Born in 1938, Estes studied at the University of Iowa and, briefly, at Julliard. Kelly McGowan / The Register
When Simon Estes heard in 2010 that malaria killed a million people every year, his heart was heavy.
He said the massive number of deaths — most of them concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa — made him think of the Holocaust. Hearing that inexpensive, chemically-treated bed nets could save lives, he said he felt a "human and humanitarian responsibility" to do something.
Estes committed his foundation in 2013 to the United Nation Foundation's Nothing but Nets organization, which provides education and bed nets to protect people from diseased mosquitoes that spread malaria.
The United Nations Foundation honored Estes on Monday with a Lifetime Impact Award for raising more than $500,000 for the organization — $200,000 of which he presented Monday. He has raised the money from donations, concerts and CD sales.
"I'm a deeply spiritual person," Estes said. "I think God called me to this cause."
Estes is a 79-year-old Iowa bass-baritone opera singer known for his activism and the many worldwide appearances that followed his 1965 stage debut.
A luncheon, attended by about 100 people in DMACC's Iowa Culinary Institute in Ankeny, included speeches from DMACC and United Nations Foundation officials, a prayer by Estes and a video message from Gov. Kim Reynolds.
Tisha Hyter, a Des Moines native now based in Washington D.C. as deputy director of Nothing But Nets, said Estes is "truly an inspiration" who has "engaged Iowans at an unprecedented level."
The son of a Centerville coal miner, Estes has stayed connected to his Iowa roots throughout his long career in music.
In addition to teaching at Boston University and Juilliard School of Music, Estes has served as a faculty member at Wartburg College and serves as a visiting professor at Iowa State University and DMACC, which officially opened its Simon Estes Hall in the Student Activities Center in Building 5 on Monday. A display of photos and awards there shows "the history of Simon Estes," DMACC President Rob Denson said.
Denson said Estes uses his platform to bring light to worldwide issues and that "when he speaks, people listen."
For his part, Estes says he hopes to raise Iowans' awareness of malaria. He said he hadn't realized the disease's impact before hearing statistics in 2010 while performing at the World Cup in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Peter Yeo, president of the United Nations Foundation's Better World Campaign, said the United Nations is like a 911 service that responds to crises worldwide. The organization claims to have cut malaria deaths in half since 2010, and has distributed almost 10 million nets since 2006.
Yeo said America should maintain its commitment to the organization.
"We, as Americans, cannot go it alone," Yeo said.
The World Health Organization has reported decreases in deaths from the disease in recent years but says it still causes the death of one child every two minutes. Its 2016 World Malaria Report stated that there were about 429,000 malaria deaths worldwide in 2015.
In her address to the luncheon's attendants, Reynolds said Estes, "like a true Iowan, stepped up to help" in the fight against malaria.