SIBLEY, Iowa -- Thirty-four years ago, members of the Osceola County Ministerial Association tried something new to reverse a trend surrounding an attendance drop at Good Friday worship services.
The decision made a lasting impact on thousands of residents since that point. Perhaps no family has been more at the center than the Zylstras of Sibley, who spent this week, like most Holy Weeks throughout the past three decades, in prayer and preparation for the "Good Friday Passion Play."
Keith Zylstra, who played Jesus Christ in the production for 17 years, directed three performances at Sibley-Ocheyedan High School on Friday. Vicki Zylstra, meantime, played piano for the musical end of the production, as she has for several years. And, for the second straight year, their son, Eric Zylstra, played Jesus, a role he began considering not long after he learned to walk, really.
"I was first in this production as long ago as I can remember," said Eric Zylstra, 25, who raises cattle, hogs, corn and soybeans with his father on a farm near Ashton, Iowa. "I started by playing a kid in the crowd. Then, I was a servant for Pontius Pilate, a guard and other roles, like when I played a thief on a cross."
Eric Zylstra played the role of Jesus while taking direction from his dad, who first played Jesus when this Easter Week tradition was just finding its way, so to speak.
"As an actor, most of the play circles around the person playing Christ," Keith said. "When you draw that audience in, it's your own thing and you get in your own little zone. As a director with 100 people on and off the stage, there's no way of doing that. It's much more challenging."
What makes it more of a chore -- or a a bit of a miracle, I'd say -- is that the huge cast pulls it off with a bare minimum of practice time, often needing just four rehearsals before the curtain opens on "Passion."
One reason it comes together so quickly is that the story of Christ's crucifixion on the cross is so well known, central to Christianity and the start of the Easter weekend. Six scenes in the musical production detail Jesus' Last Supper with his disciples and his painful, sacrificial trek to Golgotha.
Another reason this production coalesces within a matter of days is due to the fact there are dozens of repeat performers, folks in Osceola County who, like the Zylstras, make this a part of their Lenten observance.
"Many thought this might have a short life, but that did not happen," said Keith Zylstra, 58. "The play continues to attract enough new blood and still has enough carryover so it works."
Brenda Krahling, of Sibley, a music director, may well be the only person who has been involved with this "Passion Play" in each of its 34 years.
"This is absolutely a highlight for me during the year," said Eric Zylstra, who missed participating in the production during his time while majoring in animal science at Iowa State University. "I like the audience we can reach. It's just a good way to spread the message."
I wondered if this father and son ever discuss the "Passion" while they're working on the farm together. For example, is there a conversation about blocking on the stage while feeding livestock?
"Last year there were times where we talked about the production while we were working," Keith said. "I just told Eric last year that if he came unprepared to practice, everyone would be unprepared. He took that to heart and never needed a script while he was on stage."
The two would go over lines after finishing their work for the last day of the Lenten season. This year, they said, the lines and direction came about more readily. After one year, Eric was ready to make the role more of his own.
"I've always wanted to play Christ," the young farmer concluded. "Growing up and watching my dad play Christ is something I always remember. As kids, we'd be out in the yard after Easter and we'd end up playing, 'Passion Play.'"
After concluding the last of three shows on Good Friday, the director, the pianist and the lead were set to relax and contemplate Christ's resurrection. The Zylstras planned to celebrate that miracle the way they've done for years, at the 7 a.m. Easter service at Trinity Lutheran Church in Sibley, proclaiming, "He is risen. He is risen, indeed!"
SIOUX CITY -- Sioux City School Board members are mulling whether to allow major donors to attach their names to gymnasiums, auditoriums or other areas of a school building.
The Sioux City Public Schools Foundation has asked the seven-member board to consider lifting a policy that prohibits such naming rights, saying it would be another useful tool for the non-profit foundation to raise funds to support the district.
Currently, district policy gives the school board the authority to approve the names of schools and other facilities based on recommendations from the superintendent or in consultation with a community group appointed to consider names.
The board is considering a proposed revision to the policy that says, "The Board may enter into an agreement with any person or entity regarding the naming rights to a District facility in exchange for a substantial donation or other contribution to the District or the Sioux City Public Schools Foundation."
District officials say the new policy would not allow donors to designate a name for a school building itself, only specific areas inside or outside it.
With school finances tight, the change could be a benefit to open a new source to bring in more money, board Chairman Mike Krysl said.
School board member Jeremy Saint said it isn’t completely clear to this point if there has been an abolition in the policy on naming a school after someone who gives money to the district. Saint said given that uncertainty, when the foundation asked about it, it was time to flesh it out distinctly in the reworked policy.
While it was not immediately clear when the current policy was adopted, there are no known previous instances of buildings or school facilities being named for donors.
According to Tom Munson, archival clerk at the Public Museum, schools in the 1800s took the names of streets or “ward” in which they were located. In the early 20th century, several schools were named for U.S. president. The last remaining school, Lincoln Elementary, closed in 2013.
The last time a new school was named for an individual was Nodland Elementary, which opened in 1969. Nodland is named in recognition of Marvin Nodland, a former Sioux City administrator.
More recently, new elementary schools that have replaced older versions named for presidents or other individuals have been named after neighborhoods and features, like Loess Hills, Morningside and Perry Creek. Two new elementary schools under development, Bryant and Irving, will keep the names of the older versions.
The two private universities in Sioux City -- Morningside and Briar Cliff -- have several buildings, wings or sports arenas named after donors.
Some Sioux City school board members said they want a clean process describing how any of the public school buildings might come to bear names of people.
"This is a major change in policy. I am not saying it is bad, it is just a change," board member Ron Colling said.
Additionally, the recommended policy wording says no district facility should be named for any living person and that "no part of a District facility should be named for a deceased person until at least five years following a person's death."
Board member David Gleiser stated that the original policy on naming facilities prohibited the district from naming a building after a living person. Gleiser said he felt the proposed policy gives the impression that the Board could vote to override that provision if a substantial financial donation was offered. He suggested the policy be amended to be consistent one way or another.
Superintendent Paul Gausman said when a notable person with Sioux City ties dies, there can be an immediate push to name a building after him or her. Gausman said that quest also usually dies down after a bit of time.
The school board members read through the proposed policy at the March 12 school board meeting, and will go through a second reading during an upcoming meeting. No one from the community spoke on the school naming rights issue three weeks ago.
Saint, who is an attorney, has led the policy wording endeavor. Saint said it is important to set a revised policy that lets people know that school naming can only be done with strict limits by board members, to give sufficient oversight.
The proposed policy says a committee could work through names to be forwarded onto the school board for consideration.
In one other portion, the policy says that when an existing school name is under consideration to be changed, "The traditions of the name already in use, the long-range impact of any name change, and the intended future use of the facility should be considered."
SIOUX CITY -- Spring has just begun, but a bumper crop of orange cones, traffic control devices and detour signs already has blossomed on Interstate 29 through downtown Sioux City.
Construction equipment is as common a sight along the Missouri River as robins while work ramps up on the project's final phase, a two-year job to rebuild and expand the southbound lanes and replace five bridges from Wesley Parkway to the Floyd River.
It's the 10th year of the $400 million project to widen I-29 to three lanes in each direction from Sergeant Bluff, through Sioux City, to the South Dakota border.
"Some days I can't believe it's gotten this far," said Iowa Department of Transportation District 3 traffic planner Dakin Schultz, who began his role in the project in 2004, long before the first traffic cone was set up. "It's been a long time coming. It's nice to see the final project."
For the duration of the project, motorists have maneuvered through a number of detours, twists and turns. The current phase introduces something new, what Schultz called a free-flow traffic pattern that will allow drivers to continue southbound on I-29 past downtown on the current frontage road, while maintaining an exit and entrance at Floyd Boulevard -- all without forcing traffic to stop.
"This will be something different," Schultz said. "Our goal has been to minimize traffic impacts as much as we can. To do that this time, we had to get a little bit creative."
Motorists have undoubtedly noticed that southbound traffic has been detoured off of I-29 onto the frontage road at Wesley Parkway, and it continues through a 45 mph zone past downtown, re-entering I-29 just past Floyd Boulevard.
The southbound entrance to I-29 at Floyd Boulevard is currently closed while the interchange is aligned to handle the new traffic pattern that will allow traffic to enter and exit at Floyd without stopping. The Floyd Boulevard entrance should be reopened on April 9, Schultz said. Traffic exiting I-29 at Floyd Boulevard will be detoured along the northbound frontage road to Dace Avenue, then redirected back to Floyd to continue heading north.
Orange lane separators will keep traffic entering and exiting I-29 separated from the two lanes of through traffic.
The free-flow pattern, which is designed in hopes that traffic will not stop and back up on the interstate, is expected to be in place through October.
While it is in place, motor vehicles will not be able to access the riverfront at Floyd Boulevard. The only motor vehicle access to attractions such as the Sioux City Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center and Betty Strong Encounter Center, Chris Larsen Park and the Sgt. Floyd River Museum & Welcome Center will be at Hamilton Boulevard. Schultz said bicycle and pedestrian access to the riverfront will be maintained at Pierce Street, where the southbound I-29 entrance ramp will be closed until mid 2019, and Wesley Parkway.
Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center director Marcia Poole said she didn't expect the reduced motorist access to have much of an effect on visitor numbers. The center has always advised visitors to reach the facility by exiting I-29 at Hamilton Boulevard.
"Our observation is that most of our visitors come to us off of Exit 149 (Hamilton)," Poole said. "There's traffic from the Floyd side, but it's nowhere near what comes from Hamilton."
Even if I-29 construction makes it harder for some visitors to get to the interpretive center, Poole said she won't complain.
"We have to deal with it," she said. "It doesn't do any good to complain about something you can't do anything about."
Workers have already begun or will begin to demolish I-29 bridges over Floyd Boulevard, Virginia Street, Pierce Street and Perry Creek. Schultz said southbound traffic should be moved back onto the mainline I-29 this fall, though it will be detoured onto the northbound side while work continues on the new bridges on the southbound side.
Major construction of I-29 should be done in 2019, Schultz said, with work to raise Hamilton Boulevard in the area beneath I-29 wrapping up in 2020.