OTTUMWA — Friday evening will be more than just a celebration of the music of John Denver. It’s the kickoff of the Ottumwa Civic Music Association’s 90th season.
“We started in 1929 by Mrs. Frank [Isabelle] Hoffman,” said Judy Engle, vice president in charge of membership for the organization. “Her thought (in 1925) was that a city of our size, which was really booming at the time, needed a music association to bring in talent, a women’s club to bring in speakers and a building for an art center.”
Out of these three visions, the Ottumwa Civic Music Association and the Ottumwa Women’s Club were born. And, Hoffman’s name is associated with the building at Main and Second street in downtown Ottumwa.
“Along with Mrs. [Margaret] Stoltz, she got those two organizations going; 1929 is when we officially joined a national Civic Music Association,” Engle said. “Back when this started, there were 1,700 members and they were selling out the ‘new’ high school auditorium.”
The first act for the organization, she said, was the Minneapolis Symphony in 1930.
A variety of acts have visited Ottumwa over those 90 years.
“We brought high-level entertainment,” she said. “We’ve brought ballet, symphonies, choruses, Simon Estes, people that today’s generation doesn’t even know existed. A lot of these people were just starting their careers and came to Ottumwa. We continue to do that.”
However, the style of acts has shifted over the years.
“Back in 2002, we decided with two symphonies in the area, we would kind of change. We only have one classical out of four programs to appeal to the masses,” Engle said. “That’s when we started bringing in the more contemporary. Now, the big thing is performing legends, tribute concerts. That has been working really well.”
And that’s just what Ottumwa will have Friday evening. Jim Curry will present “Take Me Home: The Music of John Denver” at 7:30 p.m. at Bridge View Center.
Curry’s music career began in high school, when he wrote and perming the song “The Time of Your Life” for his senior play. It went on to be voted the 1975 class song, and Curry was awarded a Rotary Scholarship to study music in college. With his natural voice resembling that of Denver, he embraced the similarities and continued to sing and specialize in Denver’s music, sharing the positive message of love, humanity and environmental awareness.
But attendees have even more to look forward to Friday evening. Engle said a reception will be held in conjunction with the concert as a thank you to the community. OCMA will also have a display honoring the past presidents of the organization as well as old meeting minutes and scrapbooks. Memberships will also be available for purchase.
“With reciprocity with civic groups in Fairfield, Centerville and Washington, there are actually our four concerts plus 11 others for one $35 membership.
“We’re a small organization, but we have great members who work really hard,” Engle said. “We’ve been really fortunate to have sponsors. Our members are very generous, and we have sponsorships from a lot of different companies who make this possible.”
Engle said planning the seasons takes time. “You have to book the acts so far in advance. We already know who we’re going to have in 2021.”
There’s also great consideration taken in planning which acts to have. “We look at what might appeal to the masses, and we try to do a variety,” Engle said. “We try to get different things, different types of music to draw in different crowds.”