By Michael Swanger
Sideline any preconceived notions you might have about being a spectator spending long hours staring at static exhibits in a museum devoted to one subject, because the Iowa Hall of Pride in downtown Des Moines requires you to get in the game mentally and physically with its interactive displays that appeal to participants of all ages with its pace of play.
A museum with a pulse — one that beats consistently and enthusiastically — the Iowa Hall of Pride brings to life the overarching story of Iowa’s glorious past (and present) through a technology-driven experience like no other in the state. Throughout its 26,000 square feet, it highlights Iowa icons in its Hall of Heroes; projects positive images and stories of Iowa and Iowans on the big screen in its Iowa Experience Theater; and offers a rotating, multitude of entertaining and educational displays in its Main Showcase Hall.
The $13 million Iowa Hall of Pride, which opened in 2005, is the brainchild of Bernie Saggau, the former longtime executive director of the Iowa High School Athletic Association and it continues to operate as a program of the IHSAA. It attracts thousands of visitors each year from across Iowa and other states. For many families, it is a popular attraction during summer vacations, winter and spring breaks, weekends and short day trips. Students, from kindergarten through seniors in high school, are admitted free of charge.
“Whether you are an Iowan, or from another state, if you want a place to go to feel good about Iowa in a short period of time, come to the Iowa Hall of Pride,” said its director, Jack Lashier. “When you see Iowa through the eyes of the Hall of Pride you can’t help but be inspired by the people who grew up here and to feel more positive about Iowa than you did before you came to the Hall of Pride. It’s a great use of your time.”
Though the Iowa Hall of Pride is popular with tourists, thanks to its enormous entertainment value, its educational offerings are equally appealing to families as well as educators. Each year, tens of thousands of Iowa students visit the Iowa Hall of Pride on about 400 field trips and many participate in its Pride Outreach and mentoring programs. Such experiences not only reinforce valuable character-building life and work skills like leadership, goal setting, sportsmanship and citizenship, but they also provide young Iowans with sorely needed lessons in Iowa’s history, the kind that are generally lacking in Iowa’s schools today.
Few, if any, have a better feel for the excitement and education that the Iowa Hall of Pride generates among its young visitors than Lashier, who was personally recruited by Saggau 20 years ago to help bring it to realization and direct it. Lashier, whose resume includes work in education and sales, stays directly connected to the Iowa Hall of Pride’s mission of education by personally giving guided tours of the venue to school children.