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Honorable Paula S. Dierenfeld

2023 Iowa women's Hall of Fame Honoree: Honorable Paula S. Dierenfeld

Honorable Paula S. Dierenfeld smiling, gray background

Honorable Paula S. Dierenfeld – Johnston, Iowa

Paula S. Dierenfeld, like so many women, has had to balance the roles of wife, mother and grandmother, while at the same time pursuing a career in law and public service. She put herself through college and law school as a single mom of two young children, being the first in her family to receive a college degree. Paula spent 15 years working in federal and state government - serving nearly 10 of those years as legal counsel to Governor Terry Branstad. In that job, she provided legal advice to the Governor on a wide range of issues, including the Great Flood of 1993, the crash of Flight 232, the adoption of Baby Jessica and the commutation of Katherine Sallis. Paula also worked for U.S. Senator Charles Grassley, served as a staff director in the Iowa Senate, and served as an Iowa Utilities Board Commissioner. Following her work in the public sector, Paula spent 22 years in the private sector building a successful law practice at the Nyemaster Goode Law Firm, the largest and oldest law firm in Iowa.

Paula was first elected to the Johnston City Council in 1999 and served two terms. She was elected mayor in 2008 and has served as Johnston’s mayor since. Paula is currently the longest serving female mayor in the state of Iowa.

During the nearly quarter century that Paula has led the city of Johnston, it has experienced significant growth and prosperity. Johnston’s population has grown from about 8,000 to over 26,000 and its land area has expanded by twenty five percent. During her tenure, a new public safety building and city hall have been built, as well as a 200-acre city park and 50 miles of recreational trails. Johnston has been recognized several times by national publications for being one of the best and safest cities in the United States to live.

Paula has a reputation for being a preeminent public servant. She is known for being responsive to her constituents and is everywhere, participating in all community events and activities. While politics these days have become partisan and divisive, Paula takes pride in being able to keep partisan politics out of the decisions that are made for her community. She is effective in bringing people together to support initiatives and projects that make Johnston an even better place to live, work and raise a family.

Paula has led efforts at the local level to wipe out sex-trafficking massage parlors in Iowa cities. She drafted and implemented the first city ordinance authorizing a city to license massage therapy businesses. The ordinance allows Johnston officials to investigate and verify the legitimacy of a massage business before it begins operating in the community. The Johnston ordinance has proven to be effective in keeping illicit operations out of Johnston and has become a model for other Iowa cities to follow. Paula enjoys spending time and engaging with young people. She regularly goes into the Johnston schools to visit with students and meets with scout groups to talk about civic engagement, responsibilities of being a citizen and the importance of public service. She believes that seeing a strong woman in a leadership role is one of the most important duties she has an elected official.

Even though there were no girls’ sports in Paula’s high school, she has become an inspiration to females of all ages to participate, compete and excel in sports. She has been a runner since her early 20’s and has run over two dozen marathons. She has used her love of running as a major fundraising activity for her local food pantry. Over the past nine years, she has raised nearly $58,000 and has run over 5,700 miles in her annual Mayor’s Run for Food. She does this by challenging Johnston residents to contribute to the Johnston food pantry in the month of December - for every $10 donated, she will run one mile beginning New Year’s Eve Day. As if her running isn’t enough, at age 60, Paula learned to swim and has become an advocate for people of all ages to learn this life saving skill.

Paula credits her faith in God and the love and support she has always received from her husband Dave Roederer, her children and grandchildren, for her motivation and success in life. Without them giving her strength and purpose, Paula is certain that her life would have turned out much differently. Paula also loves her state and country and believes that if she had been born and lived anywhere else, she would not have been able to achieve what she has. Paula is retired from her law practice and now manages her family’s farm in Sac City, Iowa. She continues to enjoy serving as Johnston’s mayor and now has more time to spend with her husband, three children, 13 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.