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The very first Cantata organized in Eads consisted of (front row left to right) Schmawback, L. Pyles, E. Vroman, I. Hightower, C.D. Schneider, (back row) D. Durrett, T. Miller, H. Petre, J. Ramsdale, C.L. Denney, C. Rose, Unknown, Unknown, and Lawrence.

Long Time Gone and Those Destined to Bring the Christmas Cantata to a Community

By Betsy Barnett

December 7, 2022

For over 60 years, Eads, and specifically the United Methodist Church in Eads, was the home to the annual Christmas Cantata. Tommy and Philomene Liesen directed the multi-community choir for most of those years. As near as many can recall, there were only a few years that the Cantata was not able to be performed due to weather. It was a long-standing tradition for the practice sessions to begin on the second Sunday in November at 2:00 p.m. with the performance always on the second Sunday in December. People came from all over southeast Colorado to be a part of this annual event, and it was a cornerstone of the Christmas season here in Kiowa County.

After the death of both Tommy and Philomene Liesen, other individuals stepped up and led the choir for several years. It was still a success in those final years due to the dedication of those who remembered the golden years of the Cantata and had a genuine love for music. Finally, Covid shut the Community Cantata down in 2020 and it has not been heard of since.

Take heart, however, that a new tradition of Community Catata-like music is quietly emerging at the Praise Community Church where on Sunday, December 11, there will be a “Sing in the Season” event that is geared towards the entire family whereby everyone, if they so choose, can join in. It will be led, just as with their community counterparts before them, by those who have music in their souls.

Music, especially Christmas music, is one of those things that just doesn’t die—although in a small community it is always changing and re-creating itself as generations of those who love to sing are destined to get involved and share their God-given talents.

One such lady, who many just have been the earliest Cantata leader and performer was named Iva Hightower who came to this county very early in its history and brought with her a love of music, particularly Cantata-type music, and a general devotion to the cultural refinements of a community

From the Kiowa County Press, (1971):

Long-Time Resident Relates Reminiscences of Early Eads

By Nona Miller

This is the story of Iva Hightower, a long-time citizen of the Eads area, as told by her.

Iva was born in Prairie, MO to James E. and Francina Camel. There were eight girls and one boy in the family. Iva and Mrs. Nela Womack were the youngest and are today the only survivors of the family. Mrs. Womack also resides in Eads. Iva’s mother died when she was still very young, and Iva’s mother died when she was still very young, and Iva’s elder sisters brought her up until she went away to school at the age of 15, Iva entered Williamswoods Women’s College in Fulton, MS and majored in music.

Iva worked in cantata work and was recognized very early as a whistling soloist. Some of the songs she remembers were ‘Glow Worm’, ‘Humoresque’, and ‘To a Brown Rose.’

Iva gave whistling solos around the country to such noted officials as Governor Sweet of Colorado, until she caught pneumonia one winter. Ever since then, she has not been able to solo, although she was asked many more times. Iva sang at her school on invitation twice after graduating. Mrs. Ramsdale and Trix Miller were her accompanists when she came to Eads.

Iva said she arrived in Eads in June of 1913. She was 18 years old and had just graduated from college. Iva was going to live with her father who had come earlier and established himself as a farmer and hog raiser.

Upon arrival in Eads, Iva said, “There were only a few buildings, including a brand new square courthouse, an experiment station, a small church and some homes. There were about ten buildings in all.” No buildings stood on the south side of the tracks, which seems a little unusual now because of the many business places and homes that dot that area of town today.

One thing that really struck Iva about the surrounding countryside was the expanse of space only including a few windmills, which at that time was their primary source of water.

The night Iva arrived in Eads, the whole town gave her a welcoming party, because as Iva said, “Everybody had to come so there would be enough people for a party.” The town was friendly, and everyone knew everyone else, as Iva saw it, “one big family”.

Iva also met Art Hightower the day she arrived, she said “he was seated on a big sorrel.” Art was an established rancher and farmer at the time. By spring, wedding bells rang for Iva and Art. On January 23, 1914, they were married.

One daughter, Billie Hightower, was born to them. Iva now has two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Art Hightower was a member of the school board for 16 continuous years. He was appointed by the governor in the 30s during the WPA program, along with Mr. Infield and Mr. Procter to serve out food stamps, etc.

In 1959, Mr. Hightower’s health broke with arthritis forcing the two of them to move to town. They bought the round house (on Maine Street directly east across the street from the Eads Elementary School) then, and Iva still lives in it today. Art Hightower passed away in 1965.

The ranch still belongs to Iva; she hasn’t sold but one section and she says, “It’s always been occupied.” Ralph Cole first occupied the ranch after the Hightowers moved to town. Presently, Art’s nephews, Johnny and Clarence Weber and family are living on the ranch and managing the land.

Iva tells of how the town grew with the addition of two dry good stores or general stores. “They had everything from pins to screw drivers,” she said. Mr. Whitelaw and Mr. Wilmont owned and operated the two stores. Then came the bank, although it is not the one that operates now.

“Most of the buildings still remain and have been reworked so living quarters could be made out of them.” Later a ready-to-wear clothes store was installed, and then a dairy run by the Jackson’s brought creamery fresh milk to Eads.

The First Christian Church was started with 90 charter members in the 1920s. “The first church built was sold last year and the congregation moved to the church on North Maine.”

Some of the things Iva remembers about the old days are when corn dropped to $.35 a bushel, and it took quite awhile for it to get back up to a dollar. Iva remembers her husband, Art, and many other farmers trying to hold off until it did rise. To many it was a blow, but the Hightowers managed to save two-thousand bushels to sell at a dollar, although most had to be sold for the bare price of $.35

“One time during a cloud burst, they say the wall of water was 20 feet high and took out the neighboring farmer’s house.”

“The most exciting times then were going to the sales, like when people sold out. Just everyone would go, even if you didn’t buy anything. They would serve coffee and pies or just any ole thing. It was just like a big picnic,” Iva said, “There just wasn’t too much to do around here although all the towns had their own church organizations and groups; you rally had to enjoy the few social visits, cause there just weren’t that many.”

Iva remembers a tornado they once had here. She said, “It struck out on piece of land called ‘fine flats’; four people died. It picked two little sleeping boys up and wrapped them in a blanket and laid them on a haystack. No harm came to either of the fellows, although the mother of one of the boys was killed. The boys were Charles Davis and a visiting Latham.

Iva is still a very active woman. She belongs to B & PW, was up until last year a charter member of the Literary Study Club, charter member of the First Christian Church of Eads, also one of the first members of the first cantata started in Eads.

Iva belongs to the senior citizens ceramics club and is an avid player of canasta.

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