116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Two area educational programs will be able to expand their programming, thanks to a $4.5 million donation from John and Dyan Smith of Cedar Rapids.
The gifts will establish two new funds through the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation:
- $4 million for the Cornell College Ingenuity Fund
- $500,000 for the Cedar Rapids Opera Young Artists Program Fund, the largest gift the opera has received.
Both organizations have played important roles in the couple’s lives.
John Smith, chairman of the board at CRST International and executive chairman of Hillcrest Holdings, earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and business at Cornell College in 1971, followed by an MBA from the Cornell University School of Business in 1974. He has served on the Cornell College Board of Trustees since 2004.
Dyan Smith, a former teacher, is a founding member of Cedar Rapids Opera and serves on the board of directors of CRST and Hillcrest Holdings. The latter is a family-owned investment company whose core legacy business is the CRST transportation firm started in 1955 by John Smith’s parents, the late Herald and Miriam Smith.
The Cornell gift will support the school’s Ingenuity curriculum and Ingenuity in Action experiences, in which students embark on internships, research opportunities or off-campus courses.
The curriculum, implemented in 2020-21, “helps our students focus on the abilities and skills that all employers and graduate schools want in college graduates,” President Jonathan Brand said in a prepared statement.
It mirrors an off-campus experience that John Smith, then 19 or 20, had when a professor took a class to Chicago for the weekend, to learn more about poverty in America. He and another student posed as a husband and wife, looking for a place to stay in “a rough part of the city.”
“It was quite an eye-opener for a young person,” Smith said, adding that he loved his years growing up at Cornell College.
“It transformed my life,” he said. “I want to see the same thing happen for the current students. I want them to have transformational experiences, and I think this Ingenuity program will be one.”
The Smiths also have been major supporters of Cedar Rapids Opera since Daniel Kleinknecht founded the arts organization in 1998.
“Three women were instrumental in forming the public part of Cedar Rapids Opera,” Kleinknecht said. “Dyan Smith, Karla Goettel and (the late) Judy O’Donnell.
“Dyan was a charter board member, and (the Smiths) have been consistent givers every year in our 24 years. Their gifts are, if not the most generous, they are among the most generous gifts,” Kleinknecht added. “The Smiths’ support has been extremely vital to our success from Day One.”
The Young Artist Program — renamed the Cedar Rapids Opera Smith Young Artist Program — was added in 2003 to give college students and recent graduates paid roles onstage and in school outreach performances, as well as master classes to enhance their opera education.
“This gift will basically allow us to continue what we’ve done but with a little bit more financial stability,” said Kleinknecht, Cedar Rapids Opera’s artistic director. “It’s going to allow us to grow in specific ways. We’ll be able to add consistently more master classes for our young artists when they’re in town. There are possibilities we could add smaller things to our repertoire.
“It puts a statement about the Smiths’ belief in our mission, and they said that with the largest gift we’ve ever received,” Kleinknecht noted. “That (could) help the whole community see what they see in the opera company, and, hopefully, that gift will help us find other such gifts in the future.”
Because the donations are channeled through the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation, they will be distributed yearly. The current distribution rate is 4.5 percent of the balance of the fund.
Since the new fund was established in the fourth quarter, Cedar Rapids Opera will receive one-fourth of that amount in 2022. Once the fund is in place for a full year, the organization will receive about $22,500.
Cornell has opted to hold its distribution until the end of its Ingenuity fundraising campaign.
“By the time they take a distribution, it is likely that the fund will have grown, so it is difficult to estimate that amount right now,” noted Corinne Ramler, the community foundation’s vice president of marketing and communications.
John Smith expects to see the $4 million grow over the years.
“It’s going to be a large number by the time they start drawing cash down for the operations,” he said.
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