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Band conductor Dennis Downs receives award for contributions to Cedar Falls

CEDAR FALLS – Dennis Downs can hardly wait for summer 2021 to roll around.

He’s already posted the theme and dates for next year’s concert series in the window at the Cedar Falls Municipal Band hall. “We were disappointed to have to cancel this summer’s concerts because of COVID-19, but it was the safe thing to do. Now I’m looking forward to next year’s season. We love what we do. We’re all friends, we have fun and some good laughs,” said Downs.

The COVID-19 pandemic may have kept Downs off the podium, but the conductor has been recognized for his contributions to Cedar Falls with the Melendy Spirit Award, presented by the Cedar Falls Community Foundation.

“I was floored. It was amazing to get the word that I was receiving the award. I’m so honored, and it’s a wonderful tribute,” Downs said.

The award recognizes individuals or groups who have made “outstanding contributions to Cedar Falls, positively affecting its overall quality of life through philanthropic or other means,” according to Cynthia Sweet, CF Foundation Executive Director.

Downs will be featured in a program airing on Cedar Falls Cable Channel 15 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, 7 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. Thursday, 2 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. Sunday.

He has been the band’s conductor for 36 years – one of only six conductors in the band’s 129-year history, and band member for 40 years. The 44-member band itself is Iowa’s oldest continuous municipal band.


On Tuesday evenings in June and July, the band performs in the Overman Park Bandshell. Concerts attract large crowds, including families, who settle back in lawn chairs or lounge on blankets to hear stirring patriotic marches, medleys, overtures, Broadway tunes, summer classics, novelty songs and, of course, featured soloists. There’s a “Salute to Service” theme near the Fourth of July, an ensemble series in August and a Labor Day encore concert.

Former Cedar Falls Mayor Jim Brown, in his nominating letter, noted his joy at serving as a guest conductor during the band’s Sturgis Falls concert.

“There is constant mention of Cedar Falls’ quality-of-life. There is no doubt the Cedar Falls Municipal Band, under Dennis’ leadership, is tops in this category. The quality of music is unsurpassed, especially as one recognizes the talent he assembles,” Brown wrote.

Downs, a native of Omaha, Neb., began studying piano at age 4, added the string bass at 9, the trombone at 10, cello at 13 and guitar 14. He played trombone in both a polka band and brass quintet in high school, and also joined a pop trio to play guitar and played cello in orchestra.

He earned his bachelor’s degree at Wayne State College in Nebraska and his master’s degree in music education at the University of Northern Colorado, and a second master’s degree at Nebraska University. He arrived in Cedar Falls in 1979 after teaching band and orchestra in Nebraska and Kansas, and joined the municipal band as a trombonist in 1980. He became conductor in 1984, at the behest of his predecessor Tony Lund. He taught band and orchestra in Cedar Falls Schools until retiring in 2008.

Downs played cello in the wcfsymphony for 14 years and has performed on back-up bass and guitar for more than 20 years with the Don Wendt trio. In addition, he plays trombone with the Sugar Daddys Jazz Band. He also composes music, including “Beautiful Cedar Falls,” a sentimental tune the band plays each season.

He likes being on the podium, directing the band. “I love to conduct and study music scores, and I enjoy programming the concerts. I love watching the audience and seeing toes start to tap to music that has a good beat,” Downs enthused.

It’s thanks to Down’s efforts that there’s a band shell in Overman Park. He led the campaign beginning in 1993 to raise funds for it to replace an old portable stage trailer after finding plans for a classical band shell drawn in the 1930s by noted architect Mortimer Cleveland. With the band board’s authorization, architects Wayne Snyder and Eric Ritland and contractor Bob Beck, the shell was constructed and the first concert played in 1996.

“No city or county tax money went to build the band shell. I’m proud of that, and what’s touching is, we built it from community donations and I know so many of these people. We are fortunate to have their support,” Downs said. “So much of our history as a band ties into the history of this community.”

The conductor praises the talent of musicians in the band, including faculty and students from the University of Northern Iowa School of Music and Wartburg College in Waverly, as well as soloists like Susan Rider, who performs occasionally with the band. She served her career with the Marine Corps performing with The President’s Own Band in Washington, D.C.

Rider’s father Paul plays trombone in the band and composed and conducted “President’s Own,” a concert march, for the band in 2019. He also nominated Downs for the Melendy Spirit Award. “The contribution the band makes to the quality of life in the Cedar Valley is extraordinary and exceptional in its impact and extent. Dennis has been responsible for its great success through his tireless efforts to maintain and enhance the quality of the musicianship of the band,” Rider said.

Downs is proud of the working relationships the band has, including the AMVETS, Oster Regent Theatre, Cedar Falls Historical Society, City Parks & Recreation departments, Hearst Center for the Arts, Sturgis Falls Celebration, Waterloo-Cedar Falls Symphony Orchestra, Rotary Club and many others.

In her nomination, band board president Judy Larkin, Tony Lund’s daughter, praised Downs for moving the band in 2002 to a new, accessible location at 211 Washington St. Since 1911, the band had rehearsed on the “antiquated top floor” of an old building on Main Street, which also housed the band museum. The move “allows many of the old-timers to continue playing in the band, while the museum’s artifacts are now readily on view,” she said.

Autumn's arrival -- Fall photos by BRANDON POLLOCK

Trump was running out of time in Iowa even before he went into quarantine

WEST DES MOINES — Sara Truesdell, a Christian conservative who voted for President Donald Trump in 2016, is almost begging for a reason to back him again. But the substitute teacher and stay-at-home mom wants a candidate who will “be an example of Christ,” she said outside a Target here, a suburb full of gleaming retail centers, fast food chains and newly built townhouses behind outlet stores.

Janet Khongmaly, who also voted for Trump four years ago, is more blunt. “He’s fine until he talks,” said the 49-year-old nurse.

The fact that Trump can’t count on suburban conservative women like Truesdell and Khongmaly less than five weeks before the election — and with early voting starting here on Monday — is a giant red flag for his campaign.

Polls show the president in a dead heat with Democrat Joe Biden in Iowa, a state that Trump won by more than 9 percentage points in 2016, bigger than his margin in Texas.

Even before his COVID-19 diagnosis Friday, Trump was running out of time to alter the contours of a race that has been stubbornly stable across the country for months. Now, if he follows medical advice for quarantine, he may be locked down in the White House and off the campaign trail for two weeks, assuming he doesn’t become incapacitated from the disease.

That may leave many voters’ last impression of Trump as his combative performance in his debate with Biden on Tuesday, when he repeatedly interrupted Biden and the moderator and refused to denounce a far-right group linked to violence.

Some former Trump voters here said they were troubled by the president’s conduct at the debate.

“I was expecting to see clarity. And I’m just very disappointed by the behavior, the lack of really poignant speaking to the issues,” said Don Hensley, 50, who develops food products. He voted for Trump in 2016 but is uncertain now if he will even vote.

Iowa wasn’t supposed to be a hard state for Trump this time.

Iowa voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 but swung more decisively in Trump’s favor than Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania, the other four states with large white rural populations that flipped in 2016. No other state saw as many counties — 31 — flip from blue to red.

But the pool of undecided or persuadable voters is smaller this year than it was in 2016, when Trump benefited from voters who disliked Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, as well as several unusual factors late in the race.

They included the release of damaging Democratic emails hacked by Russian operatives, and an announcement by then-FBI director James Comey, less than two weeks before election day, that he was investigating Clinton’s private email server.

Fortune could strike again for Trump. But for now, he is struggling not just to expand his base but to close the deal with some of his former supporters. Interviews in Iowa showed many voters are still trying to overcome their reservations about his boorish behavior and harsh rhetoric.

“He hasn’t learned by now?” Khongmaly said of Trump, who promised he could act “more presidential” than Lincoln.

Most other Iowa voters have made up their minds. A recent Des Moines Register poll showed Trump and Biden tied at 47%, with another 4% planning to vote for other candidates and just 3% undecided.

The two campaigns are thus slugging it out here. Biden, who has a large cash advantage over Trump, has begun airing ads here. The Trump campaign sent Vice President Mike Pence for a visit Thursday.

“The road to victory runs straight through Iowa,” Pence told a few hundred supporters in Carter Lake, near the Nebraska border.

The Register poll showed the economy and law and order are the leading issues for Republicans, while Democrats care most about the pandemic and healthcare.

Trump called the coronavirus “a hoax,” said Kathy Hoover, a 51-year-old retired teacher who supports Biden. “In the beginning, he didn’t tell what actually was going on because he was afraid of a panic. He didn’t give the American people enough credit to handle whatever panic came along.”

Voters also face a daily barrage of ads from Sen. Joni Ernst, the Republican incumbent, and her Democratic challenger, Theresa Greenfield. It is the nation’s second most expensive Senate race, behind North Carolina, with candidates and outside groups spending more than $90 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Republicans are confident they will win again here. One Trump campaign official who was not authorized to speak for the campaign said he puts Iowa in a basket with Georgia and Texas, which look close in polls but are not viewed internally as tight.

Trump won last time by promising to fight for farmers abroad and to bring back manufacturing jobs. He won almost every rural county to outweigh Clinton’s advantages in Des Moines and five other counties.

But his trade wars with China and Brazil since 2017 hurt Iowa’s farmers. The president has taken pains to keep them from defecting, lavishing subsidies despite Republicans’ stated philosophy of opposing government intervention in the market.

“He’s buying them off,” said Carol Kriegel, whose husband used to run a farm. She declined to say whom she will vote for, but said that many of her friends and relatives support Trump.

Kriegel sipped coffee with a group of other retired women at the Brooklyn Grocery store, a gathering spot in rural Powesheik County, which is split between farmers and Grinnell College. Trump won the county comfortably in 2016.

Corn seeds from trucks are strewn on the paved streets in the small downtown, where a grain co-op is near the bank, the post office and other essential businesses, with a feed store around the corner.

Jay Foster, who manages a grain co-op in nearby Malcolm, said farmers are struggling with the impact of a devastating “derecho” windstorm in August that blew away corn and beans and crushed large metal grain elevators, including five in Malcolm.

He acknowledged that Trump’s trade wars were hard on local farmers but says they still largely support the president.

“It’s the right thing in the long run. In the short run, it’s tough,” Foster said.

Mayla Sambrookes 

Pandemic takes high economic toll

WASHINGTON — This spring, Magdalena Valiente was expecting her best year as a Florida-based concert promoter. Now, she wonders if the career she built over three decades is over.

Back in March, Valiente had been busy planning three tours and 42 live events. Earning well into six figures during good years, Valiente was hoping to help her youngest son, a high school junior, pay his way through college.

But with live events canceled, things have turned bleak. She is relying on unemployment benefits and Medicaid, and has applied for food stamps. She has lost hope that the crisis will end soon.

“I worked up from the very bottom when I started in this business in my 20s,” said Valiente, a single mother in Fort Lauderdale. “There weren’t many other women, and it was hard. It’s not easy to let it go.”

Millions of Americans in the industries hit hardest by the viral pandemic face a similar plight. Their unemployment has stretched from weeks into months, and it’s become painfully unclear when, if ever, their jobs will come back. In the entertainment field where Valiente worked and in other sectors that absorbed heavy job losses — from restaurants and hotels to energy, higher education and advertising — employment remains far below pre-pandemic levels.

These trends have raised the specter of a period of widespread long-term unemployment that could turn the viral recession into a more painful, extended downturn. People who have been jobless for six months or longer — one definition of long-term unemployment — typically suffer an erosion of skills and professional networks that makes it harder to find a new job. Many will need training or education to find work with a new company or in a new occupation, which can delay their re-entry into the job market.

On Friday, the government reported that employers added 661,000 jobs in September, normally a healthy gain. Yet it marked the third straight monthly slowdown in hiring. The nation has regained barely half the 22 million jobs that were lost to the pandemic and the widespread business shutdowns it caused in March and April.

In a worrisome trend, a rising proportion of job losses appear to be permanently gone. When the virus erupted in March and paralyzed the economy, nearly 90% of layoffs were considered temporary, and a quick rebound seemed possible. No longer. In September, the number of Americans classified as permanently laid off rose 12% to 3.8 million. And the number of long-term unemployed rose by 781,000 — the largest increase on record — to 2.4 million.

“We have a real chance of there being massive long-term unemployment,” said Till Von Wachter, an economics professor at UCLA.

The nation now has 7% fewer jobs than in February. Yet the damage is far deeper in some sectors. The performing arts and spectator sports category, which includes Valiente’s industry, has lost 47% of its jobs. It hasn’t added any net jobs since the coronavirus struck.

Hotels are down 35%, restaurants and bars 19%, transportation 18%. Advertising, one of the first expenses that companies cut in a downturn, is down 9%.

Higher education has lost 9% of its jobs. Many classes have been delayed or moved online, reducing the need for janitors, cafeteria workers and other administrators. Normally during recessions, the education sector adds jobs to accommodate people returning to school to seek marketable skills or education. Not this time.

Ashley Broshious took years to develop skills that now seem much less in demand. A manager and sommelier at a Charleston restaurant, Broshious is one of just six certified advanced sommeliers in South Carolina. Still, she was laid off in March. And when the restaurant owner reopened one of his two establishments, she wasn’t rehired.

Now, Broshious receives about $326 a week in unemployment benefits. That’s not nearly enough to pay the $2,400 monthly rent on her home, as well as student loans, car insurance and credit card debt from a trip to Hawaii she took while still working.

“When you spend your entire life building this career,” Broshious said, “it’s hard to start over.”

Some economists note hopefully that this recovery has progressed faster than many analysts expected and may keep doing so. Matthew Notowidigdo, an economist at the University of Chicago’s Booth School, and three colleagues predicted in a research paper that the rapid recall of temporary workers will lower unemployment to 4.6% a year from now. That would suggest a much faster recovery than the previous recession.

Three-quarters of the temporarily laid off aren’t bothering to look for work, Notowidigdo said, based on an analysis of government data, apparently because they’re confident of being recalled. And while the number of job openings has declined by about 17% compared with a year earlier, according to Glassdoor, it remains far higher than during the Great Recession.

In July, the most recent month for which government data is available, there were 2.5 unemployed workers, on average, for each job opening. That’s much better than the six unemployed per job opening during the depths of the Great Recession.

“There are still a lot of people finding jobs fairly rapidly,” Notowidigdo said.

Still, more than one-third of workers who have been laid off or furloughed now regard their job loss as permanent, according to a survey by Morning Consult. That’s up from just 15% in April.

Some economists, like Sophia Koropeckyj of Moody’s Analytics, see rising cause for concern. Koropeckyj estimates that 5 million people will struggle to find work even after the virus has been controlled. Jobs likely won’t return to pre-pandemic levels until late in 2023, she said in a research note.

Pandemic creates unique challenges for political campaigns

DES MOINES — The news of President Donald Trump contracting COVID-19 placed a renewed focus on a serious challenge facing political candidates in 2020: how to campaign responsibly during the pandemic while still reaching voters in an effort to win an election.

As of Friday afternoon, it was not known where and when Trump contracted the virus. But in the week leading up to this diagnosis, he participated in a constant stream of public events, including campaign rallies in Minnesota and Ohio, the presidential debate in Ohio, and an event outside the White House to announce his Supreme Court nominee.

Campaigning in the COVID-19 pandemic has been uniquely challenging for political candidates and their staff.

With an election looming and a pandemic hovering, campaigns must thread a needle: holding public events could put people’s health at risk, but avoiding public events could alienate voters and limit a candidate’s exposure to the voters.

“It’s an environment unlike any other election cycle we’ve seen,” said Donna Hoffman, a political science professor at the University of Northern Iowa. “How you navigate is really a good question for the campaigns.”

More than 200,000 Americans have died of COVID-related causes during the global pandemic, including roughly 1,400 in Iowa.

The pandemic puts stress on not just candidates, but also campaign staff and volunteers, who in normal years pack into field offices to make phone calls, and knock on voters’ doors to engage in direct conversation.

“We know personal contact is the best factor in terms of getting people to vote, but there’s going to be a limited amount of that (this year),” Hoffman said. “I would not want to be managing a campaign in this environment, at least in part for that reason.”

Iowa’s competitive and high-stakes U.S. Senate race provides an example of different campaign paths taken during the pandemic.

Republican first-term incumbent Joni Ernst faces Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield in a race that polling has showed to be very close and could help determine which party emerges from the Nov. 3 election with a majority in the U.S. Senate.

Ernst’s campaign has continued to prioritize in-person campaign events — she also during the pandemic completed her official office’s annual 99-county tour of the state — while attempting to abide by social distancing guidelines. And the Ernst campaign is also door-knocking — again, while maintaining a safe social distance from voters, Ernst said.

Ernst said she has stressed safety, including mask-wearing at her events, although she has been photographed at large Republican events not wearing a face mask while interacting within six feet of people.

“This is really hard for me. I love to be out with people, because I have such great relationships across the state of Iowa,” Ernst said. “I love to see people and I love to give them hugs and shake their hands. We’re a lot more cautious nowadays, and we’re wearing masks when we’re out in public, social distancing, and that’s hard. And I know it’s hard for a number of constituents as well.”

Ernst has made one significant change to her re-election campaign for COVID-19 safety reasons: she has scrapped her annual “Roast and Ride” fundraiser, eliminating the roast portion, which included a meal and multiple speeches to a gathered crowd. This year’s event will instead focus on the motorcycle ride that will span the entire state over multiple days.

And instead of serving as a campaign fundraiser, Ernst said this year’s event will benefit the Puppy Jake Foundation and Cedar Rapids Derecho Recovery Fund.

“It is tougher because we’re not able to do some of those same types of events we’ve done in the past. But we do have some really great volunteers that come in and make lots of phone calls, so that’s really great. And we are still doing door-knocking activities because you can do that safely,” Ernst said. “When they go to a house, they’ll knock on the door and then step back so that they socially distance. And the feedback that we’ve actually gotten about that is there are so many people that are really thankful that they are coming to their doors. I think there are a lot of people that hunger for conversation.”

Greenfield held more online events early in the general election, but recently she has started holding more public events with small numbers of people and media.

Greenfield said the campaign has conducted more than 250 events, both in-person and online, and that the events have included Iowans from all 99 counties. She said if elected, she plans to continue to hold virtual events as a U.S. senator.

“Criss-crossing the state and meeting Iowans and shaking hands is my favorite thing to do. Listening to their stories, learning from them so that I can lead best as their next senator, is a highest priority,” Greenfield said. “We’ve certainly made the decision to follow CDC guidelines as best we can in this campaign. And we’ve been out traveling the state, and we’ll continue to travel the state. But again, we’re going to also take advantage of these virtual opportunities, which frankly have allowed Iowans to join us from all over the state.”

Greenfield’s campaign is not door-knocking, a campaign spokeswoman said.

“I think we’ve got a nice combination of both ways to get out there and meet Iowans and campaign hard to defeat Sen. Ernst in November,” Greenfield said.

The national Republican Party’s campaign apparatus in Iowa has continued its door-knocking while maintaining social distancing, according to a spokeswoman.

The Republican National Committee’s organization serves as Trump’s de facto campaign organization in Iowa, and also advocates for other Republican candidates on the ballot.

“We have this policy when we go door-knocking that we’re following social distancing guidelines,” RNC spokeswoman Preya Samsundar said. “So our folks will go up to the doors, knock or ring the doorbell, and then they’ll go back and stand at least six feet away. They’ll be wearing masks, (protective equipment), and then they’ll have that conversation from a distance. And because most folks are at home, they typically answer the door. And then they’re OK with having that conversation with us.”

Samsundar said the RNC has continued to use online voter outreach live video calls in addition to door-knocking, and as a result has made roughly 2 million voter contacts during the campaign. She credits Republicans’ data-driven ground game and expansive stable of volunteers for being able to adjust to the pandemic and keep the GOP’s operation moving during the pandemic.

“Because we had that infrastructure in place, this was such a seamless transition,” Samsundar said. “We saw that our campaign didn’t slow down at all, in terms of metrics and numbers, we were able to continue going at the pace we were prior to COVID. It’s just a testament to the type of ground game that the Republican National Committee has built, the type of campaign that the Trump campaign has joined us in those efforts to really partner with us to have that data-driven ground game.”

Hoffman said for campaigns that eschew door-knocking, there are other methods of reaching voters, including campaign ads on television, of which there have been many in Iowa’s U.S. Senate race. She said campaigns can also get creative and do things like sending hand-written post cards to voters.

“There are other ways that a campaign, if they are creative, can still keep their name in front of voters. Because that’s really what they want to do,” Hoffman said. “Campaigns can adjust to this. I think they just have to be creative. The name of the game isn’t to physically be in front of people necessarily, but it’s to keep your name in front of people so when it’s time to vote they write your name.”

James Lynch of The Gazette in Cedar Rapids contributed.