His Star Still Shines Brightly

It’s fitting that the Gold Star Award honors teachers – those who give so much of themselves, yet ask for so little in return. The same can be said for R.J. “Mac” McElroy, the man whose trust fund makes the annual Gold Star Award possible.

As a legendary broadcaster and founder of KWWL radio and television, McElroy was a star in his own right. Yet, rather than accumulate great wealth for himself, he used his good fortune to benefit others. And benefit they have.

Since 1980, the nonprofit foundation that bears his name has awarded more than $50 million in grants for youth, educational and cultural programs and projects throughout northeast Iowa.

Despite his success, at one time McElroy’s future looked less bright. The Wisconsin native left school after the eighth grade to work in support of his impoverished family. His father was an alcoholic, and so McElroy would care for his mother and two sisters most of his life.

Yet, he persevered with his trademark energy, passion and talent.

He came to Waterloo in the 1930s as an on-air personality for WMT radio, and later became known as “The Voice of Northeast Iowa” for a man-on-the-street radio show he did for 25 years.

After serving four years as a sergeant in the Army during World War II, he returned and was named manager of WMT’s Waterloo studios. In 1947 he founded KWWL radio. Then came the defining moment of his career – winning a hotly contested television license and launching KWWL-TV in 1953.

In addition to shaping area media, McElroy continued to shape our community by helping found the Waterloo Industrial Development Association and serving on its board of directors.

In the early 1960s he served as president of the Waterloo Auditorium board of trustees, and was a driving force in the creation of the Waterloo Black Hawks hockey team. The venue was renamed McElroy Auditorium after his death.

Today, his legacy continues through the McElroy Trust. His commitment to education, youth and community causes still shines through the Gold Star Award. And his spirit lives on in the teachers who continue to inspire the leaders of tomorrow.