Ila Plasencia was honored as one of the Sages Over 70 by dsm Magazine

La Sra. Ila Plasencia

Once again dsm Magazine was honored to present a new group of Sages Over 70 last Monday night in West Des Moines. And Ila Plasencia long time community activist is among this year’s honorees. 

Ila Plasencia

Ila Plasencia was a teenager during World War II when she learned the value of community service. She grew up on a farm on the outskirts of Des Moines, but when both her brothers joined the armed services and therefore couldn’t help on the farm any longer, her father moved the family to the Valley Junction neighborhood. In their free time, Plasencia and her father assisted the war effort by using a horse and wagon to organize a scrap metal drive. Plasencia recruited her Mexican-American friends to help and formed an official group called the 12 Stars. 


Plasencia’s father was the driving force in her lifelong passion for giving back, she says. “When we had the farm, we had plenty of chickens and pigs, so we’d have plenty to eat and fed people in the Latino community,” Plasencia says. “I didn’t realize what he was doing at the time, but he was sharing and giving what he had.” 

Plasencia has endured family tragedies as well. Both brothers were killed during the war, her sister died after suffering a ruptured appendix around the same time, and her mother died in 1944 after a long bout with tuberculosis. But that adversity didn’t stifle Plasencia’s passion. Throughout her life, Plasencia, now 92, has served as an advocate for immigrants, unfairly treated workers, minorities and others. Plascencia had four children with her late husband, Ralph.

Her Advice

Share your good fortune. Whatever Plasencia had growing up, her father taught her to share it with others. 

“Leave a place better than how you found it.” Plasencia specifically mentions passing the baton and 

helping children become future leaders. 


“We have to educate them and show them how to take care of our country.”

You get out what you put in. Your reward is directly reflective of your effort. 

Always be respectful. “Just be kind to people, and you’ll get it back.” 


“Always have a good breakfast.” Plasencia grew up poor, but one thing her father always taught her was the value of a good breakfast to prepare her for the day ahead.

Community Voices

“If there is a problem, Ila just goes about finding a way to solve it. Frankly, sometimes she wears me out. She has done so much for so many.” Brena Corona, community volunteer and retired teacher

“The success of the Latinx community in Iowa is dependent on how we support each other, and Ila’s life is evidence that the time and passion we pour into each other will make for a stronger community.” Rob Barron, co-founder, Latino Political Network

“Ila is always doing something to help people. I don’t know where she gets her energy sometimes, but I’m so glad she’s still [passionate about giving back].” Connie Kidman, community volunteer and retired teacher

Among Her Achievements

  • Her 30-year government career included work in the Department of Labor, helping employees recover unfairly lost or unpaid wages.  
  • Served on the first Iowa Commission of Latino Affairs, the Iowa Civil Rights Commission and the Iowa Commission on the Status of Women, among many others. 
  • Helped establish the first women’s League of United Latin American Citizens Council in Iowa. 
  • Founded the Latino Student Awards Recognition Ceremony, which helps honor Latino students and reinforce the importance of education. 
  • Honored as a YMCA Woman of Achievement and is a member of the Iowa Latino Hall of Fame.

We are inspired by their wisdom, grace and generosity of spirit. They truly represent ideals of leadership, mentorship, philanthropy and citizenship.

This is one of the stories of the series Sages Over 70 featured on the Nov/Dec Issue of dsm Magazine

Story and picture courtesy of dsm Magazine

Writer: Luke Manderfeld

Photographer: Dylan Huey

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