The key to the citySinger Leroy Van Dyke receives high honor for philanthropic work in MP
By Bryce Kelly, Mt. Pleasant News
A country music legend is now officially one of Mt. Pleasant’s own.
For Midwest Old Threshers enthusiasts, it’s not a stretch to say country music star Leroy Van Dyke is a staple of the annual Reunion. Thanks to a few local players’ planning, Leroy and his wife, Gladys got a grand reception to publically recognize the couple’s continued dedication to Old Threshers, as well as their longtime financial support of local education efforts.
Leroy and Gladys Van Dyke were awarded a key to the City of Mt. Pleasant and named honorary citizens during a breakfast reception in their honor on Thursday morning. Old Threshers board members, various city officials, local educators and longtime Old Threshers volunteers joined the Van Dykes in an intimate breakfast on the top floor of the Union Block building.
“This couple is very dear to Old Threshers and to Mt. Pleasant, and over the years, they have done so much behind the scenes helping us out,” said Al Huisinga, a longtime friend of the couple and the executive director of the Old Threshers Foundation. “Over the years, Leroy has donated well over $15,000 to Old Threshers, which goes directly to the school and educational-type programs we have at Old Threshers, and it’s about time we honor their efforts.”
Over their roughly 30-year span, the Midwest Old Threshers Foundation has contributed an estimated one million dollars to Old Threshers and the various agricultural and educational programs it runs throughout the year. After each of his concerts during Old Threshers, Van Dyke has donated one of his very own autographed guitars for auction, the profits of which go straight to the Old Threshers Foundation for education.
“Leroy always reminds young people to follow their dreams, but to get an education first,” said Al Huisinga. “Every year, Old Threshers gives tours of our history and agriculture museums to hundreds of school kids, and we try to instill Leroy’s motto in them.”
Van Dyke was born in Mora, Mo., on a 3,000-acre livestock farm. Growing up on a farm that used mule power to do much of the mowing, raking, corn planting and crop cultivating, Van Dyke says he has always appreciated the Midwest Old Threshers for its dedication to preserving the methods of steam and animal-powered farming, and for teaching the value and hard work of American agriculture to today’s youth.
“Coming to Old Threshers every year to perform is like coming home,” said Van Dyke. “Gladys and I are always treated like we are part of the family when we come here, and Old Threshers in particular is very special to us. We really appreciate all that Old Threshers does to educate young people about the value of hard work and getting a good education.”
Van Dyke graduated from the University of Missouri, majoring in animal husbandry and agricultural journalism. Despite being a musician by trade, Van Dyke and his wife are also highly personally invested in the world of agriculture. He is a member of the National Auctioneers Association Hall of Fame and has spent many years raising and selling Arabian mules on their family farm.
He is also a U.S. Army veteran.
As an entertainer, Van Dyke has never reneged on a performance at Old Threshers. In fact, after more than five decades as a touring entertainer, Van Dyke has never missed a scheduled performance.
“I grew up a fan of Leroy Van Dyke, and when Al (Huisinga) started telling me all that he and Gladys have done to further agriculture and music education and to be examples of what true professionalism looks like, I wasn’t surprised,” said Mt. Pleasant Chamber Vice President, Kristi Ray. “So, it’s only fitting that we officially welcome them as honorary citizens of Mt. Pleasant and thank them for all that they do for us.”
In addition to receiving the key to the city, Van Dyke was also honored by other various groups for his contributions to Mt. Pleasant and Old Threshers.
According to Van Dyke, the life of an entertainer never really takes a break. Currently, Van Dyke is still making the rounds across the country with his band and his wife, who is also his booking agent.
“We always get treated so well whenever we come to this town, it’s almost embarrassing,” Van Dyke laughed after receiving his award from Ray and Mt. Pleasant Mayor, Steve Brimhall. “I am very grateful for this honor and we look forward to coming back to Old Threshers this year and seeing you all again soon.”
Van Dyke is a 2001 inductee into the North American Country Music Association International Hall of Fame, and a founding co-host of “Country Crossroads” and “The Leroy Van Dyke Show”. He was also the only country music performer ever to open a show for Marilyn Monroe, according to his official website.
Some of his most popular hit songs include “Walk On By”, “Big Man in a Big House”, “If A Woman Answers” and “Black Cloud”. His first major hit song, “The Auctioneer”, has sold over three million records, and is perhaps his most well-known and distinctive hit piece to date.