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  • Writer's pictureJamie Burdorf

FAMILY CHALLENGE: You all did it!

Updated: Dec 23, 2020

The Harrises step up as 25th donors to the campaign, meeting the requirement for this year of 2020.


Kathy & Craig Harris

When Craig and Kathy Harris, of Shenandoah, came forward late last week with a $10,000 pledge to the “Family Challenge” of our Shenandoah Iowa Education Foundation – becoming the 25th family to do so during this year of 2020 – it was a “wow” moment for many alumni and friends of the Shenandoah Community School District.

“In this COVID time, to have 25 families come forward and pledge $10,000 for something like this, I think that’s pretty commendable,” said Gregg Connell, executive director of the Shenandoah Chamber & Industry Association.

“A lot of families have really had it hard, and it’s like they’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop, with more bad economic news,” Connell continued. “But with the success of this fundraising campaign, I think we’re seeing a little light ahead of us now, a reason for some optimism again.”

There are more rigorous deadlines in the next three years for the education foundation, before the Family Challenge campaign can be proclaimed a complete success.

The challenge was launched in September 2019, by former SHS teacher, administrator and coach Bob Sweeney and his wife Kathy, who live in Atlantic now, with involvement by their three grown children Kari Sweeney Schwind, of Warrenton, Va.; Kevin Sweeney, of Gainesville, Va., and Kristi Sweeney, of Jacksonville, Fla. Notably, none of the Sweeneys are SHS graduates, but they say all still cherish their years in Shenandoah.

They pledged $10,000 to the foundation, at a $1,000 per year for 10 years. And they included the challenge – the Sweeneys will do this provided their pledge would be matched by 24 more families in 2020, and then 25 families in each of the next three years, 2021, 2022 and 2023.

Their idea was that, if fully successful, the campaign will enable the foundation to put $1 million into the endowment fund that’s already been started to enhance the Shenandoah schools and provide students and graduates more opportunities.

“Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect, whether or not we could find 24 more matching donors in 2020,” said foundation President Corby Fichter, whose own family became the first to match the Sweeneys’ contribution. “I am humbled by all the other families that have joined. The favorite part for me is not only knowing that all the families have partnered with us. I like thinking about how they’re helping our foundation to make a big difference for students and teachers for years to come. And I love hearing their stories of why our school and community are important to them.”

When Fichter texted Bob Sweeney last Friday morning to tell him the 2020 challenge had been met, what was Sweeney’s reaction? “Excitement,” the ol’ coach said. “My text reply to Corby was, ‘Congratulations and Merry Christmas!’ ”

Another person thrilled by the news is Dr. Kerri Nelson, superintendent of the Shenandoah schools and an ex-officio member of the foundation board. She’s been encouraging the foundation’s growth since she and the district’s Board of Education authorized organization of it in 2016. They contracted Sweeney, who had just retired, to do the organizing.

“This is a significant accomplishment for the foundation, and one I find most rewarding,” Nelson said after hearing of the Family Challenge match by the Harrises. “I am a bit overwhelmed by the benevolence and generosity of those who have made this commitment. The funding will have tremendous impact on the district and, more importantly, for students long-term.”

So, here are the 25 donors who, by the end of 2020, have pledged to donate $10,000 total to the education foundation over the next 10 years, provided we find 25 more donors in each of the next three years:

--Brothers Bruce & Kent Foster.

--Joe Anderson family.

--Terry & Deb Ratliff, Ty & Kerra Ratliff and Dustin & Toni Comstock.

--Rick Cogdill family.

--Tom & Pat Beavers family.

--Jeremy Pritchet, Tech Services.

--Star Ann & Ed Kloberdanz family.

--Judy Bengston family.

--Ed May.

--Bill & Jolie LeVere.

--Amy & Jeff Miller.

--Ken & Lois DeBaere.

--Brothers Scott & Tracey Ginger.

--Joel & Marlene Bashaw.


--Scott & Mary Anne Keep.

--Craig & Kathy Harris.

All those families are being profiled in stories on our website. The stories that have already been published are available in the archives here, and you can use the links provided above. And there are more of those stories to come.

Bob Sweeney said his family’s intent, with the challenge, “was really to have you who are on the board of directors ‘ask’ people to invest in the foundation. Looks like that challenge has worked! Hopefully, those efforts in asking, or marketing, will continue for years to come. People by nature are supportive and are already ‘investors’ in so many ways. So, I guess we figured that many of them would invest some more if they were approached and asked.”

What will it mean, we asked him, if the campaign eventually becomes a $1 million success for the endowment?

“It will mean what is already known that the – that the community and alumni are supportive of the youth, their activities and the entire education system,” Sweeney answered. “As the foundation was formed, we talked about the fact that a foundation is an investment and not a ‘tin cup’ contribution. Every contribution will help the foundation grow. If it grows with continued investments, there will be more support for future programs or opportunities within the school district and community.”

Fichter, the foundation president, has obviously already been thinking about the test of the next three years.

“The challenge to find 75 more families is big,” he said. “It won’t be easy. We will need the help and support of every one of our foundation board members, reaching out to all the people we know who call the Shenandoah area home.

“I also believe that the families that have partnered with us in 2019 and 2020 can help us find new families as well,” Fichter continued. “I would encourage every one of our 25 families who have joined our Family Challenge to think about other friends and families that have the same belief in our schools and our communities, to help us find 75 more families. Telling your story is simply an amazing way to do that, too!”

The Harris family on one of their favorite outings – an Iowa State football game.

Left to right are son Chad Harris, daughter Dr. Shannon Harris,

and parents Kathy & Craig Harris.

The Harrises, the family that let the foundation meet the Family Challenge’s 2020 requirement, are certainly involved members of the Shenandoah schools’ communities and the school district.

Craig Harris, a 1964 graduate at Atlantic, and Kathy Brownlee Harris, a ’66 graduate of Farragut High School, met at an Iowa 4H conference because both were state officers in the organization. They were dating throughout their undergraduate years at Iowa State University, married, were in Texas and Washington state when Craig served as an Air Force pilot, and settled in Shenandoah in 1979.

Craig’s career has been in farm management and land appraisal, and Kathy has taught for years in adult education through Iowa Western Community College’s adult education program – including courses in math, algebra, human growth & development, career strategies and children’s literature. Craig has served for 20 years on the board of the George S. & Grace A. Jay Memorial Trust, providing higher education loans and scholarships to local high school graduates. Besides teaching at IWCC, Kathy’s service in education includes being a member of the Shenandoah schools’ Board of Education from 1979-’85.

Craig, whose first education came in a one-room country school in Brighton Township north of Atlantic, said he and Kathy have been thinking about the Family Challenge since they first read about the Sweeneys establishing it. “Who can be against education?” he said. “I thought this challenge is a really good idea, because $1,000 per year for 10 years is do-able for a lot of people.”

Kathy said she wants to incite a continuation of a positive change in education that has happened over her lifetime. “Today, there is much more emphasis on meeting the needs of individual students,” both socially and educationally, she said.

Their daughter Dr. Shannon Harris, now of Minneapolis, is a 1991 SHS graduate, an Iowa State graduate in zoology and earned her medical degree at the University of Iowa. After her residency in Milwaukee, she is now an OBGYN physician working in the northwestern Minneapolis suburb of Maple Grove.

Their son Chad Harris, now of Kansas City, is a 1997 SHS graduate, and earned his Iowa State bachelor’s degree and Indiana University master’s before going to work in higher education and student affairs. He worked first at the University of Wisconsin, then became national executive director of the FarmHouse college fraternity for 10 years. He more recently became chief development officer of the Cornerstones of Care foundation, assisting children and families with healthcare and education, in Kansas City.

Joining the education foundation’s Family Challenge “just made sense,” said Craig Harris. “Our kids have certainly benefited from Shenandoah High School and the entire Shenandoah school system. Now it’s time for us to help some other kids.”

If you’re interested in becoming part of the Family Challenge, you can reach out to the foundation’s President Corby Fichter at 712-621-2386, Treasurer Nick Bosley at or Executive Director Jamie Burdorf at or 515-520-7641.

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