The Ro Delahanty novels are located in a fictional city and county about mid-state in eastern Iowa along the Mississippi River. There are two major cities on the Iowa side, Lee’s Landing (the largest city in the area at a little over 100,000), and Gilbert (38,000), which sits just upstream (to the east) of Lee’s Landing.
On the opposite side of the river, in Illinois, are Stevenson (35,000 population) downstream (to the west), directly opposite downtown Lee’s Landing, and Grand Island (50,000 plus) just upstream, opposite the east end of Lee’s Landing and Gilbert.
The corporate headquarters of Jacob Daring Wagoneer, the world-wide manufacturer of farm and heavy construction equipment that is the major employer in the area – Mike Delahanty, Ro’s father, works for them − is a modernistic 15-story high rise built in the 1950s. It is this Jacob Daring connection that was indirectly instrumental in how the area came to be known as the Illowa Region.
Olivia “Livy” Adelle Daring Sturdevant (1874-1965) was Jacob Daring’s grand-daughter. From an early age Livy displayed what was to become a lifelong keen interest in the arts in general and music in particular.
A competent amateur violinist, in the 1890s and early 1900s she regularly organized small ensembles – trios, quartets, sextets – for informal concerts for friends and family. However, she was also perceptive enough to know she did not have the native talent, let alone the fire in the belly, to be a professional musician. So, she would also host recitals by visiting professional musicians.
Over the years the ensembles grew in size and by 1910 had become a small chamber orchestra. In 1911 the idea surfaced to establish a professional symphony orchestra for the area. It took two years of planning and negotiating to resolve the many problems and issues involved, like recruiting a conductor and coming up with a name.
The orchestra’s first season was to be a series of four concerts in the fall of 1913 and the spring of 1914. Early in 1912 they hired as their first conductor, Gilles Surre, an associate professor of music from Chicago’s Northwestern University’s School of Music, who had several times performed as a guest artist for one of the recitals Livy Sturdevant had sponsored.
But it was coming up with a name that became the stickiest issue.
The orchestra was going to be based out of Sturdevant Hall – yes, named for Livy Sturdevant, who was a major contributor towards its construction − on the campus of St. Cecelia’s College in Lee’s Landing, so the idea was floated of calling it the St. Cecelia’s Symphony. Another proposal was to call it the Surre Ensemble, after its first conductor, or maybe the Sturdevant Orchestra, after its principal founder. Some wanted to call it the Lee’s Landing Orchestra, while the suggestion of Eastern Iowa Symphony had its proponents. There were even suggestions for whimsical names, like Pro Musica Apollo, after the Greek god of music.
While no one said it publicly, it was made abundantly clear that any name that was clearly associated to either side of the river would be a significant discouragement for ticket sales from the opposite side. If it was to be a truly regional institution, it had to have a truly regional name.
Livy Sturdevant was, of course, a member of the orchestra’s newly formed board of directors – she, in fact, served on the board for more than forty years, until she retired in 1953, ironically having never served as its chairman, although she was asked many times.
At a board meeting early in 1913, when it was imperative that they make a decision on a name in order to start developing promotional materials for ticket sales for the coming fall, name after name failed to get more than a few votes; no one could agree.
When someone suggested a rather cumbersome “Iowa-Illinois Community Symphony Orchestra,” it was Livy Sturdevant – an instinctive marketer – who suggested the more memorable contraction “Illowa Community Orchestra.” Perhaps because she was by far the single largest financial supporter of the orchestra; or maybe because everyone was very aware of her powerful family connections; or maybe because she was already respected as a leader in the arts community; or simply because it just made sense – the name acknowledged both the localness of the orchestra’s roots, yet was not specific to either side of the river – it was readily accepted. Years later the “community” was dropped, and it became the Illowa Symphony Orchestra, or for short the ISO; Mike and Ro were season ticket holders for nearly a dozen years.
It was the first time the term “Illowa” was used that anyone knows of; over the years many other organizations and businesses began using it in their names to signify they served the entire area, and so by common use it was pretty much universally adopted as the generic designation for the region.
(C) 2017 Dave Lager