Though I've spent most of my working life in newspaper journalism -- and am again doing so today -- I was nearly two years past a layoff and trying to build an alternate way of making a living when I first met Deb Masker at the end of 2010.
I had just been hired as a choral accompanist splitting time between both Council Bluffs middle schools, Kirn and Wilson. I had started college intending to be in music education, but I graduated in 1986 as a journalism major with a second major in music. That, plus many subsequent years as a church musician, enabled me to get the job.
It was a lifesaver in more ways than one. I expected to stay only until I could find a full-time communications job. Instead, I stayed six years.
And while Deb's counterpart at Wilson (Krista Walter) played a key part in that, it was Deb and the kids and staffers at Kirn with whom I connected most -- and with whom I made some of the greatest memories of my musical life.
Show choir was the major focus of both schools' choral programs. Both Deb and I were high school show choir veterans; in my case, I had been the piano player and rhythm section anchor at my school. I hadn't had the chance to play for show choirs for 25 years when I was hired in Council Bluffs. But I soon found that we were kindred spirits who wanted to gift our Kirn kids with the same passion for music and show choirs that we each had known.
We worked together for 3 1/2 years, until Deb stepped down as vocal music director for another assignment. When the district approved a second full-time middle school accompanist, I applied and was chosen to stay at Kirn. Deb and our choir kids were the reason.
She supported me in using my lunch hours to build a freelance writing career to bring in the money I needed to stay at Kirn. She entrusted me to run rehearsals (with a qualified sub in the room) when she couldn't be there. This became a necessity when Deb was injured in a car accident just before one school year and she couldn't start classes on time herself as she recovered.
Above all, Deb enabled me to communicate my own passion and enthusiasm for performing to our students and join her in helping them to find it within themselves.
We worked together on three junior musicals ("State Fair," "Fame" and "Guys and Dolls"), all of them featuring inspired cast performances. And our separate 7th- and 8th-grade show choirs held their own against much larger schools in competitions in the Omaha area.
I'll never forget the 2013 Viking Cup contest at Omaha North High School, won by our 8th-grade show choir. They put on the performance of their lives. After we left the stage, not yet knowing if we would win, Deb choked up in our jubilant room where we waited for judge's comments.
"I don't care if we win," she said through years. "You've already won."
Deb has never forgotten that teachers shape young lives. She constantly urged her students to reach for the best in themselves during and after our direct collaboration and certainly until my family and I left Omaha in 2016 to return to our native western Nebraska.
I know that many of the kids we made music with at Kirn would say Deb changed their lives. She also changed mine. At the lowest point in my adult life in my mid-40s, she helped me rediscover the best part of myself, the part that reveled in the joy of performing and in drawing as many people as possible into its embrace.
If you choose her for this award, she'll put it to use inspiring even more young people. I can't think of anyone better for that task. Thanks for reading.
Sincerely, Todd von Kampen, North Platte, NE (choral accompanist, Kirn Middle School, 2010-16) #LCOY
I worked with Mrs. Masker at Kirn Middle School as a teacher and later as an instruction coach. Mrs. Masker has always gone the extra mile to help students, teachers, and administrators as she works to move everyone forward. She often takes on extra tasks and finds success for her students and herself. She has certainly touched the lives of many students and challenged them to achieve beyond the expected. I would also like to mention that Mrs,. Masker makes it a point to recognize all students (not just the best and the brightest). Please give her serious consideration.
I have known Deb for many years and have never known such a more deserving candidate. She spends endless hours of her time with her students a more dedicated educator I don't know if there is one.
One story is all you need to understand the real character of Mrs. Masker. It was my 7th-grade year, and it was the night before I had to turn in my website for the National History Day competition. I was putting on the finishing touches when my website glitched and erased everything, this was months of work gone. My mother called Mrs. Masker with me hysterical in the background, explaining the situation. The next day I came into school, Mrs. Masker had completely cleared her entire teaching schedule for the day, and we sat together in her office piecing back my website before the deadline. Without her help and dedication to ensuring I had something to present to the judges, I would have never finished my website in time. That website went on to win the best African American History project award and was a national alternate for the competition. Mrs. Masker showed me what hard work looked like not only for History Day but also on the stage as she pushed our show choir to be better at every practice, never giving up on us. Mrs. Masker continued to show her dedication to my life, as every year I was at Iowa State she would make time to take me out for lunch and catch up on my academics and how I was doing at college. She truly is someone who I know is dedicated to making sure I succeed in all aspects of my life.
I had Mrs. Masker for History Day for four years. Through middle school, she taught me how to be caring and empathetic towards people of every race, background and gender. Because of Mrs. Masker, I have learned how to fight for a cause that I believe in, to always follow my dreams and do what is right. She was the teacher that I knew I could always turn to if I needed help with a class, or just have someone to talk to about what I wanted to do with my life. Not only did Mrs. Masker teach me how to be a better human, but she also helped me learn valuable skills that I will definitely use throughout my college experience. I now know how to access and use technology in ways that I wouldn't have without her. I created websites for almost every year of history day, and with Mrs. Masker's help I was able to advance to nationals in my freshman year of high school. Without her guidance, I would not have had the confidence to do my project on something I was passionate about. Mrs. Masker has always supported me and still keeps in touch regularly to see how I'm doing. She deserves this award because she changed so many years of my life, and helped me become the person that I am today.
I had Mrs. Masker when I was in middle school for choir and show choir. I also had her when I decided, per her persuasion, do do History Day. Through all of my experiences Mrs. Masker was encouraging, uplifting, and pushing me to do my very best. When we lost a show choir competition, she drove us to build a growth mindset and get better instead of wallow in self pity. Even though I’m not much of a history buff she showed me to dig for the real truth and how to develop a passion to learn about the past. This eventually led me to study abroad studying WWII and the Holocaust.
Her awesomeness didn’t stop when I left for high school. Still keeping in touch through her Leadership Academy Alumni Facebook page and being Facebook friends Mrs. Masker knee I was looking for a job in Council Bluffs Schools as a PE teacher. When positions opened she sent them to me. I believe she has and always will be a supporter in my corner. She pushed me to be a better student, leader, and now teacher. There is no one else who better deserves this award, because I believe, no one else has worked so hard to be a mentor, teacher, and now friend.
I worked with Mrs. Masker doing National History Day, show choir, musicals, and Leadership Academy. Thinking back to the vulnerable years middle school was, I can’t think of anyone who was more impressionable on my growth than Mrs. Masker. She was such a remarkable mix of firm love, honesty, and had a confidence in every child that brought out the best in everyone. One of the largest skills she showed me was how to be a strong female leader in middle school, which is a point in life where it is easy to stop believing in yourself and settle into that for years to come. After leaving middle school her love and encouragement did not end. She was one of the first people to show up to my graduation party, and to this day still reaches out to me as I am now a music teacher. I can’t think of anyone more deserving of this award than Mrs. Masker.
Deb has been a colleague and friend for the last 16 years I have taught in the Council Bluffs School District. She always has a “can do” mindset no matter how big the challenge. I am blessed to call her friend who is also willing to lend an ear when I need on. She is also a mother, grandmother, wife, daughter and sister. She gives 150% to everything she does. She has changed countless lives always for the better. No one is more deserving of this award than Deb Masker.
Mrs.Masker has been a strongly influential role model to myself and many of the people in my life. I was a part of her 7th and 8th grade show choirs and the meaningful impact she left on me still holds as I enter my senior year of college. She showed me how to work hard through show choir, concert choir, and the school musical. I worked closely with her in 8th grade with a lead role in the musical and she helped me grow greatly as a musician and become ready to be successful in high school choir. Although not a part of any choirs currently, music is still a huge part of my life and as a young student the educators that start us out have such a large impact on us in the long run. Mrs. Masker not only helped me grow as a musician but she showed me what it meant to work hard enough to excel at something. Our eighth grade group won first place at a competition and that was hugely because of her expertise and grit.
Mrs. Masker also leads the history day competition for our area middle and high schools. I watched her guide and mentor my sister as well as many friends to success and many to the national level of the competition. She works day in and day out to find resources for EVERY student’s project. The dedication she puts into the things she’s involved in have impacted everyone I know that interacts with her. She shows young kids what it means to work and how to have fun while doing it. I will forever be grateful to have known and had the pleasure of being a student to Mrs. Masker.