Nov 2, 2014 by DAVE DREESZEN
SIOUX CITY | A while back, a recruiter at the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business came up with an idea to promote the school.
How about giving prospective students a free night in with popcorn and a movie, the recruiter told Barb Thomas, the college’s director of communications.
Thomas immediately liked the concept. And her thoughts quickly turned to two alumni who were in a position to make the combination happen — Steve Huisenga, an executive at Sioux City-based Jolly Time Pop Corn, who had donated popcorn to the college in the past, and Mike Wokosin, an executive for the movie rental chain Redbox, who serves on the business college’s alumni board.
Thomas called Huisenga to pitch the proposed joint venture.
“She called and said, “One of our alumni board members works for Redbox and we can probably get him to donate some movies,” Huisenga recalled of the conversation. “I said, “Just tell Mike to do it.”
To Thomas’ astonishment, she learned that Huisenga and Wokosin grew up together in Sioux City, and have remained close friends ever since.
“It was so funny to get an email from her that said, “I’ve got this great idea. There’s this guy out in Sioux City and he sells popcorn,” Wokosin recalled with a laugh last week.
“I said, ‘What are the chances? Who knew?’ ” Thomas said in an interview with the Journal last week.
This fall, the Tippie College is distributing around 1,400 individual microwave bags of Jolly Time and the same number of Redbox rental codes to prospective students, as well as to alumni at special events. The gifts are bundled in a fold-over pamphlet that thanks the two companies for the gifts and offers a short bio of Huisenga and Wokosin, both 1988 graduates of the Tippie College.
The bundle is the latest way the college has highlighted the success of its more than 260,000 alumni living and working around the globe. College officials have handed out swag bags with products made by companies that employ graduates like Huisenga and Wokosin.
“It’s a way to illustrate to them the breath of the Tippie network, and the University of Iowa business alumni who are all over the place and working in places big and small,” Thomas said.
Huisenga and Wokosin met as kindergarteners, when Huisenga’s family moved in across the street from the Wokosin home along Morningside’s Lincoln Way.
At East High School, they teamed on the Black Raiders football and basketball teams. “He was an offensive tackle and I was a running back. He was a center and I was a point guard,” Wokosin said.
Growing up as Hawkeye fans, they both enrolled in the University of Iowa after graduating from East in 1984. They then went their separate ways after earning undergraduate degrees in marketing from Iowa.
After a brief stint in Minneapolis where he sold direct mail, Huisenga returned to Sioux City to work for Jolly Time, where he is today the vice president of sales.
“It was the best decision we ever made,” he said. “It was a chance to move home and be closer to family.”
His wife, Julie, is also a Sioux City native and graduate of the Tippie College, where she majored in accounting. The couple have two children, Cole and Carley, who are both students at the University of South Dakota.
After leaving Iowa City, Wokosin moved to Chicago, where he worked in real estate investment. While there, he earned an MBA degree from the University of Chicago.
He then relocated to the Los Angeles area, where he worked in marketing for Warner Bros. and Universal Studios.
For the last 1 1/2 years ago, he has served as vice president of digital marketing for Redbox, which rents DVDs, Blu-Ray discs and games at 42,000 kiosks around the country.
Based in Chicago, Wokosin gets back to Sioux City as often as possible to visit family and friends.
“Sioux City is one of my favorite places,” he said. So much so that he named his son, River, after the Missouri River.
Wokosin and his wife, Amanda, have two children, River, 8, and Schyler, 3.
While separated by hundreds and even thousands of miles, Huisenga and Wokosin have gotten together frequently over the years for vacations and outings such as Iowa football games.
They both regularly play in the Walt Fiegel Foundation Golf Outing. The annual fundraiser is named for the late Walt Fiegel, their former football coach at East High.
Back when he was with Warner Bros. and Universal Studios, Wokosin said he brainstormed on how he and Huisenga to put together a movie and popcorn promotion. But the efforts never came to fruition.
“It took the University of Iowa and Barb at the Tippie school to connect the dots for us,” he said.