If you look around campus, tucked into corners, displayed on walls discreetly, and even splashed big on the home of the Peacock gridders, you can see the positive impact that two 1973 alums have had on their beloved alma mater. Steve and Diane (Kinkead) Harms have long supported Upper Iowa University through generous donations funding capital projects, education initiatives and scholarships for UIU students.
The most recent of these generosities is the establishment of the Diane Kinkead Harms Cheer Endowment. The $1.65 million gift was kick-started by the grassroots effort of a few students who wanted to form a cheer squad. The search is currently on for a full-time head cheer coach, funded by the endowment, which will also support operational costs to ensure the longevity of the program with the long-term goal of a UIU competitive cheer team.
In May 2013, UIU students Dacia Bassett of Fayette, Iowa, and Amber Davis of Chicago, Ill., had the idea to resurrect the former Upper Iowa cheer program. Davis, a former high school cheerleader and member of an all-star competition squad that performed a halftime show for the WNBA Chicago Sky, had noticed other students around campus wearing their high school cheerleading team shirts. “We thought we should try and get the UIU team going again,” said Davis.
They recruited others and then approached Brock Wissmiller, UIU assistant athletic director for external operations, with an idea to cheer at Upper Iowa Peacock athletic events and perform during halftime at Homecoming. “I thought it was a great idea,” said Wissmiller. “We worked to find them a place to practice and an advisor in Kate Grover, director of our UIU Rec Center and a former cheerleader.”
Throughout the following summer, the squad practiced cheers, and added stunts thanks to Sabrina Schmitt ’00, a former UIU cheerleader who volunteered her time. As Upper Iowa students headed back to class in the fall, the small cadre designed and hung flyers around campus to increase interest. Through their efforts, more joined the squad and 15 women cheered on the Peacocks.
Avid supporters of Upper Iowa University, alumni Steve and Diane Harms are often seen at Peacock athletic events, especially football. Steve, a native of Sumner, Iowa, played for the Peacocks for four years; Diane, who hails from Whittier, Iowa, cheered for three years at UIU. Diane had felt for many years that without cheerleaders, athletic events seemed to lack the enthusiasm she remembered from her days on the squad.
“For me, sports and cheerleading go together,” she said. “When I saw the students cheering at Homecoming, I was excited! I heard their story about how these two young women persisted to bring cheerleading back to Upper Iowa. I was impressed. At halftime, I spoke to Dave Miller and told him I would like to buy uniforms for the new squad.”
“Upper Iowa has a loyal friend and supporter in Steve and Diane Harms,” said UIU Athletics Director David Miller. “What they have given to our University and how they have supported and enriched students’ college experience over the years is to be commended.”
In Spring 2014, Wissmiller, Miller, Grover and UIU President Bill Duffy presented Diane with the opportunity of endowing a cheer program at Upper Iowa. “She did not hesitate,” Miller added. “An endowed cheer program is rare in Division II athletics. With the addition of the competitive component, a new Upper Iowa University program allows us to recruit highly sought after student-athletes and adds value to our University.”
“This is a prime example of how student initiatives are so important,” said Grover, the squad’s advisor. “Without the students and their perseverance, we would never have thought of doing this. They sparked an interest in our amazing donor, and together they have made this possible.”
This marks the second major gift from the Harms in just three years. The couple’s record-breaking $7.5 million gift in 2011 funded transformation of the football stadium.