Vernon Haagsma, long-time Pella Christian High School choral music director, is slated to receive the Iowa Choral Directors Association’s most prestigious recognition, the Robert M. McCowen Award for Lifetime Achievement.
Haagsma will deliver his acceptance remarks Wednesday, July 27 at the ICDA Summer Choral Symposium in Douwstra Auditorium at Central College.
McCowen, professor of music at Iowa State University, was a leader in choral music in Iowa. Music was his tool to serve mankind. To honor the work of McCowen, ICDA created the award in 1967 and has presented it to 37 recipients who reflect his lifetime of work.
Haagsma began his position at Pella Christian High School in 1970 teaching 9-12 high school choirs and mathematics. He remained there for his entire 38-year Iowa career. As years went by more time was given him to spend teaching choral music. However, throughout the years at Pella Christian, he continued to teach one sophomore mathematics class.
As choral director he nourished a program that thrived in participation and integrity. PCHS ensembles performed four seasonal concerts each year, participated in choral festivals, traveled on local and extended tours and were showcased on Iowa Public Television’s “Twelve Choirs at Christmas” series. In his ICDA President’s Pen column he expressed the importance of community involvement:
“Reaching out to help in our own communities as well as in our professional communities can bring fulfillment and significance to our lives.”
He directed the Pella Faith Christian Reformed Church Choir; co-directed PCHS musical productions on several occasions; and assisted with several fundraiser softball tournaments as a member of the schools Booster Club. As an adjunct music professor at Central College, he taught the Secondary Music Education course for music majors and assisted with the college/community chorus from 2009-2014. The Pella Chamber of Commerce honored him with their Education Hall of Fame Award in 2009.
A lifetime member and a tireless worker for ICDA, he served on convention committees, coordinated special events, mentored young educators, served three terms as a district chair, and in 2002, as ICDA president, supported and assisted in creating an ICDA Endowment that was inaugurated in 2004. The innovations during his leadership tenure were significant and advanced and bolstered the work of ICDA.
His educational and personal philosophy as expressed in a 2003 quote, “When we assist someone or some group up the mountain we will find ourselves closer to the summit,” reflect characteristics deserving of the Robert M. McCowen Award.