Sonshine Singers was founded in the summer of 1999, actually the brainstorm of members of the audience at a Fort Dodge Civic Glee Club performance. I had directed that organization for 3 year s from 1996 through 1998, and, as I was greeting the audience following the show, people kept saying, “Your sacred music segment is so strong, have you ever thought of performing sacred music only?” Well, quite honestly, when it was first presented to me following the 1996 performance, I thought, “How could the Ft. Dodge Glee Club change its format from a variety show to a sacred ministry?” and I pretty much dismissed the idea.
However, again after the 1997 performance, I had similar requests only now there were more of them. Because I had directed the Trinity Singers, a choir from Trinity United Methodist church, since the fall of 1992, I had a very strong commitment to the “sacred music ministry” and consequently, after the Glee Club show in November of 1998, I decided to resign as director, take a leap of faith, and pursue this new concept.
My husband, Allan actually came up with the original title of Sonshine Ministries, which was modified to Sonshine Singers. Because our children, Todd and Lisa had always sung with me in anything I directed, I presented this idea to them—knowing full well of course that they had no choice regarding commitment, due to our parent child contract—they agreed to be my first recruits. Allan, who unfortunately does not sing, became our biggest promoter. Regarding his singing, he says, “Yes, Armona always asks me to sing “On a Hill Far Away” and she means that literally!!” And further he adds, “And the part I am supposed to sing is Tenor — ten or so miles down the road.” At any rate, I now had a Soprano, Bass, and a very excited support person already in place so I proceeded to step 4—getting the singers!
I contacted various talented people in the community that I had at some time worked with in a variety of musical settings…..I also prayed…..a lot!! I asked God to provide me with at least 50 voices, if this was what He really wanted me to do…..He provided me with 100. Realizing the importance of an exceptional pianist, I then took this idea to Sue Feltman and asked if she would be interested in accompanying this group of vocalists. She wholeheartedly loved the idea and after she conferred with Dave, her husband, Sue agreed to use her wonderful God-given talent to be our accompanist. After comparing her schedule and mine, we decided to put this together during both of our busiest times— the practices and performance would be during tax season—as I work for my husband’s CPA firm, and during the St. Edmond’s Musical in March that Sue directs!! God truly has a sense of humor!!
Practices started the first Sunday in January 2000 and each Sunday throughout Jan, Feb and the first Sunday in March with 100 singers meeting from 4:00 to 6:00 pm rehearsing 22 anthems. The requirements to be in Sonshine were the ability to read music, maintain your own part in four part arrangements, to build stamina vocally for a two-hour rehearsal, and to be committed to a ministry rather than entertaining. I will never forget the first Sunday’s rehearsal. Not everyone knew everyone so the room was relatively quiet as the group began to assemble and the rehearsal was extremely orderly. (As an aside, they now know each other very well so the adverb “extremely” has had to be taken out of the orderly part of the previous statement.) J
Even with the warm up of that very first rehearsal, I knew this group of Singers was awesomely talented and, as we began singing the various anthems, it became very obvious we were all touched by not only the gorgeous harmonies but also the message of God’s love through song. I only hoped the community would receive this ministry in a like manner.
Our first ministry was held at the First Presbyterian Church the second weekend in March 2000 and again I asked God to just provide us with one or two hundred people to hear His message—again, He provided an overflowing congregation of six to seven hundred people. I have not included numbers in my prayers since then!!
Since that “inaugural” year, the same format of practicing and ministry has been utilized. We’ve also taken the ministry “on the road” traveling to the Iowa State Fair, Gospel Fest at the Grotto in West Bend, and the Spirit Lake area. Each summer, we have provided a music ministry in Fort Dodge. In 2002 and 2003, we sang before 1400 to 1500 people at the Oleson Park Bandshell. In 2002 we decided to do a Christmas Music Ministry, which, because of the wonderful response, will now become an annual event. We have a very “mutual admiration society” for all in this community and throughout northwest Iowa who continue to support us by their presence—what a blessing they are to us!! In addition to the large group, we provide small groups of singers for various functions in Fort Dodge and the surrounding communities.
This year’s group consists of l40 vocalists and represents over 40 churches in the area. We are very blessed to have a board consisting of 15 very dedicated people who head up various committees that allow this organization to flow so effectively. The members as a whole also contribute many hours volunteering in any area they are needed. Additionally, we have within the organization an assistant director, an assistant accompanist, percussionists, and various instrumentalists.
In closing, our mission statement is quite simple. We are dedicated to providing, through contemporary sacred anthems, a “music ministry” revealing the power of God’s love and grace so freely given to us all. We thank Him for the opportunity to share our blessings through the talents He has given us and we dedicate our singing to His honor and glory!!
In His love,