Preservation at its Best 2018, Martha Hayes Award: Ruth Ann Van Donselar (Individual), Save Cedar Rapids Heritage (Group)
This year, judges selected an individual and group for the Martha Hayes Preservationist of the Year award. Both have tenacity and both are deserving, but each earned this award using different methods.
Individual – Ruth Ann Van Donselar
Ruth Ann attended Baker County School Number 5 in O’Brien County. This school, like many in the state of Iowa in the 1930s and 1940s was an example of Iowa’s unique and successful system of rural township schools. Because this system is long gone, she wanted to make a video about the school and its students. After discussing her dream with another woman who had made a video of this type – Ruth did what Iowans do—she got to work.
She contacted and arranged for former Baker School students to be in a video. Because many student who attended the Baker School would now be 76 years old or older—filming was challenge. Many of students had left the area and had to travel. Sadly, one of the students died before the filming reinforcing the need for recording the original voices and memories of those who where educated in one of Iowa’s one-room schools.
Ruth didn’t know how to make a digital video; however, that didn’t stop her. She contacted Mark Volkers of Dordt University arranging for his media department to make the video. Ruth paid the media team with her own money.
On May 18, 2018 Mark Volkers and his team filmed the Sheldon school park and the eight participants. The park had been prepared with a clean-up day and new signage.
The film won the Gold Hermes Creative Award in a National Competition for digital films.
Group – Save Cedar Rapids Heritage
Since its inception in 2012, Save Cedar Rapids Heritage has worked to preserve historic buildings through awareness and action. The young organization has since been active in advocacy, educational, and hands-on work on behalf of historic properties, with a long list of achievements.
In January 2016, Save CR Heritage nominated the Knutson Building to Preservation Iowa’s list of most endangered properties. This listing helped serve as a rallying cry for the building, which ultimately was saved and restored. The group raised awareness about pending demolitions leading to community engagement and creative solutions—like moving the White Elephant building, a contributing structure in the Bohemian Commercial Historic District.
When Cedar Rapids targeted a historic park bridge for removal, Save CR Heritage again raised awareness. Plans now call for restoring the stone bridge in place.
Not all efforts result in “saves.” The group organized a tribute to the historic Bever Building in the downtown historic district when owners stonewalled efforts to save the buddings. Despite frigid temperatures, the demonstration was well attended and received widespread media coverage, with hopes of preventing more demotions in the district.
Throughout 2016 and into 2017, board members volunteered on rehabbing the “Frankie House” an 1880s home the group moved to save it from demolition. Collaboration with the city of Cedar Rapids and others, it was completed in spring 2017; and was sold as affordable housing. The project was hands-on, serving as an educational tool about window rehab.
As historic tax credits came under fine under federal tax reform proposals, Save CR Heritage organized a tour to showcase the Paramount Theater and other sites that used tax credits to the benefit of the city, residents and visitors. This winter, Save CR Heritage organized a community conversation about the Cedar Rapids School Districts’ plan to close eight elementary schools and demolish 10 others.
The Group’s CR Hearts Tour in February shined a spotlight on buildings flooded in 2008 that made a comeback in the Czech Villiage/New Bohemia Main Street District. Partnering with Main Street, volunteers told the buildings’ histories to tour-goers followed by a social hour to continue the conversation.
Save CR Heritage’s board and volunteers, a diverse group of engineers, historians, architects, journalists, retirees and others of all ages, continues to grow to promote preservation efforts.