- Associated Press - Sunday, February 2, 2014

CLEAR LAKE, Iowa (AP) - A passion for the Surf Ballroom and live music has kept Clear Lake’s Jeff Nicholas involved with the Surf for more than 20 years.

“I get goosebumps every time I walk in the building,” Nicholas told the Globe Gazette (https://bit.ly/M6ENBG).

Nicholas is the president of the three-member board of directors of the North Iowa Cultural Center & Museum, the nonprofit entity which runs the Surf Ballroom.

The other board members are Shane Cooney and Paul Stevenson, also of Clear Lake.

Nicholas, Cooney and Stevenson stepped forward in 2007 to take over the planning of what was then called the Fifties in February celebration.

The event, now known as the Winter Dance Party, honors the memory of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson.

The musicians and their pilot, Roger Peterson, were killed Feb. 3, 1959, when their plane crashed north of Clear Lake after an appearance at the ballroom.

However, Nicholas’ first visit to the Surf wasn’t music-related. He helped out with a spring boat show at the Surf while in high school in 1974.

Besides his current volunteer position, Nicholas managed the building from 1994-96.

What makes the Surf special to him?

“It’s a combination of the bricks and mortar, what’s happened here over history. It’s the people. It’s the relationships,” he said.

“The Surf has always given me more than I’ve given back to it. So I am kind of an emotional guy. I love this town. I love this building and all the friendships and relationships and memories that it has given me.”

His dedication to the Surf draws praise.

“Jeff’s passion for the venue and the music that lives here (at the Surf) is truly evident in the countless volunteer hours that he dedicates each year,” said Laurie Lietz, executive director of the Surf Ballroom. “His leadership goals place emphasis on the long-term viability of the Surf and he works hard to make ‘big picture’ things happen. Without Jeff’s vision, I’m certain that our nonprofit wouldn’t enjoy the many successes that we’ve achieved.”

Nicholas, Cooney and Stevenson work closely to keep the Surf growing and relevant.

“We have developed and awesome relationship. We all get along fabulously,” Nicholas said.

“We’ve developed the kind of relationship where and we say this to people, ‘When you’re talking to one of us, you’re talking to all of us.’ “

He loves the electricity in the ballroom when an act comes on stage.

“We are in such a digital age where everything is recorded and you can do just about anything within the confines of your home. To be able to still get out and interact with other people and be able to watch live music is special,” he said.

Nicholas credited Cooney with helping to develop relationships with entertainment agents around the country.

“In the last five years, we are vastly improving our reputation nationwide with the entertainment agents. People want to come here,” Nicholas said.

Cooney returned the compliment, praising Nicholas for his commitment and strong leadership.

“Jeff has led our group with a sense of purpose from the very beginning,” Cooney said. “Jeff has the background, the skills and the passion that the Surf needed to set its course for long-term success.

“I believe that due to his leadership the music will continue at the Surf for a long, long time.”

And so it begins again, another Winter Dance Party this Thursday through Saturday.

Nicholas said the 50th anniversary bash on Monday, Feb. 2, 2009, is his favorite musical memory of the Surf.

“Why am I at the Surf? I don’t have any choice,” he said. “Once you make that initial jump and get involved intimately and passionately and get into the Surf, you don’t have any choice. You’re hooked. It gets into your blood.”


Information from: Globe Gazette, https://www.globegazette.com/



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