SHENANDOAH, Iowa -- Bob Sweeney has been very good for the Shenandoah Community Schools.
For seven years in the 1980s, he taught business education and was head boys basketball coach at Shenandoah High, and those were some good years for the Mustangs. He then went on to Charles City, continuing to teach and coach. After earning his master’s degree, he moved into school administration at Greene, and then he thought his last stop was at Atlantic High School, where he was assistant principal and activities director from 1995 until he retired in 2008.
But then Shenandoah re-called him in 2012, and he agreed to sign-on for three years as assistant principal and activities director at SHS. Among other assignments, he was challenged to direct a turn-around in the Mustangs and Fillies athletic programs. He was amazingly successful in doing that, overseeing increases in student participation numbers and in the number of victories in nearly every sport.
“Many improvements and upgrades had been made in the Shenandoah programs over the years,” Sweeney said recently. “But like at any school or in any business, there are always more improvements and upgrades to be made. Something I’ve always said is, ‘The road to success is always under construction.’ We needed to do some building.”
Bob Sweeney (right) is shown here with the author of this blog, Chuck Offenburger, when the two were watching the Mustangs play basketball on a Saturday afternoon in January, 2017, at Panaorama High School in Panora. Offenburger serves on the board of the Shenandoah Iowa Education Foundation, which Sweeney organized.
Veteran of public education that he was, Sweeney knew that there’s never enough money for all that schools want to do, and that was certainly true in Shenandoah. And it’s not just finding enough funding for sports programs. Even more important is having enough for academic programs, other extra-curriculars and facilities– especially if you want to be able to enhance them – and scholarships.
“A couple of times in those three years I was back in Shenandoah, we’d say, ‘It’d be nice if we had a school foundation,’ ” he said. “We were always looking for an additional revenue source.”
He said occasionally over the years, the school district had been given memorial money after some supporter’s death. “It was always a little tricky putting that money into the school budget while still trying to honor if it was given for a specific program,” Sweeney said. “Handling gifts like that would be easier with a foundation.”
A 501(c)3 non-profit foundation could accept tax-exempt donations, memorial contributions and other resources, which could allow the school to build an endowment fund, the larger the better. Eventually, that fund could generate enough annual interest money to allow many improvements to be made in all areas of school operations.
Sweeney recalled that in July of 2015, he met with school board president Dwight Mayer, and they talked about organizing such a foundation. Mayer asked Sweeney to do some research on the idea.
“I did a survey of all the other schools that are in the Hawkeye 10 Conference with us, as well as five or six other schools around the state that are just bigger than Shenandoah, and five or six other schools that are just smaller than we are,” Sweeney said. “What that showed was that 80 percent of those schools had a foundation. That was a pretty strong indication that we should have one, too.”
In December of 2015, the school board gave formal approval to the concept and agreed to underwrite the incorporation expenses – like drafting founding documents and by-laws. They also put Sweeney on a consulting contract to do the organizational work.
In January, 2016, a committee was formed that included Kerri Nelson, the superintendent of schools; Sandy Hilding, the high school principal; Andy Irwin, Sweeney’s successor as assistant principal and activities director; Greg Ritchey, school board member, and Sweeney.
“We spent time brainstorming names of people who would be good to have on a foundation’s board of directors,” Sweeney said. They wanted to identify people who knew lots of alumni as well as people who aren’t SHS graduates but are strong supporters of the school and its communities.
“We came up with a list of names – somewhere between 55 and 70, the best I can recall,” Sweeney said.
As that list was shared with others who had long involvement with the Shenandoah schools, four names were being recommended most often – Corby Fichter, Alan Armstrong, Star Ann Kloberdanz and Nick Bosley.
“We talked to those four about organizing a school foundation, and they all thought it was a wonderful idea,” Sweeney said.
They agreed to take the lead in asking seven others from that list of names to join them on the first board of directors. The four also became the first officers – Fichter is president, Armstrong vice-president, Kloberdanz is secretary and Bosley is treasurer.
The other board members are Jeff Baker, Bruce Baldwin, Steve Lorimor, Amy Miller, Julie O’Hara, Duane Rexroth and me – Chuck Offenburger.
All serve as unpaid volunteers.
All are supporters of the Shenandoah schools, although they graduated from seven different high schools. There is a 40-year range of ages, a wide variety of careers, and long lists of personal contacts. All live in the Shenandoah area except me, and I live 140 miles to the northeast, outside the tiny town of Cooper in west central Iowa.
Meeting monthly, this board oversaw the drafting of the legal documents incorporating the foundation and setting up its operations. That step was completed in the spring of 2016.
Over the summer, the board divided itself into committees, started a presence in social media and in September, made public announcements of the foundation’s organization.
Also by September, all 11 board members had made financial contributions or pledges to start the endowment fund. And in December, the board announced a “Founding Donor Campaign” aimed at raising $250,000 by the end of 2017.
Sweeney, having completed his contracted organizational work, bowed out at the end of September. He and his wife Kathy continue to live in Atlantic, where she works in banking. Bob’s trips to Shenandoah will be less frequent now.
“I won’t be directly involved in the foundation anymore, but I’ll always be interested,” he said. “First, I just enjoy stuff like this, you know? Second, this is a great group of people on this board, and I have high hopes for what the foundation is going to be able to do in coming years. So I’ll be paying close attention.”
You can write Chuck Offenburger, a member of the board of the Shenandoah Iowa Education Foundation, by email at chuck@Offenburger.com.