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April 26, 2018
This story appears in the spring 2018 edition of the Northwest Alumni Magazine. To access more stories and view the magazine in its entirety online, click here.
When Dennis Dau and Ron Houston met in 1967, it marked the start of a friendship that has quietly helped advance Northwest Missouri State University in enormous ways.
“Over the years, I felt that I could give back a little bit more,” said Dau, who was a director of the Maryville High School band for 20 years. “I got a good education (at Northwest), and if I can give back, I’ll do so.”
At the same time, Houston, a Hopkins, Missouri, businessman, knows the importance of developing trained, skilled workers to help the region thrive. He says giving to Northwest is a logical way to ensure its sustainability and ability to grow programs that support the region.
Individually, Dau and Houston began giving a little at a time to initiatives such as Northwest’s NPR-affiliate KXCV, the Missouri Arboretum and various scholarships, including endowed academic scholarships in each of their names. As years passed their collective giving has supported programs both large and small.
Both have been members of the 1905 Society, which recognizes donors who annually provide at least $1,000 in unrestricted monetary support, since its inception in 2005. Their combined history of giving amounts to seven figures.
“They’ve always been really good about selecting funding opportunities that are going to benefit various groups and activities,” Teresa Darrah Gustafson ’97, a development officer for the Northwest, said.
Their passion lies in the fine and performing arts, but they look for opportunities that impact groups of people, not just individuals. They provided funding to replace an electric piano after Professor of Music Dr. Bill Richardson mentioned that need. After a conversation with Director of Bands Dr. Katy Strickland about a lack of funds to support the percussion ensemble, Dau and Houston offered assistance, and then they helped the flute choir and brass choir, too. In 2016, they pledged $125,000 over five years to support the Bearcat Marching Band’s continued growth, and the band immediately used part of the initial funds to purchase badly needed rain coats for members and additional flags for the color guard.
“Their financial gifts have helped give our students multiple advantages that would not have been available without their generosity,” Strickland said. “They have changed the landscape at Northwest for the better, setting an example for our students, alumni and community members of what it means to support the arts with their presence at so many concerts, plays, recitals, gallery openings and more. We are so grateful to both of them.”
Their generosity has provided new microphones and headsets for the theatre program, and LED lighting and a projector for the Mary Linn Auditorium. Last year, they directed their support to the Bearcat football program, and joined the Founding 50 – a group of donors providing gifts of $50,000 or more to support the Carl and Cheryl Hughes Fieldhouse. They also have supported Bearcat athletics as suite holders since renovations to Bearcat Stadium were completed in 2003.
Both have their individual points of pride as well. Last year, they established the Dennis C. Dau Endowed Professorship in Instrumental Music with a $500,000 cash gift. The endowed professorship, a first in Northwest history, is a tribute to Dau’s interest in instrumental music and a legacy of teaching he modeled after his mentors at Northwest.
“One thing I always told the kids, no matter what area that you go into, employers are going to look at how well-rounded you are and how well you work with others,” Dau said. “When you’re in a 100-plus student band, you have to work with others, and I think that’s important. Employers will look to see how trainable you are in their area, no matter what it is. I always told the kids to get a well-rounded education so you can fit into about any niche.”
Dau, a native of Manning, Iowa, grew up with a love for band, playing clarinet and then percussion in high school. He bought a drum set and paid it off with money he earned by playing with bands at supper clubs. “As long as I can remember, I liked watching bands,” he said. “All the way through school, band was No. 1 as far as I was concerned.”
After completing his degrees in 1970 and 1971 at Northwest, where he was a member of the Bearcat Marching Band and Wind Symphony, Dau secured his first job teaching band in Farragut, Iowa. He was there for eight years and then returned to Maryville, where he was a director of its band program from 1979 until his retirement in 1999.
Teaching at Maryville schools gave Dau a different appreciation of the city. “It was totally different from being a college student,” he said. “I got to meet the people, and the parents of the students and the students themselves were fantastic.”
Houston’s signature gift of $1.3 million during the early 2000s enabled the University to construct the state-of-the-art Studio Theatre, a 5,500-square-foot addition to what is now called the Ron Houston Center for the Performing Arts.
Houston had performed in high school theatre productions and with the Nodaway Community Theatre Company. After graduating from North Nodaway High School in Hopkins, he attended Northwest for three years before transferring to the University of Missouri-Columbia to obtain a degree in industrial engineering. He holds fond memories of attending plays at the little theatre in the Administration Building and was saddened that Northwest could not construct a similar space after fire destroyed it in 1979.
The seeds for Houston’s gift were planted during the late 1990s when Houston sat with Professor of Theatre Dr. Theo Ross on the bus as they accompanied Dau and the Maryville High School Marching Band on a trip. “We would sit beside each other on the bus, going from here to there, and so I asked, ‘What does the theater department need?’” Houston recalled. “He talked about the fact that what a big help it’d be if they could have a studio theater.”
As Northwest looks toward future growth and its recruitment and retention of new Bearcats, Dau and Houston have eagerly supported the Hughes Fieldhouse project, knowing it, too, will have multiple impacts.
At the groundbreaking ceremony for the facility last summer, Strickland participated in a panel discussion and emphasized the important role the Hughes Fieldhouse will play in recruiting students and providing the Bearcat Marching Band with a practice space during its fall season. That, you could say, was music to Dau’s and Houston’s ears.
Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
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