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Legendary Iowa Opera Singer Simon Estes Celebrates 80th Birthday

DES MOINES, Iowa  --  Simon Estes celebrated his 80th Birthday on Friday night with friends in downtown Des Moines.

The highlight of the evening was one special guest, Mr. Charles Kellis, who flew in just for the occasion.

In 1961, Kellis was a voice teacher at the University of Iowa when, through the door to a rehearsal room, he heard a booming voice. Later, he would have the chance to meet a young man from Centerville, Iowa, who came to Iowa City with hopes of being a physician. Kellis ended up giving Estes vocal lessons and helped him get in to the Julliard School of Music.

“When I first met him, I thought, 'this is the man, the real man, who’s going to make a big career,' and he certainly did,” said Kellis. “He’s the great bass baritone of all time!”

“This is my dear friend, and one and only voice teacher, the man who discovered me, Charles Kellis,” said Estes. “Without this man I wouldn’t be here today, nor would I have sung all around the world. He is one of my greatest friends in the entire world and a great voice teacher.”

Estes had already considered a possible vocal career while in the Centerville High School Choir.

“I said, 'Mr, Gunderson, do you think I could ever make a living being a singer?'” Estes recalled. “He said yes, but I was thinking Nat King Cole, Perry Como, or Frank Sinatra.”

At the University of Iowa, Kellis gave Estes vocal lessons for free, as he had no money to pay.

“I said, 'Mr. Kellis, if ever I have a career, I want to pay you,' but he said, 'I just want you to remain humble the way your parents taught you,'” said Estes. “I generally believe with all my heart that God sent Charles Kellis to Iowa City in 1961 to discover Simon Estes.”

Though Estes is now 80, he has not slowed down. He is working four jobs and giving an occasional vocal performance.

“I’m a professor and Iowa State and a professor at DMACC, I’m raising money for my Malaria Project, and I’m raising for money for my Simon Estes foundation to send money to the Washington D.C. for kids.”

Through all the accolades and concerts in front of world leaders, Estes has remained humble.

“Christianity has been the foundation of my whole life,” he said. “I just want to continue to serve the Lord and serve other people, especially children.”