What do a 65-piece orchestra, three horses, and a one-room schoolhouse have in common? The answer is, they represent the intersection of interests of the remarkable couple we will meet today. This couple´s project, called Cedar Vista, will combine equestrian and music education in a beautiful, rural setting.
David and Laurel Littrell are the owners of Cedar Vista. David says he is a city boy, having grown up as a professor´s son in Manhattan, Kansas. His career in music and higher education took him to such cities as Austin, Evansville, and Denver, where he played cello in the symphony.In 1987, he returned to K-State to join the music faculty. Today, he is University Distinguished Professor of Music and conductor of the K-State Orchestra.His wife Laurel is from rural Kansas. She grew up north of Clifton, a town of 542 people. Now, that´s rural. She was active in 4-H and always had horses as a child.She and David were living in Manhattan but Laurel was thinking about how nice it would be to have a place in the country. Laurel was riding horses at a stable northeast of town in Pottawatomie County. One day the horse she was to ride had thrown a shoe, so with extra time on her hands, she took a back road back to town. She passed a "for sale" sign and sure enough, she and David ended up buying that place. They now live there with three horses.Just a half-mile from their new home stood an abandoned one-room schoolhouse near a former riding arena that had been operated by the former Manhattan Round-Up Club. David and Laurel became intrigued by that property. They saw how it could be used to enhance their interests in both horses and music.David says, "I had the audacity to ask if they would donate the property for this purpose, and eventually they agreed." The Round-Up Club reconstituted itself and donated the property for equestrian and music education uses.The site includes the historic Cedar Creek Schoolhouse, a native stone building which was built in 1885 and used as a school until 1937. David says, "Fortunately the Round-Up Club had put on a tin roof and a neighbor, Jerry Dixon, covered the windows with wood. Otherwise, the building probably wouldn´t have survived." Pack rats and vandals had seriously damaged the building, although it remains structurally sound.David has spent more than 1,500 hours clearing brush, cleaning the arena, and repairing and repainting the schoolhouse. He sees the opportunity to benefit another project called the Gold Orchestra.The Gold Orchestra is a youth string orchestra which originated in 1989. David says, "Some parents twisted my arm into starting a youth orchestra. It began with seven kids. I thought I might do it for five weekends in one year." Instead, it proved so successful that it continues today, with some 65 youthful performers. The Gold Orchestra has become nationally acclaimed. They have performed as far away as England and Carnegie Hall.
David´s vision is to use the schoolhouse for his orchestra camp and music classroom. Members of the Gold Orchestra helped David clean the schoolhouse and pasture. In July 2008, about 30 Gold Orchestra members were able to use the newly leaned and painted schoolhouse for orchestra rehearsals. The Littrells have installed a new pump for the well and are bringing in electricity.
Laurel is planning equine educational events which will utilize the arena. David has built a small barn and tackroom. Their long-term vision includes a facility for outdoor concerts. And what does the one-time city boy say about all this? David says, "As soon as we moved out here, I loved it. I would never go back to a big city."So what do a 65-piece orchestra, three horses, and a one room schoolhouse have in common? They have come together to create an opportunity for kids to learn. We salute David and Laurel Littrell and the former Manhattan Round-Up Club for making a difference by supporting this opportunity. Cedar Vista is becoming a place where classic music can have a great ride. The mission of the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development is to enhance rural development by helping rural people help themselves. The Kansas Profile radio series and columns are produced with assistance from the K-State Research and Extension Department of Communications News Unit. A photo of Ron Wilson is available at http://www.oznet.ksu.edu/news/sty/RonWilson.htm. Audio and text files of Kansas Profiles are available at http://www.kansasprofile.com. For more information about the Huck Boyd Institute, interested persons can visit http://www.oznet.ksu.edu/huckboyd/.