Meredith Willson

Service 1963

In the genus Homosapiens there is a species Iowan, whose natural habitat centers on the 42nd parallel at the 93rd meridian, between two great rivers in the American Midwest. The more adventurous of the species range widely about the earth, often colonizing in areas of suitable habitation, notably in the south of California and in the canyons of Manhattan Island. Even the less adventurous flock (usually seasonally) to these places, or to sunny areas in Arizona and along the coasts of Florida. The species is marked by a propensity for the fullest freedom of individual action, an inclination to become more placid in the late spring, and an abundant loyalty to its own place and kind. In colony, the species will ruffle feather and contest among themselves, but form a tight circle when attacked.

Being wary of autocracy in any form, the species has no king. If it had, he could be Meredith Willson.

This man has set the spirit of Iowa to music, in pieces and plays which rollick across the American stage and screen, but also in lyrics and melodies of love and friendship, and in songs of faith. As composer, conductor, novelist his impact on the world of entertainment is ebullient and wholesome. Like a good neighbor who has baked an extra cherry pie, he has given of himself and of his lilting music to the University.

Music can take many kinds of form, and this man has been the leader of many kinds of band. The man who played first flute for Sousa more than forty years ago also is the founder and six-times president of the Big Brothers of Los Angeles, whose work with fatherless boys makes music human, on another scale.

If there is some slight difference in this cousin of our clan, it lies not in the fact that he is a credit to the species, but in the fact that everybody in the world knows he is an Iowan, and all Iowans are the more respected. This University is proud to acknowledge the leadership of his example with this Distinguished Service Award.

Join our email list
Get the latest news and information for alumni, fans, and friends of the University of Iowa.
Iowa Stories
Iowa Magazine
Explore the Spring 2019 edition of the Iowa Magazine.