October 01, 2022

Couple’s donations provide opportunity, experience

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part series about the 2022 inductees into the Creston High School Hall of Fame.

Something as simple as a ticket to a Broadway performance or more technical as lapel microphones can make a difference in a student’s experience at Creston schools.

“Since they started the grant, it’s basically made projects possible that were never imagined doing,” said Creston High School speech instructor and theater director Laura Granger about the donations from Dwight and Marilyn Conover.

The Conovers will be inducted 11 a.m. Friday into the hall of fame as contributors to the district. A graduate of Creston will also be inducted. There will be no former staff members inducted as part of this year’s ceremony.

The Conovers grew up in Holstein and attended Iowa State University. They moved to Creston in 1984 when Dwight was with First National Bank and still serves as chairman. Marilyn spent time at the elementary school libraries. Dwight was involved in what is now the Southern Prairie Family Fitness Center, served on the Southwestern Community College Foundation board, Creston Chamber of Commerce, economic development and other community service organizations. Dwight left the bank position in 1994. The Conovers live in Okoboji.

“Dwight and Marilyn are thankful to the dedicated teachers, coaches and staff members of the Creston schools for their influence and guidance for their children,” according to their nomination form. “The family has provided grants for the fine arts department to enrich student experiences. Those grants help teachers, from elementary to high school, provide extra programs that can be offered to their students.”

Granger said knowing how school budgets have minimal flexibility, the Conover’s donations have been utilized in various ways.

“Field trips, guest speakers, stuff we’ve missed and stuff that goes back to the 80s,” she said about traditional events. “Now it’s harder to happen, but with this money to make that happen, students can experience things and see things they never though would have happened. For the arts, it’s like a dream come true.”

What the school has used from the contributions can also be seen by the public.

Granger said another donation was used to build storage for theater equipment and to get new flats. Flats are the walls decorated to create scenes for plays and musicals. She said the flats that had been used dated back to the 1960s.

“We can create new flats,” she said. “The shop class built the flats and the theater kids do the coverings.”

New ladders were also purchased to replace ones that had to be held stable while someone was on it.

Granger said Conover funds will also purchase student tickets for a performance of “Fiddler on the Roof” next month in Des Moines.

“Some have seen shows at Creston, but when you see a professional one with bells, whistle, lights, setting and the acting, they come away with new appreciation,” Granger said.

Contributions also funded an artist in 2020 to assist with the murals that are spread across many exterior walls of Creston buildings. Another Conover contribution will be be put to use next month.

CCHS Art Department received an Art Project Grant from the Iowa Art Council and additional matching funds from the Conovers to create “Arts as a Career” day for students to explore the arts as a career in Iowa.

“Seeing the arts as a career option has continued to be one of the most powerful statements I hear from the youth after working with professional artists. The Conover family has made this possible by funding several artists residency programs,” said Creston High art teacher Bailey Fry-Schnormeier. “It has given the young rural artists the opportunity to hear first hand stories of how artists are carving career paths for themselves. The youth get the chance to see different paths that lead the mentors to the end result of working in the arts.”

On Wednesday, Oct. 12, 70 students will tour of Mainframe Studios in Des Moines seeing the studios, galleries and learning about their mission. Students will break into groups and observe artist studios for two rounds of workshops. Lunch, catered by Tangerine Food Co. will provide an additional opportunity for students to experience another career option. The day will conclude with an additional workshop.

“The Arts as a Career day at Mainframes will allow students to see a variety of artists working with different mediums and their studios. It will offer time for conversations with the artists to hear their background stories, where they studied and how they found their way to a studio at Mainframes,” Fry-Schnormeier said.

Students will have experience with new mediums and experience new tools and techniques. Artists such as Jesse of JJ Graffers and Tammy and Adam of The Red Door Press work with equipment that can not be brought into the high school art studio.

“This will give students the opportunity to work side by side with the artists to create a work of art. There will be a strong focus on female artists for the workshops. I believe that it is just as important now as ever, that young female artists see other female entrepreneurs,” Fry-Schnormeier said. “It has been powerful for my former students to witness females following their dreams and pursuing their passions. It is important for these students to see that a career in the arts is possible. I want the students to see that creative people can stay and live in Iowa and start thinking about what that could look like in Creston.”

Conover’s donations reach more than just public school students. Mayflower Heritage Christian School in Creston also has benefited.

School co-administrator Karla Powers said the school has used funds to purchase lapel microphones for when their performance stage is used. Rather than have to try and stay close to a stationary microphone, participants can move across the stage and still be heard by the audience.

“We’ve also had students who were given hands-on experiences from pottery sessions to painting,” Powers said. The school has purchased hand-bells for students to learn and play.

Granger said show tickets in Des Moines are not like a movie ticket as the cost is usually much greater.

“The funds have been for things some kids couldn’t afford to get to see. We are grateful for this support. It’s been amazing,” she said.

John Van Nostrand

JOHN VAN NOSTRAND

An Iowa native, John's newspaper career has mostly been in small-town weeklies from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River. He first stint in Creston was from 2002 to 2005.