When my twin sister Sheryl and I visited The Everly Brothers Childhood Home in October 2016, it was the beginning of a beautiful relationship with Shenandoah, Iowa. While Sheryl was working as Interim Museum Director at the Iowa Rock and Roll Music Association, she reached out to Board Member Bill Hillman, who had led the organization of Don and Phil Everly's 1986 homecoming and played a pivotal role in saving their childhood home. We were interested in meeting Bill to learn more about the history and what we could do to advance existing efforts to preserve and advocate this heritage.
Bill arranged for our visit to Shenandoah, where we stayed with him and his wife Deb. There are too many highlights to mention, but Bill's tour of the Everly sites in his 1965 Thunderbird on a beautiful autumn day is certainly at the top of the list (See photo above at the Everly house)! Many initiatives, partnerships and events followed our visit that paved the way for a summer 2018 milestone in the chronology of the Everly family's former hometown: The first annual Everly Heritage Day!
After details were finalized with the band and venue, we started promotions at the end of April. Bill and our colleague Shelly Warner at the Shenandoah Chamber carried out responsibilities in town with the help of some wonderful volunteers. Sheryl and I worked remotely. After the artifacts on loan from The Buddy Holly Educational Foundation (TBHEF) were confirmed for display, I thought it was a great opportunity to combine everything we had to offer and present it as an event rather than just a concert. Although I had created a concert poster weeks earlier, I decided to create a second poster announcing Everly Heritage Day. Things happen quickly and spontaneously in the non-profit world, and when you work within a small team where there's great trust and rapport, having the ability to make decisions on your own (and on a whim!) is a natural part of the working culture. A perk in this grueling sector!
The day arrived, June 24th, and we couldn't have been happier with the response! Afternoon traffic flowed throughout the Everly home and the Greater Shenandoah Historical Society Museum next door where we featured the loaned artifacts from TBHEF and new exhibit items from Don and Phil's 1986 homecoming and the Golden Age of Radio Reunion Festival attended by their mother Margaret. Bill and Shelly said that the Everly home had occasional (but not regular) visitors from different states and countries over the years, so it was significant that Everly Heritage Day attracted several guests from other states not only to attend, but also to volunteer.
We received an $1,000 pledge from an anonymous graduate of the Shenandoah High School Class of 1972 and a group of 30 SHS classmates from Nebraska traveled to the concert in a limousine bus. We had a full house at Gladys Wirsig-Jones Auditorium (Shenandoah High School) for The Everly Brothers Experience. The benefit concert was broadcast live on KMA 960 AM, the radio station on which Don and Phil made their professional debut as children in the 1940s. Listeners tuned into the concert on KMALand.com from as far away as São Paulo, Brazil.
Shelly (ever our unofficial/official photographer!) captured some wonderful scenes of the house, museum exhibits and benefit concert!
What Sheryl and I found when we arrived to Shenandoah in October 2016 was the autumnal tranquility of a small Midwestern town. It was unexploited, and had retained much of its character from the time when the Everly family were residents. Many buildings, parks and businesses associated with their biography remained. Historians and preservationists dream of finding this kind of integrity and authenticity. But the town also had a wealth of untapped potential regarding its place in history.
The Everly home was saved from demolition in 2006 and dedicated in 2010, but in the years following its dedication, the initiative had not progressed in terms of preservation (completing the restoration), independent programming and audience development. With Bill and Shelly being primary caretakers of the home and related activities, they lacked the time, personnel and resources to move the project forward, so outreach, events and fundraising had been minimal and more localized in scope. Sheryl and I went to work, bringing our passion, knowledge, contacts and ideas into the fold. Our collaboration led to a pivotal year for The Everly Brothers Childhood Home in 2017, starting with a program at the Winter Dance Party (See my article: "Clear Lake Welcomes Phil and Don Home Again!") and this momentum has continued to inform the foundation we build for the future.
Sheryl, Shelly and I attended the inaugural Johnny Cash Heritage Festival last October and were inspired by what Dyess, Arkansas, a town much smaller than Shenandoah, had achieved on behalf of their native son (See my article: "The Everlys Meet Johnny Cash In The Sunken Lands"). We hope to eventually establish a festival using a similar format with panels, presentations, exhibits, tours, vendors and live music, but for now, we're reveling in the success of this first step: Everly Heritage Day.
Since Don and Phil's 1986 homecoming, the Everly-related events in Shenandoah, including the home's dedication, have been scheduled alongside community functions and/or national holidays. So, the fact that this first attempt at an independent event was such a success despite a short promotional period, a small budget and an even smaller team is more than encouraging. It's a significant transition towards our goal of building greater recognition for the Everly home and for Shenandoah as a music heritage destination. The success of Everly Heritage Day certainly speaks to the evergreen star power of The Everly Brothers, but also to a very dedicated and impassioned team, who within a span of less than two years, opened the second act for this historic home.
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