Iowa IPL’s new board president, John Stender-Custer

By John Stender-Custer

While it’s true that I’m a 7th generation Iowan, I only returned to Iowa in the summer of 2018. I returned to my home state with a husband, toddler twins, and a desire to intentionally engage in the state that means so much to me. As a stay-at-home dad, most of my time is spent taking care of the needs of my little people but, it was important to me to carve out space to engage in meaningful work that would get me away from chicken nuggets, streaming cartoons, and ballet lessons.

Not long after buying our home in Des Moines, I received a coffee invitation from an old acquaintance, Matt Russell, the Executive Director of Iowa IPL. The call was what I refer to as a Holy Spirit moment. Matt and I had grown up in neighboring school districts in western Iowa’s Cass County and our parents had been friends in their youth. He heard that I was back in Iowa and presented me with an opportunity:  how would I like to sit in on an Iowa IPL board meeting, let the board get to know me, and see if I might be a good match to serve? I took a night to talk it over with my husband, Tom, and think about what this kind of commitment might mean to our schedule. But I knew, even before I finished my Mexican mocha at Zanzibar’s, that this was the kind of thing that I was looking for. It felt like a good fit.

My dad retired in 2019 after farming for 56 years. It was from him that I gained a love for the land and care for creation. I was never destined to be a farmer but being a farm kid certainly gave me a strong respect for rural life, the hard work of farmers and those that support them, and the bounty they provide to those of us that need to eat. My heart was shaped in southwest Iowa, but my mind was shaped in Davenport where I studied Theology and History at St. Ambrose University. It was there that I was introduced to Catholic Social Teaching and learned about the principle of stewardship. The lessons in social justice and peace that I learned from the priests and professors at Ambrose have stuck with me and form the basis of how I encounter the world, including the climate crisis.

I personally take climate action because I believe in the goodness of the earth itself, the importance of the environment to humanity, and because I love my family and want to make a better future for my children. Climate also intersects with almost every issue of relevance relating to equity in America today, including racial justice, LGBTQ+ equality, immigration, documentation status, women’s rights, and the rights of the disabled. We only have two hands but I do take comfort in knowing that our work for environmental justice affects so many other important issues and movements that are close to my heart.

I was humbled to be elected as the new president of the board of Iowa IPL during our meeting earlier this month. The mission of Iowa IPL is to empower people of faith and conscience to take bold and just action on climate change and it is that mission that we will continue to pursue. 

I look forward to continuing our strong board support for Iowa IPL’s Called to Climate Action work with Iowa youth, Faith Farms and Climate work with Iowa farmers, and the teaching and preaching that happens across the state. We will continue to call on individuals and congregations to take actions to reduce carbon footprints. But more importantly, at least to me, will be our call to our elected leaders to make structural changes that will make a greater impact than even our collective individual actions can make on their own.

When not herding cats:  a husband, 4-year-old twins, and 4 actual felines, I also love to bake, listen to audiobooks while I clean the house, and spend time back on our family farm near Massena. I serve on the Chapter of St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral in downtown Des Moines, where we are members and I am on the alumni board of St. Ambrose University in Davenport.