding Kapraun, of Brain Health Now, who nominated Mescher for Rising Stars, said there was no doubt he was the man for the job.

“Jack has demonstrated exceptional leadership,” she said in her nomination. “He is a visionary and a strategic thinker. He is always five steps ahead, identifying emerging trends and opportunities.”

One of those opportunities was opening the Weber Autism Center this year. Named for principal donors Jim and Jane Weber, Mescher was involved in everything from fundraising for the project to programming. The center will double Hills & Dales’ ability to serve the autism community to at least 80 young people.

“The center serves children who live at home and are working on goals like communication, social behaviors, works skills for older teenagers,” he said.

Because the center is the third largest provider of autism services in the state of Iowa, Mescher said it’s important to him to articulate how rare it is to have such a center in a city the size of Dubuque.

“It’s pretty much us and two other groups in the state,” he said. “To have that in Dubuque is pretty amazing.”

Kapraun pointed out that Mescher is completely dedicated to his role, not only as CEO, but as a servant leader.

“He selflessly puts the needs of others before his own, fostering a culture of collaboration, empathy and growth,” she said. “He will sacrifice his weekends and holidays to ensure adequate coverage and in order to allow direct support professional to spend weekends and holidays with their families.”

Mescher said it’s just part of the job.

“We’re 24/7 at Hills & Dales,” he said. “There’s no work-life balance. It’s work-life alignment. The important thing is to serve our population in an excellent manner.”