The D.M. Renovation Boot Camp and its Resident Rehabber

Steve Wilke-Shapiro

Steve Wilke-Shapiro

More often than not, when I don’t see Steve Wilke-Shapiro at the Indigo Dawn office, I see him at Mars Café in the Drake neighborhood. When he mentions to me, as he did this morning, that he hasn’t seen me lately, it means he hasn’t seen me at Mars. And today he looks a bit different—he’s growing a beard. In true rehab fashion, Steve takes a seasonal approach to his temperature control needs, adding insulation layers on an as-needed basis.

A couple of years ago Steve started the Des Moines Rehabbers Club, and this year his group is offering their first Renovation Boot Camp. “The idea,” Steve says, “is to take people who start at a basic level in approaching their house or individual rooms and give them a good foundation in the renovation process.”

The goal of the Boot Camp in specific, and with the Rehabbers Club in general, is to help people view renovation as a viable approach when considering building maintenance and improvement. “We want to promote renovation as not only a possibility, but a doable choice. Renovation should be something people consider when they are looking for someplace to live, that renovation can actually be a better choice than purchasing a new home.”

The Des Moines Rehabbers Club is a sister club to one in St. Louis, Missouri, which Steve helped organize about eight years ago. “It was fabulously successful,” Steve says. “There were classes that had upwards of 50 people and there was great energy. People could trade advice or war stories.”

Why St. Louis? “I went to school in St. Louis at Washington University,” Steve reflects. After about two years there, he began exploring and found an entirely new world that struck a chord with him. “It was a world of old buildings and historic neighborhoods that were upwards of a couple hundred years old. It was an amazing built environment.”

Steve is a wealth of information, from talking about the Da Vinci exhibit at the Iowa Science Center (his wife, Rachel, works there with pre-schoolers) and why the Mona Lisa doesn’t have eye lashes to answering my questions about what free website operating system is best (“WordPress is good, but Drupal really is great for content management.”). Having a dual degree in social work with an emphasis on community development and architecture keeps him hopping, as well. What do you do in your downtime, I asked. “Down time?” he responds. “Well, the biggest thing is the Wii. We have some insane family competitions between us and our two kids.”

I tell Steve I have one more question, as I know his laptop has been growing cold. What do you like about Des Moines? Steve jumps right in. “When I left the area years ago for St. Louis, downtown Des Moines had a lot of potential. And now, eighteen years later, I almost don’t recognize it. There is so much investment and collaborative energy downtown and it is great to be part of that process. Des Moines is a very forward thinking city—and you see that in all the “Best Of” lists it has made—and that kind of energy and investment makes a difference in how people see the city.”

The Renovation Boot Camp begins on March 21, 2011, and meets each following Monday night for a total of eight weeks. For more information, please visit here.


– Jean Danielson is director of operations for Indigo Dawn. She likes drinking way too much coffee at Mars Café.

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