Melanie Loy earns Prairie Disciple 2022 award from Arts Council

The award is given to just one individual per year from the 18-county southwest Minnesota region.

Melanie Loy, 2022.
Melanie Loy, 2022.
Submitted photo
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WORTHINGTON — Melanie Loy recently received the notification that she is the Southwest Minnesota Arts Council “Prairie Disciple” for 2022.

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SMAC’s Prairie Disciple Award provides awareness and recognition of one individual per year from southwest Minnesota (SMAC’s region is 18 counties), whose activities and involvement have substantially contributed to the arts over an extended period of time.

In 2022, SMAC’s Prairie Disciple nomination process was for teachers/educators only. Melanie is District 518’s orchestra teacher for Prairie Elementary School’s fourth graders, along with Worthington High Schools’ Varsity Strings and Concert Orchestra.


Melanie Loy, wherever she lands, quickly becomes acclimated and active in teaching students about the benefits of playing an orchestra instrument — violin, viola, cello, and string bass. Melanie is the rare teacher that youth and adults are drawn to as an inspirational person of merit.

When Melanie arrived in the Worthington District 518 Schools in 2006, there were 94 students throughout the district. Her tenacity and leadership has grown the program to well over 350 orchestra students and the school has had to add two additional full-time instructors at the middle school level to maintain the growth 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.

Melanie Loy receives the Southwest Minnesota Arts Council Prairie Disciple Award for 2022.
Melanie Loy receives the Southwest Minnesota Arts Council Prairie Disciple Award for 2022.
Submitted photo

Melanie has been responsible for the beginning students in fourth grade orchestra, working hard to instill quality playing skills as a strong foundation that students who keep playing into their high school years can build on when they return to her class in high school.

Can we ask how many elementary teachers you know are willing to have over 100 students in their class? That is how many fourth grade students Melanie starts each year with as students. They have weekly lessons and perform at least two times during the year.


She is a teacher in one of the most culturally-diverse schools in Minnesota with over 4,000 students and strives to meet each student to 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. All students, whether they have her in the classroom, know that she genuinely cares about their well-being, positive experiences, believes in them, and supports their experiences.

"Worthington District 518 is proud of Patrick’s exceptional work, trustworthy character, and willingness to share his talents and skills locally and across the state."

During the distance learning period from COVID-19, Melanie showed up on door stops, day cares, and allowed students to directly communicate with her in a variety of forms.

She is also one of those rare teachers who tries to make time for everyone beyond the school day. If a student is asking for help, she does her very best to accommodate the request.

One example of this is that Melanie has students that want to participate in a pit orchestra for a musical or performing with a community orchestra with a wide variety of skills and ages to expand their skills and experiences. Melanie works with these students to prepare to play the music as well as performing alongside them in the groups.


She regularly checks in with their comfort-level and will help make adjustments in making the experience as positive as possible for all involved. Melanie is definitely one to not seek the spotlight and in experiences like these she will focus the attention back on the student.

With the pandemic, SMAC made the decision to adapt this award to honor an educator, and we wholeheartedly agree with this effort.

Melanie Loy is a rare educator. She does not stop her efforts at 3:30 p.m. each day — she even works on Saturday and Sunday to provide opportunities for her students, past, present and future. One of those efforts is recognizing 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 three local orchestra players had made the journey and and had the dedication to play in the Sioux Falls Community Orchestra. They joined together as a quartet and have played at local events as a string quartet for fundraisers, graduations, weddings and many others.

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After a couple of years playing in Sioux Falls in their community orchestra, the discussion occurred about “why not Worthington?” and how this could happen much closer to home. The Great Plains String Quartet was the founders of the Worthington Area Symphony Orchestra, first as just string players and then adding winds and percussion after a couple of years.

The Worthington Area Symphony Orchestra has grown in numbers, depth, reputation, and quality in the past 10 years of its existence. They even have a hired conductor of stature that leads them in their public performances.

This labor of love has included major fundraising efforts, filing official paperwork as a nonprofit, establishing a board along with growing local and regional support for this performing organization.

Musicians that have participated in WASO drive from throughout the region — Fulda, Adrian, Westbrook, Luverne, Windom and more. Members all have sought out continuing the benefits of playing music in their life no matter the age or time since last performing.

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.

Who would have ever dreamed in the beginning stages of WASO that a nationally-known artist that has deep roots in Worthington would choose their group to be his band's orchestra for a televised program with music, stories, Native American dances and video effects? The Brule concerts have been some of the most intense, yet unbelievable experiences for musicians and attendees alike.

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 at Christmas time for her past graduates to join current students performing in the lobby of the Worthington High School. Over 20 alumni students make the effort to come and play. And if you know Melanie’s style at all, you know that she is tenacious and very difficult to say no to.

Fargo and Sioux Falls missed out on this quiet, visionary, collaborative, dedicated to arts — for her students and for all — leader staying long enough to establish roots and a legacy. We truly in the region and especially Worthington have many things to thank and appreciate Melanie Loy for.

Melanie has taught private lessons for violin, viola, cello and string bass, along with being a director of Children’s Choir and special music since 1982. She has been a clinician and adjudicator for various clinics, contests and other performances. Melanie was the organizer for the Luis Palau Children’s Crusade in Fargo, ND in 1998 with over 3,000 singing participants.

She was a founding member of the Great Plains String Quartet, Worthington, that got together in 2007, and then became a founding member of the Worthington Area Symphony Orchestra in 2008. Both groups are still in existence and perform yet today.

Melanie was a lead organizer for the MN Sinfonia Events with District 518 in April 2018 and January 2020 where professional orchestra members performed with Worthington Middle School orchestra students and choir. Each time the Minnesota Sinfonia clinics performed for the WMS student body, with over 1,000 in attendance, along with a public performance at Memorial Auditorium.

In the past she has been nominated for other awards and insisted that she be removed from the list, 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.

Worthington District 518 Schools, community and the region have much to thank Melanie Loy for. We appreciate the efforts to provide an opportunity to honor special teachers and artists for their work.

Melanie Loy is the face for us as a Prairie Disciple Educator.

Anne Foley is the PR/Communications Coordinator for District 518.

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