IRMMA dedicates theater spaces to notable volunteers
Tuesday, September 7, 2021
Officials welcomed the newest inductees of the Iowa Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame on Sunday, but two other names were added to the museum walls Friday evening. The pair of theaters in the hall of fame were dedicated in honor of long-time volunteers Naomi Senn and Doris Welle.
IRMMA President Ralph Kluseman said the association likely would not exist were it not for the efforts of volunteers — especially Senn and Welle. The association was created in 1997. The organization's hall of fame was first housed just south of the historic Roof Garden Ballroom in Arnolds Park. A ceremonial red ribbon was cut inside its current location near the Iowa Maritime Museum on June of 2019 — the hall of fame's museum was dedicated to Senn's husband John, who co-founded the IRMMA with Tom Tourville and passed away the month after the ribbon cutting.
Naomi and John Senn were married in 1960, according to information from the association, and five years later the couple would partner with friends to open the Iowa Great Lake Recording Studio in Milford. That same year, John Senn and his band — Dee Jay & The Runaways — would chart on Billboard's top 40 with their song "Peter Rabbit," which then held a 14-week streak on the national charts which bled into the next year.
"Naomi spent many hours in the IGL Studio doing the little things that are so important to keeping a business going — that most people rarely realize were being done," IRMMA Executive Director Clay Norris said Friday night.
Her drive toward hard work didn't stop at the recording studio. Norris highlighted her continued involvement as the association was being established and the Iowa Rock 'n Roll Museum was being created. Senn herself was inducted into the Iowa Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame as a support person in 2012.
"She pounded nails to help construct the museum, painted walls and dug in the dirt out front to lay the stepping stones on the Walkway of Fame," Norris said. "A few years later, on sub-zero January days, she could be found using a vegetable scrub brush and screwdriver to scrape dirt and debris from between the tongue and groove boards of the old Roof Garden ballroom floor that was being installed in the museum. No job was beneath her desire to help."
Norris said all non-profit organizations would treasure a volunteer as dedicated as Senn.
And doubtless her husband — who previously served as the association's president — didn't miss that point. It was John Senn who in 2001 offered an administrative position to Welle in hopes of helping the association grow. Welle had served many years as the editor of the Milford Mail and worked in broadcast as well. She accepted the position with IRMMA in June of 2001 and would stay in that position for more than a decade.
In that time, membership grew from 55 to more than 500, and today the association offers two annual scholarships to students enrolled in music-related studies.
Norris said Welle played a major role in getting operations at the association's first museum location site ready ahead of the 2003 summer season. And he said she devoted many hours to the cause over the years that followed.
"From that entity came the now famous Rock the Roof concerts," Norris said. "Doris played an active part in procuring sponsorships, overseeing marketing, organizing the volunteers, enlisting MCs, selection of merchandise and much more."
The IRMMA bestowed its Spirit Award on Welle the same year she retired from the association. Norris said Welle was always at the forefront of the organization and has left a lasting impact which remains today. Welle herself was taken aback Friday at the site of her name in large acrylic letters inside the theater's doorway.
Kluseman said the association hopes to continue building on the foundation Senn and Welle helped build. He noted the organization was still able to expand its audience in 2020, despite limitations brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The association is now in its 24th year, and its president said there's a growing focus on sustainability and story telling. Kluseman said there are efforts underway to archive video recordings of each inductee and make them available through online ancestry searches so the musicians' stories will never be lost. Kluseman said the IRMMA also hopes to collaborate with efforts to honor Beatles manager Brian Epstein with a statue and potentially bring the four original statues of the famous Liverpool musicians on a U.S. tour. Kluseman, whose resume includes membership in a Beatles cover band, hopes such a tour and other efforts from the IRMMA will inspire budding musicians. He added that sparking musicianship among the next generation will keep the IRMMA and its mission rolling for years to come — something of which he feels the association's founders would approve.
"I don't know, if John were alive, how much prouder he could be," Kluseman said.