SMAC Awards 2022 Prairie Disciple: Melanie Loy!


The Southwest Minnesota Arts Council is pleased to announce Melanie Loy of Worthington (Nobles County) as the recipient of the 2022 Prairie Disciple Award

The Prairie Disciple Award provides awareness and recognition of one individual per year from southwest Minnesota, whose activities and involvement have substantially contributed to the arts over an extended period of time. The accomplishments of arts advocates working in the region are often not widely known or appreciated. In recognizing these individuals publicly, SMAC believes these awards raise the profile of the arts in their community and throughout the 18-county SMAC region. This year the award was dedicated to be given to an educator/teacher only. The public is invited to join SMAC in publicly honoring Melanie Loy at our Annual Celebration of the arts and artists in our southwest Minnesota region. This Fall the celebration will be held in Swift County on Saturday, September 24th. Please watch the SMAC Website, SMAC Facebook and SMAC Instagram, for more details!

Melanie Loy receives award from Nicole DeBoer

After the nominations were evaluated and scored by the SMAC Board of Directors it was determined that Melanie Loy had the highest score for the Prairie Disciple Award. Melanie’s nominators planned a surprise presentation of the award with SMAC Executive Director, Nicole DeBoer, on Friday, May 20th at the Worthington High School during a high school orchestra concert. (Pictured)

Nicole DeBoer presents award to Melanie Loy

Melanie’s nominator was Anne Foley of Windom. Anne said, “Melanie is the rare teacher that youth and adults are drawn to as an inspirational person of merit. After 16 years of knowing Melanie as a teacher, I have yet to meet a student that has anything negative to say about her or her class/activities.” Anne also explained that when Melanie arrived in the Worthington District 518 Schools in 2006, there were 94 students throughout the district for her program; her tenacity and leadership has grown the program to well over 350 orchestra students, requiring adding two additional full-time instructors at the middle school level to maintain the growth and energy! Students from her program that go onto college and playing or majoring in music have received the highest dollar amounts awarded in scholarships in the school district. Anne also posed, “Can I ask how many teachers you know are willing to have over 100 students in their class? That is how many 4th grade students Melanie starts each year with as students.” They have weekly lessons and perform at least 2 times during the year.

Melanie Loy directing Worthington High School Orchestra

Melanie is a teacher in one of the most culturally diverse schools in Minnesota with over 3,200 students and she strives to meet each student where they are at. Melanie’s core belief is to encourage her students to express themselves through their music at every level of their life. She has inspired students to become music teachers, play in college orchestras, join community orchestra groups, and beyond. Melanie’s nominator, Anne said, “All students, whether they have her in the classroom or not, know that she genuinely cares about their well-being, positive experiences, believes in them, and supports their experiences. In living in one of the most multicultural communities in Minnesota, music is a language in which we all can communicate with and to each other. Melanie lives by this mantra.”

Melanie Loy received many letters of recommendation for this award from her community members. One was from Heidi Meyer, the Principal of Prairie Fire Elementary School. Heidi said, “Mrs. Loy believes wholeheartedly that students can express themselves through music and strives to ignite creativity in all of our district orchestra students. She understands students as learners, and as people. In her interactions, her students know that she believes in them and in their abilities.” Heidi closed her letter saying “Mrs. Loy is an educator who stands out among her peers. Her highly effective skill set, her passion and her leadership qualities makes her an excellent candidate.”

Tammy Makram, the Managing Director of the Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center in Worthington said of Melanie: “She is endlessly looking for opportunities to improve the student’s experience, by doing such things as bringing the Minnesota Sinfonia to Worthington and doing a school residency with the orchestra students, as well as giving her students the opportunity to perform with the Sinfonia. Again, this accomplishment required many hours of time in planning, organizing, grant writing, teaching and bringing the entire experience to fruition. Most recently, I observed Melanie taking part in the pit orchestra for the Worthington High School musical. She played along with her students in order to help create the best possible outcome for the musical orchestration for the young people she teaches. That she could take the time to do this along with everything else on her collective plate of things to do, shows her character and true spirit of contributing to the arts in Southwest Minnesota, even when it means using whatever small amount of free time she has to bolster the musical experience for others.”

A letter of recommendation also came from a former student of Melanie’s. Anna Meyer said, “Mrs. Melanie Loy has played a very bright role in my life. Not only has she been a mentor for me as I grew my musical passions within her orchestra ensembles, but she has been someone who has cared for me and supported me throughout the time that I have known her in all my other endeavors. Making beautiful music with Mrs. Loy is such a joy in itself, but she also nurtures each one of her students as individuals, shows them love, and shares her passion to the fullest extent…she has created an environment where being a part of the orchestra feels like being a member of an important and tight-knit family. She is a leader, a giver, a caring adult to many, and makes wonderful connections with young people based on a strong, mutual passion. I am thankful for the impact she has had on me.”

Beth Habicht, retired Worthington orchestra teacher and member of the Worthington Area Symphony Orchestra said that because of Melanie’s influence in the high school orchestra, they have been able to perform side-by-side with university and professional orchestras. Melanie is not only an asset to the students, she is also “an outstanding leader and mentor to new school faculty members at the beginning of a new school year. She listens and guides them through the difficult times. Her student teachers from several regional universities very much appreciate her insights and her wisdom.” Beth closed her letter with “Melanie is kind, supportive and encouraging. Her orchestra alumni often return to thank her for the gift of having had her as their teacher. She is truly a master teacher and an asset to the Worthington Public School District and to our entire Worthington community. She is deeply appreciated and treasured by everyone who has the privilege of knowing her.”

Melanie Loy’s reach goes even beyond that of the school district, though. She is a co-founder of the Worthington Area Symphony Orchestra (WASO). Anne Foley said that Melanie recognizes that “as a music artist and teacher, you need to fill your own cup in order to inspire and fill others cups. There are not many communities in our region that have orchestras that players of all ages can participate in. Worthington unfortunately was one of those communities until 2008.” Melanie and 3 local orchestra players had made the journey and dedication to play in the Sioux Falls Community Orchestra. After a couple of years playing in Sioux Falls, the discussion occurred about “why not Worthington?” and how this could happen much closer to home. They were the founders of the Worthington Area Symphony Orchestra, first as just string players and then adding winds and percussion after a couple of years. “Melanie has been active in the shadows in writing the grants, picking out the music, collaborating with musicians and music departments in the region, and the list could continue forever…. It truly has been a labor of love for Melanie to have WASO develop and grow to provide music experiences for her students of all ages to have another opportunity in a different form of performing.” Even after her students graduate from the program, Melanie seeks out local orchestra players to continue to play. She has even established an Alumni Concert in the winter holiday season for her past graduates to join current students performing in the lobby of the Worthington High School. Over 20 past students make the effort to come and play. And according to Anne, “If you know Melanie’s style at all, you know that she is tenacious and very difficult to say no to.”

For this nomination, Anne Foley collected the letters of support for Melanie Loy. Anne said that in the past Melanie has been nominated for other awards and insisted that she be removed from the list, and she would have done the same for the Prairie Disciple and its efforts if she had known about it being done, but “she deserves all the accolades and appreciation that life can give. Melanie’s efforts, heart and energy will live on much after she moves on in life.”

We thank all the nominators and individuals who wrote letters of support, including for the nominees that were not able to be awarded this year; we had many exceptional and deserving candidates. We encourage nominators to try again in future rounds-the Prairie Disciple award will be awarded again in 2023 as it is awarded every year! Learn more about SMAC’s Prairie Disciple Award. Melanie will be publicly awarded and celebrated at Southwest Minnesota Arts Council’s Annual Celebration this fall, being held in Swift County. Keep your eyes open for details from us on this event!

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