Robert Melvin McCowen (1918–1965) was born in Waterloo, Iowa. He graduated from West High School (Waterloo) and received his B.A. degree in music from Iowa State Teachers College (Cedar Falls), was named to Who’s Who in Music in his senior year of college and began teaching elementary instrumental music in Waterloo after graduation. He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force at the beginning of World War II and was stationed in England as a 1st Lt. B-17 co-pilot. On his third mission he was shot down and walked through the French underground from north of Paris to Gibraltar, a distance of 1,000 miles — this took him four and one-half months. After the war he returned to Waterloo and began to teach at West High School, his alma mater.

He earned his M.A. degree from Northwestern University (Evanston, Illinois) in 1951. He was named Director of Choral Affairs at Iowa State University (Ames) in 1949. In 1950 he taught at Knox College (Galesburg, Illinios); in 1951 at Illinois Central (Macomb); and in 1952 returned to Iowa State where he remained until his death.

He served as district and state ACDA Chairman and was a charter member of ACDA. He directed the Iowa All-State and many other All-State festivals throughout the nation. He was in constant demand as a festival conductor, clinician and adjudicator. He conducted several summer music camps and was especially fond of the International Peace Gardens Camp. He had many articles published and several of his compositions were used in All-State festivals throughout the country.

At the time of his death, he was serving as the North Central Chairman of ACDA. He gave much to the state of Iowa and its musical activities. This unselfish dedication prompted the ICDA Executive Board to establish the Robert McCowen Award to be presented to the person who made outstanding contributions to choral music in the state.

Robert McCowen’s love for his work was obvious. The relationships he developed with students in the classroom and with professional colleagues were sincere. His music was his tool to serve mankind. His concern for choral music in the state of Iowa lives on, and it is for this reason, that ICDA chooses to honor its friends who carry the Robert McCowen flame for choral music, igniting the torch for all choral participants in Iowa, lighting the way not only for students, but also for professional colleagues.*

Contact an ICDA Board Member by April 15 if you have someone you would like the Board to nominate for this honor.

1967 E. Jane Ruby 1986 Allen Lehl 2000 Janiece Bergland
1968 Weston Noble 1988 Robert Davis 2001 Allen Chapman
1969 Daniel Moe 1989 Jim Kimmel 2001 Sandy Chapman
1970 Francis Pyle 1990 Gloria Corbin 2005 Ken Phillips
1971 Leo Grether 1991 Bruce Norris 2007 Gary Fiscus
1972 Sven Lekberg 1992 Mark Lehmann 2011 Carol Stewart
1972 Charles Matheson 1993 Lauretta Graetz 2014 Dr. Aimee Beckman-Collier
1973 Marvin Kelley 1994 Tom Janssen 2015 Carol Tralau
1976 James Fritschel 1995 Alan Hagen  
1978 J. Eugene McKinley 1996 Everett Johnson  
1981 Gordon Lamb 1997 Allen Koepke  
1985 Dale Grotenhuis 1998 Robert Youngquist