Another day is starting at the Cascade Junior Senior High School.
It’s part of the Western Dubuque County Community School District, the largest in land area in the state. Cascade is home to one of two high schools in the district and houses grades 7 to 12.
The main structure was built as Aquin Catholic High School in 1961. But it had to close in 1976, and the public school district bought it.
For most of it’s history, as both a private and public institution, school performances took place here, in the gym. Many of us probably grew up with facilities like this: folding seats on the gym floor looking up at the raised stage.
In 1977, the play was Fiddler on the Roof, directed by teacher Bob Davidshofer. He staged productions in the gym for 41 years.
In 2009, Davidshofer is once again directing Fiddler on the Roof, but this time in a new auditorium. And it’s a lot different.
Bob Davidshofer, Drama Director, Cascade Junior Senior High School: “In the gym, we, might have had 20 feet from the front of the stage to the back, it really curtailed the dancing, this type of thing. And the acoustics, in the gym it was very tinny sounding. And the seating, everybody was in a regular chair; there wasn’t any elevation whatsoever and it was very difficult to see and hear.”
Davidshofer retired in 2006, but still directs the twice-a-year high school productions.
And he’s one of the reasons this auditorium exists.
It all began in 2000, when Pattie Beck and Barb Otting, two moms with kids in a play, were taking a walk.
Pattie Beck, Founder, Cascade Area Resources for Education: “We decided one morning as we were walking, you know, let’s, let’s do something here for the man that’s put his whole life, dedicated his whole life to our children.”
Barb Otting, Founder, Cascade Area Resources for Education: “We talked about wouldn’t it be great if, if they could actually showcase their plays.”
After talking to their families, they approached an English teacher who always made costumes for the plays. Sadly, she died from cancer after the first production, but she inspired everyone throughout the process with her dedication and a Margaret Mead quote posted on her wall.
Barb Otting: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”
The group’s committment and enthusiasm infected the principal in turn.
Greg Vander Lugt, Principal, Cascade Junior Senior High School: “My first thought was this is, this is an impossible dream and then when I remembered who I was dealing with I thought, you know what, this is probably doable; this is something we can do.”
This facility opened formally in April, 2004, with the high school production of Oklahoma. Seating 452, it has state-of-the-art lighting and sound, even a grand piano.
For a town with just over 2,000 residents and a school with about 400 students, it’s an impressive venue.
To accomplish all of this, the auditorium supporters formed a foundation called C.A.R.E., Cascade Area Resources for Education. And they ran the show, from raising the money to overseeing construction.
Building something for the kids was the first priority, of course, but it was also built for the community.
The structure includes a large lobby that connects to the old gym. It’s used for various community and school functions, as is the auditorium. A large joint class in American Studies was meeting while we were there. It would normally meet in the auditorium, but something else was going on.
The something else was the 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students from Aquin, the Catholic elementary school in town, rehearsing for their spring recital. Two public elementary schools in the district also use the facility.
And not only does this auditorium serve the whole community, it was supported by the whole community.
Greg Vander Lugt, Principal, Cascade Junior Senior High School: “We did everything from baseball tournaments to passing the hat at ball games. We had we had a community auction. We just did all kinds of different fund raisers. We went to businesses, we went to people and asked them to make commitments and that's, that's really how most of the money was raised and was raised over a period of several years. We also approached every, every grant source we could think of.”
Between individuals, businesses, civic organizations and grant sources, including Vision Iowa, C.A.R.E. raised just over one million dollars. The city of Cascade loaned the foundation $250,000.
That loan was paid off over five years with a donation from a Dyersville couple, who own one of the banks in Cascade. Their contribution is recognized in the building’s name, the Ellen Kennedy Fine Arts Center.
And after passage of a county one-cent sales tax, the school district was able to contribute about $800,000, some of that for a parking lot and lights.
Not counting donated labor and materials and even some artwork, the total effort was over $2 million dollars.
Pattie Beck, Founder, Cascade Area Resources for Education: “I feel very grateful that a community like ours can come together and share talents and build something for, a beautiful facility, for our kids and our community, and have it be the result of so many different people's talents.”
Barb Otting, Founder, Cascade Area Resources for Education: “And I'm, I'm just proud. I'm really proud of it, that the community made this happen.”
Greg Vander Lugt, Principal, Cascade Junior Senior High School: “As I reflect back on this whole process I, I'm really struck by the thought that this is probably the number one achievement in my professional career was my involvement with the C.A.R.E. Foundation and the auditorium. I can't say enough good things about our community. I just, I'm so proud of them.”
Additional Images: Blair Gleason, Bob Davidshofer