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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Gray Matter: Simon says... IOWA!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

I recently met a realtor and his wife from Waverly.  It is a college town, not a whole lot larger than Cherokee, located in the scenic northeast corner of the state.  As we visited, the man began telling me about  his most famous client, the operatic bass-baritone, Simon Estes.

I hadn't realized that Estes now lives in Waverly.  It seems he has been an instructor and artist-in-residence at Wartburg College since 2002.  The realtor sold Simon and Ovida Estes their home in Waverly at that time. More recently, he has helped them find a beautiful rural acreage, on which they plan to build their retirement home. He is also in the process of finding a buyer for their present place.   

Simon Estes was born in Centerville, his parents, a coal miner and the daughter of slaves. He first studied voice at the University of Iowa before being admitted to Julliard, where he was trained and later taught.

His operatic career, which began in Europe, included ground-breaking roles for an African-American. He sang in the Berlin Opera, and was the first American to sing a title role in Bayreuth, where  his "Flying Dutchman" was highly acclaimed.  By the mid-eighties, he was singing at New York's Metropolitan Opera. He sang Porgy in their first production of Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess," and  a highlight of his career came when he sang the role opposite Leontyne Price's "Aida," for the famed black soprano's farewell performance there.

Estes may soon be known as much for his philanthropy as for his singing.  (I found information on-line verifying this.)  The Simon Estes Music High School and Choir near Cape Town, South Africa; the multi-racial Simon Estes Foundation in Tulsa, OK; and a similar Foundation in Iowa, are but a few examples. 

For some years, the Estes made Switzerland their primary home, but now they have sold that property, and are choosing to live out their years in Iowa.  To me, that really 'says it all' for our beloved state!

On a lighter note, the realtor told me that Simon and Ovida were their closest neighbors, "Both of our houses face the golf course -- actually there's just the width of one of the greens between us.  I often remind him to leave his bathroom window open so I can hear him singing in the shower -- you know, 'Ol' Man River'  to start my day."  

It is gratifying to learn of the esteem in which Iowa is held by this famous gentleman and his wife, but I hear it is happening with ordinary folks, as well.

Locally, there are several examples of people who grew up here, went off to make their way in the wider world, and are now returning.  After succeeding in distant cities, they are tiring of the pressures and congestion and want to come back to a simpler, quieter lifestyle.  Too young to retire, they are establishing businesses which are, in part,  made possible by recent developments in  electronic communications.

Indeed, we are living in changing and interesting times.  I hope I'm not being too optimistic  when I view all of this as a Renaissance for Rural America !