Display cases honor Wartburg’s world-famous professor

The two display cases hold items from Dr. Simon Estes that he has collected from his world-wide professional opera career. They are on the second floor of the Fine Arts Center. – Lauren Matysik/TRUMPET

A new display case honoring Dr. Simon Estes has been placed on the second floor of the FAC to honor his lifetime achievements.

The items in the display case include a multitude of different awards varying from musical recognition, charitable work and even civil rights advocacy.

The awards are a reflection of a man who got his start in opera at a German Opera house in West Berlin in 1965.

Estes has sang at the Vatican for two popes, performed for six presidents and performed numerous times for the late Nelson Mandela.

In addition to performing for such highly recognized figures, Estes’ career has taken him to Rome, Paris, Sydney and all over the world.

“I’ve sung on every continent in the world,” Estes said. “Except Antarctica and that’s because the penguins haven’t invited me yet.”

Despite his success, Director of Choral Activities Dr. Lee Nelson doesn’t believe Estes has let his achievements inflate his ego.

“He’s such a humble person,” Nelson said. “A person of his accomplishments could kind of look down at the rest of the world from on high and he doesn’t. He loves to interact with the students, faculty, staff and community.”

Born in Centerville, Iowa, Estes got his first start in music while he was in junior high school and his conductor asked him to sing with the high school as a first soprano, a great contrast from the robust bass voice that has led him to world recognition.

Even at that young age Estes was focused on living a life full of music.

“I asked my teacher if I could make a living singing,” Estes said. “Of course I was thinking Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, more popular music. I never really thought about opera.”

From Centerville, Estes moved to the University of Iowa where his voice teacher recognized his talent and introduced him to opera, which drove Estes to earn a full ride scholarship to the Juilliard School of Music.

It was his time at the University of Iowa, however, that made him realize that he’d like to give back to his community.

“I was from a very poor family when I went to the University of Iowa so I scrubbed floors and cleaned toilets,” Estes said. “I thought if ever I’d be blessed to have a good career I’d like to help other students.”

His success has allowed him to give back to students as he desired when he was a student at Iowa.

Five years ago, he started singing in all 99 counties in Iowa and gives 50 percent of proceeds to the Simon Estes Foundation that has created 135 scholarships.

In addition, Estes has been able to pass his knowledge on to many of those same students, as he was a professor at Juilliard and Boston University and is currently on faculty at Iowa State and Wartburg.

Estes first performed at Neumann Auditorium 14 years ago. A week after his performance, then President Jack Ohle called to offer him a job and Estes hasn’t looked back since.

“I’ve been very blessed in my career,” Estes said. “I love it here. It really is a great college.”

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