Mason architect has lasting influence on the lives of many

Al Voorhis shown discussing the architectural plans for the current Mason High School building.

Tanya Keskar | The Chronicle

On December 15, 2021, Al Voorhis passed away at 95 years old.

Voorhis graduated from Mason City Schools (MCS) in 1949, and is known today as the architect of numerous Mason buildings. His firm, VSWC, was founded in 1952 and built the current Mason Middle School, Western Row Elementary School, Mason Heights Elementary School, Mason Early Childhood Center, Mason High School, Mason Public Library, Mason Community Center, and numerous buildings in Mason town square.

Voorhis was one of the founding members of the Mason Kiwanis Club in 1956, and served enthusiastically throughout his life. Today, Mason Kiwanis has raised over $40,000 for the local community. Their efforts include providing youth services, scholarships and they volunteer in the community, with acts including shoveling snow, raking leaves, and supporting the Imagination Library, an organization that gives books to young kids to foster a love of reading. 

Tracey Carson, the current Public Information Officer for Mason City Schools (MCS), moved to Mason in 2005, served as Mason Kiwanis president in 2012, and is currently a Mason Kiwanis board member. Through Kiwanis, Carson worked with Voorhis and said that she witnessed his caring character that inspires many to follow in his footsteps.

“[He] was always such a cheerful, optimistic man,” Carson said. “Nobody had more humility of spirit than Al.”

Since its founding, Kiwanis has hosted an annual “Pancake Day” fundraiser to support its efforts in the community, such as working with the Warren County Abuse and Rape Crisis Center. Mason Kiwanis members come together to make pancakes for the community, which includes tasks like washing dishes, making pancakes, and interacting with the community. Carson said that Voorhis enjoyed supporting the community through pancake day.

“A lot of our members, especially famous members like to be on the serving line where you’re seeing people,” Carson said. “Al, who is probably one of the most known people in the community, he’d always be on dishes. He enjoyed being in the back, humbly washing the dishes.”

Voorhis attended high school in what is now the current location of the MCS Central Office, located on North East Street, and witnessed the growth of the city over the years. Mason had around 750 new students in the district every year for ten years. The school board decided that new school buildings were needed to accommodate Mason’s growing community.

David Lenert, a former MCS Board member, worked with Voorhis and VSWC through the design process of multiple Mason buildings. VSWC continued to be the local architecture firm that the schools and city could depend on for all of their new buildings. Lenert said that Voorhis was a leader who worked meticulously on designing the school buildings for his community.

“Al was a good leader and could lead from the middle of the pack, and his firm was the same way,” Lenert said. “[We had] a lot of late nights working on all of those [projects], but it was absolutely worth it, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”

Connie Yingling, a current MCS Board member, continued to work with VSWC during the construction of the current Mason High School building. Yingling said that the Voorhis family has had a very positive influence on the community over the years, through both their architecture and their kind spirits. 

“They were extremely personable concerned citizens in the community, away from their architectural responsibilities, away from their day job,” Yingling said. “[They were] just really kind, big-hearted people who liked to be involved in the community.”

Voorhis loved supporting students and in the 2000s, Voorhis and a few other citizens started a senior pep club for the Girl’s Basketball Team. Eventually, the club grew to over 100 members, and they would all wear white sweatshirts. 

After every home game, the team and the senior pep club would celebrate the game by eating pizza together. Jere Clark, a current Mason High School (MHS) math teacher, was a student on the MHS Girls Basketball team when the senior pep club supported the team at games. Clark said that Voorhis was always there to support her. She played basketball in high school and college, and the senior pep club traveled to her games to continue cheering. 

“[When I] walk[ed] off the court, [Al Voorhis] would always have a smile on his face,” Clark said. “He was always so excited to be there and support us. It meant as much to him as it did to us, and it’s really cool to have that feeling. That support means a lot when you’re out there.”

The community will continue to benefit from Voorhis’s contributions, as his actions and spirit inspired many to give back. Yingling said that Voorhis was dedicated to supporting the Mason community and students.

“He loved the community, he loved architecture, he loved doing what he was doing with his life and being able to do it where he lived,” Yingling said. “[He had] a really great, giving heart.”

Photo contributed by Tracey Carson