Visitors and residents have a new place to learn and honor Centerville native, and world-renowned bass-baritone, Simon Estes.
The Second Baptist Church, where the singing voice of Estes first prospered, was in disrepair years ago. That’s when some local folks got their hands dirty and restored the church to its luster of Estes’ childhood.
Natalie Close, a member of the Centerville Historic Preservation Group, said from her time at the chamber, numerous visitors had come to Centerville seeking a place that commemorated Estes’ career and life.
That place will now be Estes’ childhood church. Its walls now lined with various displays from Estes’ life and career, with additional exhibits along the back wall, opened Saturday.
The ceremony included Estes himself, and many of his friends and family.
Estes has traveled the world, singing for U.S. Presidents, Popes, and more across the world’s most revered opera houses. And while, in comparison, the Second Baptist Church is a small and simple structure, he found it beautiful.
An ode to homecoming, some members of the Centerville High School choir entertained with a rendition of “Halls of Ivy.” During their performance, Estes smiled as he sat in the front row. He quickly leaped to his feet to shake each performer’s hand following.
Days prior to Saturday’s program, Estes was honored on a state level by the African American Museum of Iowa. The museum presented Estes with their Lifetime Achievement Award at their History Makes Gala on Oct. 3.
Racism was a profound part of Estes’ life growing up as a financially-poor black child in Centerville in the 1930s and 1940s. Estes holds no ill-will toward Centerville, he said.
In the end, as he pointed out, it was white people who rebuilt his church and brought it back to life.
“I’m deeply touched and honored to all of you who made this possible,” Estes said. “I want to thank these people ... some of them weren’t even around when I grew up to experience the injustice that did occur. I want to thank those six veterans, who are all white men, who really rebuilt this church. They didn’t have to do that, nor did all these other ladies ...”