DMSFFS Lifetime Achievement Award

About the DMSFFS Lifetime Achievement Award

After DemiCon 33, the Board of DMSFFS recognized that our current rules and traditions do not include a way to extend special acknowledgement to those within our own ranks that have served selflessly, making significant, repeated contributions DMSFFS.

The vision for the Lifetime Achievement Award is to select recipients from the many individuals that are, or have been in the past, long time members of DMSFFS, without whose significant contributions over many years DMSFFS would not be what it is today. The award will not only recognize those contributions, but each award will help us to build a rich history to share with newer generations.

Nominations for the award should be submitted to the board by emailing The nomination should include:

  • The person(s) being nominated
  • Detailed information about the nominee(s) and their contributions to DMSFFS

Amanda Arthur-Struss and Joe Struss, 2023

The story of a bunch of dead Klingons and doing the tango

Amanda Arthur-Struss, or Mandi as many know her, had no idea what she was getting into when she agreed to choreograph a tango piece in 1999 at $20 a session, but she liked it. She liked it a lot.

The story goes something like this… 

Mandi graduated from the University of Northern Iowa with a degree in art and graphic design emphasis. After graduation she found herself in Des Moines, where she became a licensed massage therapist.

Mandi’s artistic self thrived in college and beyond. She continued with her art and became involved with the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA). It was through the SCA that fate would nudge her towards what would become many years helping to shape DemiCon and the Des Moines Science Fiction and Fantasy Society (DMSFFS) into what they are today.

Mandi met Rachelle Hrubetz at SCA. Having discovered that Mandi used to teach ballroom dance classes in college, and since she was living in West Des Moines now, Rachelle approached her with an interesting proposition. 

The task was for Mandi to choreograph a tango routine. Not just any tango routine, but a tango routine where the couple danced through a stage full of dead bodies – dead Klingon bodies! 

The routine was a component of the Trans-Iowa Canal Company (TICC) production of their play Pulp Science Fiction at DemiCon 10. During the performance Les Roth would be playing a Man in Black and Rachelle was to play Scully from the X-Files.

An intrigued lover of fantasy, Mandi quickly agreed!

Rachelle invited Mandi to watch the performance at DemiCon. Sitting in the audience, Mandi felt a connection start to take hold. Introverted and a bit shy at first, TICC became the gateway for Mandi to become involved in the Des Moines Science Fiction Society (DMSFS). 

The following year would find Mandi on stage, playing the role of Lois McMaster Bujold in TICC’s DemiCon 11 production of Weekend at Beanies. By the time Mandi played the role of a masked goblin in TICC After Darks’ The Full Python, people started to ask, “What in the heck happened to her? Last year you couldn’t even get her to talk!” Or something like that! 

TICC would become one of Mandi’s main artistic outlets. She has choreographed over 50 pieces for TICC, as well as appeared in more than 30 performances. But it didn’t stop there. Soon she was pulled into being a department head at DemiCon, running areas like the Dealers’ Room and Programming. Her alien artwork was even used as a promotional piece for DemiCon the 13th in 2002.

Once a member of ConCom there is no going back

2003 marked a major milestone for Mandi. This was the first year she served on ConCom, playing a major leadership role in organizing DemiCon 14: Contemplating the Future.

She was on ConCom again for DemiCon 23: Full Moon Fantasy in 2012, DemiCon 25: Hi-Yo, Silver! Celebrate Away in 2014, and DemiCon 30: It’s About Time in 2018.

In the early years of DMSFS, many people didn’t realize it was the organization behind DemiCon. DMSFS had been created as a non-profit fraternity organization at its founding. Mandi had a vision for an organization that was more than just DemiCon, performing outreach to the community and leading activities for fans to get together.

Sometime around 2012, DMSFS President Greg Abba gave Mandi the go ahead to make this vision a reality. She created the educational outreach initiative of DMSFS known as DemiCon Lite.

The idea was simple. DMSFS would hold a free, educational event once a month, where fans could learn something related to art, science, or fandom. She kept the program running for many years, leading events at times, but largely empowering volunteers to teach and share their knowledge.

Examples of educational programming Mandi organized include: drawing, “blinkies,” cybersecurity, sewing, costuming, and events such as quilt-in-a day. She also started adding classes during the twice a year DMSFS Semi Annual Constitutional Convention (SACC).

For many years she also helped promote DemiCon and DMSFS. She built and ran the DemiCon website, ran the DemiCon and DMSFS Facebook accounts, and brought the Paradox newsletter into the modern, e-newsletter format that is still used today.

Around 2013, Craig Leabhart joined DMSFS. By 2015 he had been sufficiently suckered into helping by Mandi and some others that she was able to hand over website development to him! (Just kidding. Craig loves it and added that bit himself when he was copy editing this…) The website design and organization remained fundamentally unchanged for 6 years, and while the organization of the site is different today, much of Mandi’s content is still present.

For a short time, Mandi similarly suckered Micheal Oatman into taking over the e-newsletter, but alas, Mandi resumed those duties when Michael became ConCom for DemiCon 29.

Another lasting contribution that Mandi helped bring to DemiCon is the Memorial Wall. After hearing con goers ask, “Who is Rusty Hevelin?” it became apparent that some sort of memorial was needed. In 2012 the Memorial Wall debuted with photos of all of those DemiCon and DMSFS family who were no longer with us.

Through the years as the wall filled up, it was decided that all those pictures need to be moved to a memorial book. Sallie Abba took over the creation of the Memorial Book, and with the help of many members of DMSFS and DemiCon a priceless piece of history was created. The memorial wall still exists for those that have recently left us, but now it’s possible to also flip through the Memorial Book and learn a little more.

After graphic design master Max Rauer passed away in 2014, Mandi stepped in and took over the postcard aspect of publications. She has been involved in either designing or proofing many DemiCon posters, postcards, and programming books.

One of Mandi’s less known additions to DemiCon is the Self Run Programming area. She recognized that something was needed for both her fellow introverts and for people looking for something to do between scheduled programming. 

She created an area where you could check out play-to-win games, take Flat Tadao all over the hotel, participate in a scavenger hunt or the “bobble head hide and seek,” color, do origami, and many other types of self-paced micro-programming.


In 2016 a small group of the “younger generation” of DMSFS sat down at Smokey Row coffee shop and started talking among themselves about the future of DMSFS. The DMSFS board elections were coming up soon and there was some talk about long time board members hoping for some new people to step up. While memories are a bit hazy, among those in attendance were Mandi, Craig, Nate Farmer, Monica Oatman, and Michael. 

Because everyone probably had too much caffeine, two themes emerged from that coffee date. 

First was the idea that Mandi would run for President, Monica for Vice President, and Nate for Secretary. 

The second idea was that it would be great for the group if we could become a 501c3 nonprofit. 

Mandi was subsequently elected President of DMSFS in 2016.

When DMSFS was founded by Les and Jeannette Roth, their intent was that DMSFS would be a 501c3 non-profit, but at the time it wasn’t approved. Because of DemiCon Lite and all the other work DMSFS was doing outside of DemiCon, Mandi thought the timing was right to try again.

Mandi did all the heavy lifting, including dealing with the IRS, hiring a CPA to help prepare our financial records, addressing insurance issues, and spending countless hours working with the Drake Law Clinic.

After many meetings with DMSFS members and officers to rework the bylaws and other documents, the process of applying to be a 501c3 non-profit began in fall of 2017. DMSFS began the process of shutting down, assets and intellectual property were transferred to a new organization – Des Moines Science Fiction and Fantasy Society. 

The DMSFS board at the time was elected the founding board of DMSFFS. Those board members were: Mandi (President), Monica (Vice President), Amanda Alexander (Secretary), Craig (Treasurer) and Greg (Property Manager).

Mandi challenged DMSFFS to promote the group more than ever. We had a presence at lots of community events, including fan tables at RodCon and Archon. Some of her favorite times were interacting with the friends at the table and people watching at these events. 

During this time Mandi also handed over DemiCon Lite to Judy Zajec and got new members more involved in running self-programming and other departments at DemiCon.

Things were going great with DMSFFS and DemiCon, and a lot of really great ideas and practices were put into motion based on lessons learned in the past. Until 2020 that is…

In 2020 there was a late-shake up of ConCom for DemiCon 31, with Mandi, Craig, and Lyndsey Griffey helping Michael and Kaitlin Hogueison after a member of ConCom had to step back. Meanwhile, the specter of Covid-19 was gradually building to crescendo.

After weeks of wondering what was going to happen with government lock downs and the spread of the virus, ConCom made the decision to cancel DemiCon 31.

The idea for a virtual DemiCon 31 is born

In 1991, Joseph Struss or Joe, found himself attending DemiCon 2: The Voyage Continues. He hadn’t attended the first DemiCon because of another local science fiction convention that had been awful. But then after attending ICON, he decided to give DemiCon a chance.

After seeing TICC’s Haunting of Haldeman House Joe realized he wanted to join the silliness. Much as TICC had been Mandi’s gateway into DMSFS, TICC was Joe’s gateway into DemiCon. He gave Les Roth his acting resume and found himself on stage for the DemiCon 3 production, playing Dr. NoNo in The Good, The Bad and The Sequel. TICC became a major creative outlet, including more than 35 performances and over 15 choreographed pieces.

Joe has made many contributions to DemiCon, including many that are behind the scenes. This includes things like writing and running Live Action Role Playing (LARP) and filming and editing the masquerade and TICC performances.

Joe’s first LARP at DemiCon was in 1993 when he teamed up with Ken Welsch and Adam Blythe to run a whole day Vampire LARP. Joe had written about a dozen LARPs prior to DemiCon, so he helped organize the writing for the event. 

After that he took a break for a few years before creating a new team and started creating new LARPs for DemiCon. They have been doing brand-new, two to four hour LARPs for the last 15 years. All written by the team of Owen Reynolds, Jeff Mowen and Joe. Joe was even contacted by a LARPing group in Australia that wanted to do one of his pieces. He happily obliged.

TICC and DemiCon were how Mandi and Joe met. It did take a while for them to get together though, because Joe lived by the actor rule of “no dating” in the theater troupe. Eventually they did start dating, and the two married in 2008.

Throughout their relationship, Joe started to become more involved with DemiCon. At the Hotel Fort Des Moines he was known for hosting a party room where kids were encouraged to come and play video games. This gave a safe place to hang out, but also everyone always had a fabulous time. Rockband was one of the favorites people played.

His expertise in editing and creating video content was being used more but the big change was when DemiCon moved back to the Holiday Inn Northwest after a remodel. During the remodel they had added the capability for DemiCon to show live content on the TV system throughout the hotel. Joe stepped in and created the DemiCon Channel that has become a major addition to the convention.

Starting in 2012 the channel would show opening ceremonies, the masquerade and cosplay, and other events live from the ballroom where the main stage was located. 

While that wasn’t going on, Joe would create DVDs (BluRay today!) full of interstitial content, new programs, and videos from previous conventions, which he would play throughout the weekend. 

Eventually the interstitials began to grow in complexity, but this only made them more fun to produce and air. Joe had a team of people who would do green screen with him. The core of that group was Robert Uy, Tal Roth and Mandi. 

There was also an improvisational children cartoon show hosted by Selathiel McBride and Atticus McBride. They would come up with the script, then Joe would let them go at it, providing a nudge here and there to focus their efforts. He also made sure there was lots of sugar for them. Dad, Kris McBride, would just watch them consume the candy while shaking his head. 

Eventually Joe and Mandi also created House of Fogg: Creative Mayhem, an educational show for kids starring Joe and Mandi’s two steampunk characters, Mr. and Mrs. Fogg.

The musicians, led by Bryan Baker, also got in on the action. For several years there was a music DemiCon Lite, featuring many of the same musicians that were performing at DemiCon. Joe would record and later broadcast it on the DemiCon Channel.

As the years have gone on, the breadth of content being included on the DemiCon Channel has continued to grow. Content now often includes memorials of DemiCon family members, author readings, food recipes and Mandi’s art doodles from the DemiCon Cookbook, Rusty Hevelin Collection updates, DemiCon history lessons, dealer room ads and more. Aside from all the content Joe filmed and edited himself, he also took all the submissions received and reviewed them, edited them, and organized everything. 

There were even some DemiCon room parties that revolved around Joe’s DemiCon Channel. Party hosts would time the parties with opening ceremonies or the masquerade and cosplay event.

In March of 2020, when ConCom made the decision that we would not gather in person at the Holiday Inn for DemiCon 31, Joe had the great idea to put together some sort of virtual event. 

Six whirlwind weeks

DemiCon 31: The Legion of DemiCon was scheduled for May 1-3, 2020. 

“Online” DemiCon looked like it was up in the air. Was it possible to put together a virtual event with only six weeks to do it? No one on ConCom could have imagined that Joe’s idea for “some sort of virtual event” would turn into a full-fledged online convention.

Overall many people stepped up to make it a great event. Tara Newton introduced us all to Discord. Nate led “how to use Discord and Zoom” trainings. Tal Roth put together an online video gaming track. Tara put together an online board game track. Bryan Baker organized the musicians and helped them perform live on Facebook. Samantha Hackett ran Anime through Netflix parties. Sallie took over the scavenger hunt and created a digital Memorial Wall. Kaitlyn moved the DMSFFS table to an online store. Amanda Alexander scheduled pros and GOHs for panels. And so much more. Nearly every department and aspect of an in-person convention was recreated online.

Mandi, Joe and Craig were essential in making the virtual convention happen. If one of these three hadn’t been there the foundation of the convention couldn’t have been created and the event wouldn’t have happened.

Joe was a pro at Zoom and had his own small business account that he donated to DemiCon. Most of the panels and other programming, including opening and closing ceremonies, ran on Zoom. He also converted the mostly neglected DMSFFS YouTube into the DemiCon Channel. Mandi’s massage room became his full-fledged video studio where together he and Mandi created many hours of content for the online convention. 

Craig then reworked the website, transforming it into the central hub of DemiCon 31 online, adding and organizing new content as ideas came to the group.

Mandi became the main organizer of the convention. Unable to work due to the lock down, she diverted all her focus to making sure everyone had what they needed. She made sure that Joe knew what Craig needed for the website, and Craig knew what Joe needed for YouTube and Zoom. All the while making sure nothing got lost or miscommunicated.

As the weekend drew closer, many people recorded and sent content that Mandi and Joe edited for the DemiCon Channel. Mandi then became the villain host, reprising her role as the Queen of Hearts from DemiCon 29: Down the Rabbit Hole.

During the weekend of the convention, things somehow seemed to speed up rather than slow down. 

Joe’s video editing computer, as well as another computer and an iPad ran continuously, with new content being posted to YouTube every few minutes. As that new content was uploaded, Craig would update the website. Meanwhile Mandi made sure Zoom was running smoothly for the live panels, feeding schedule changes and Zoom sign in links to Craig which also needed to be updated on the website.

Hopes for an in-person DemiCon 32

After DemiCon 31, DMSFFS took everything learned and moved all activities online. 

Joe allowed the organization to use his Zoom account for free until DMSFFS was able to purchase its own Zoom account. He also formally took over the DMSFFS YouTube page and loaded up content from DemiCon 31 and other videos. 

DMSFFS continued to use Discord as a way to stay in touch, with Tal and Tara running regular online video game and online board game events on Monday nights, and Judy began hosting regular online “chat and crafts.” 

Mandi continued to drive engagement with Facebook. And Craig and Nate worked on improving the technology necessary for a non-profit to survive in the new, all on-line world.

Joe had already stepped forward to be one of the members of ConCom for DemiCon 32: Super Manga Graphic Novels Comics Animation before Covid-19. It was still uncertain if the convention would be in person or online, so ConCom planned for both possibilities. 

Then in January 2021 it became apparent the vaccines would not be ready for a return to in-person conventions for DemiCon 32. The convention shifted fully to planning a second virtual DemiCon, building on the framework of the previous year.  Due to the lessons learned Zoom responsibilities spread over several people and made for a smooth con.  As there was time, a publication program book was created by Mandi and placed online by Craig. Joe, besides being ConCom, was in charge of the DemiCon Channel again. Everyone’s new pandemic technical knowledge made the second virtual DemiCon run smoothly. 

The official end of DMSFS

In June of 2021, Mandi was finally able to send the last tax postcard to the federal government, shutting down the Des Moines Science Fiction Society organization. It was no more. Feeling that she had completed what she had said she would, she started the documentation of her job so someone else could take it over in February of 2022.

Mandi could feel it was almost ready to step away but there was one more thing. The board agreed that since DMSFFS hadn’t held an in-person convention in two years that they would run DemiCon 33: The After in 2022. This group consisted of Mandi, Monica, Craig, Nate, and Greg. 

Because there were five total ConCom members, many of them took on departments as well. Mandi did publications and self-programming, Craig did art show, and Monica did ConSuite.

Joe stepped back into his DemiCon Channel role, but also became Zoom master, live streaming some panels for all the online friends we made the last two years. 

Creation of the DMSFFS Lifetime Achievement Award 

Under the old DMSFS organization there was an unwritten rule that no one who was a member of DMSFS could become a Fan Guest of Honor. The rule was created over 30 years ago in response to other conventions that had internal controversies around nepotism and favoritism within their organizations. 

Originally, ConCom from DemiCon 34 asked Joe and Mandi to be the Fan Guest of Honor. The thinking here was that DMSFFS was technically a new organization so not all the same ways of doing things would always apply.

However, it was decided that DMSFFS would instead create a new way for the group to honor our own members that have made significant contributions. The board created a DMSFFS Lifetime Achievement Award, making Mandi and Joe the inaugural recipients.

Programming during DemiCon 34

Mandi and Joe plan to share their stories of being connected to this organization for all these years during the convention. 

A little preview of Joe and Mandi’s favorite memories are:

  • Going on a viking raid with Joan Harrison, wife of Harry Harrison
  • Being given the opportunity to record twice Rusty Hevelin’s Collection
  • Spending time with Rusty Hevelin and Gay Haldeman
  • Anything Tadao
  • Favorite TICC Dance Choreography 
  • Creating House of Fogg
  • Green screen work with the McBrides, Tal Roth and Robert Uy as well as others
  • Editing/creating video art with each other
  • Performing with friends
  • Bobble Head Hide and Seek
  • Mandi dancing as Bugs Bunny with a very handsome Elmer Fudd aka Joe
  • Creating the Smooth song for the TICC Performance

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