Remembering Those We Lost: 2014 Obituary Show

Dec 31, 2014

Iowa lost many notable citizens and natives in 2014. As we wrap up the year, we remember a few as a tribute to all.

James Bowman blazed through racial barriers, as one of Iowa’s 12 Tuskegee Airman, and as the first black Assistant Superintendent of the Des Moines Public Schools.  Connie Cook was one of Bowman’s colleagues and considered him a mentor when she first became a school principal and says he was a man "who would give you a hug or a handshake, whichever you seemed to need, or both."  When it came to matters of diversity within the district, Cook says his fellow administrators, "certainly respected his view on things because of what he'd gone through."  Bowman died on Janaury 13th.  He was 91. 

Mary Patricia Armbrecht was also a trailblazer.  She became Iowa’s first sworn female peace officer in 1969, joining the Cedar Rapids Police Department.  Four years later, she became Iowa’s first female detective.  Mary Patricia Armbrecht died September 14th at the age of 74.

The woman known as the “Dean of Iowa History,” Dorothy Schwieder died in August after a battle with Lymphoma.  The former Professor enjoyed a nearly 50-year academic career at Iowa State University.  In that time, she authored or co-authored nine books, countless articles, book chapters and encyclopedia entries.  Fellow historian and co-author Tom Morain says she had a talent for teaching. 

"Dorothy did a great job of grounding history in the lives of people. She really made it come alive by her personal approach."  Morain says Schwieder’s work focused on lesser-known figures in Iowa’s history who were treated with great respect.  "They may have been gone for 150 years, but they still had dignity when Dorothy described them.  It was a graciousness she extended through her research and into her writing." 

Dorothy Schwieder was 80 years old.

Another Professor, and familiar voice to many Iowa Public Radio listeners, passed away this year.  Bruce Gronbeck, University of Iowa Professor Emeritus of Communication Studies, was a frequent guest on River to River’s weekly politics show.  He provided analysis of political communication, especially debates during the 2008 and 2012 Presidential campaigns.  We’ll remember Gronbeck's quick wit, good humor and kind heart.  Bruce Gronbeck died on September 10th.  He was 73.

Dick Dale, an Algona native, played and sang his way into American living rooms on The Lawrence Welk Show.  The saxophonist auditioned for the Welk Orchestra in 1951, and was with the show until it ended in 1982.  After living for many years in California, where The Lawrence Welk Show was based, Dale and his wife returned to his hometown of Algona in 2006.  He died there on December 26th at the age of 88. 

The Des Moines Register lost two esteemed staffers in 2014.  Randy Brubaker was a senior news director and held numerous roles during his 30 years at the paper, including sports editor and managing editor.  Brubaker edited a number of award-winning projects, including one in 2013 that exposed problems at the Iowa Juvenile Home and eventually led to its closing.  He grew up in Waterloo and was a graduate of Wartburg College in Waverly.  Randy Brubaker died of an apparent heart failure on May 3rd.  He was 55-years old. 

Walt Shotwell, the man behind the “Shotwell,” and “Shotwell’s City,” columns in the Register and Tribune died in August.  A Des Moines Register editor said Shotwell was a skilled writer and once wrote an article about the Mason City homecoming for Meredith Wilson, composer of “The Music Man,” to the rhythm of “Seventy-six Trombones.”  Shotwell became a pilot in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II and flew 486 combat cargo missions over Japanese-occupied Burma. He earned three Bronze Stars, five Air Medals and two Distinguished Flying Crosses.  Walt Shotwell was 93.

And another musician, Phil Everly, the youngest of the Everly brothers, raised in Shenandoah died this year.  The brothers had a radio show with their parents on KMA, singing as the Everly Family.  The Everly Brothers became known for their harmonies, producing 15 Top Ten hits between 1957 and 1962, including “Bye, Bye Love,” and “Wake Up Little Susie.”  They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, and the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001.  Phil Everly died January 3rd of complications from lung disease, brought on by a lifetime of smoking.  He was 74.

Iowa also lost a woman who was a trailblazer in so many areas that it's challenging to determine the legacy she leaves behind.  Mary Garst died in October at the age of 86.  She was the daughter-in-law of Roswell Garst, the Coon Rapids farmer famed for his role in advancing hybrid corn seed, and for hosting Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev at his farm in 1959.  Mary Garst raised six children and became a leader in the cattle industry.  She became the first female President of any state's Cattleman's Association and served on the Chicago Federal Reserve Board, on the boards of Burlington-Northern Railroad, International Harveter, Northwestern Bell Telephone.  She was one of the first women to have such prominent roles in national organizations and businesses. 

Her daughter, Liz Garst says it was her role in helping to create Iowa's non-partisan system of redistricting that was probably her proudest. "It actually started out as fight about one person, one vote, that district size was a very important matter in equity in voting... Mom and a couple of her friends on this League of Women Voters' Committee hired a computer expert and demonstrated to the court in a lawsuit that computers and independent minds could come up with exactly equal sizes of districts, which means each vote counts exactly the same." 

Berle Priebe was considered one of agriculture’s strongest voices during his 28 years in the Iowa legislature.  In 1996 Priebe, who raised Black Angus cattle, got in a very public, national spat with Oprah Winfrey after she did a show about mad cow disease.  He blamed the talk show host for the dramatic drop in U.S. beef prices, and demanded she tell her viewers that mad cow disease had not been found in the United States. 

Former Senator Jack Kibbie served with Priebe in the legislature and represented the neighboring county.  "Some of his colleagues would say, Berle's way or no way. And Berle, when he give his word on how he was going to vote or how he felt about something, why uh, you could take that to the bank," Kibbie says. 

Berle Priebe was 96, when he died July 20th.

Des Moines businessman Fred Lorber was owner of the textile manufacturer Lortex, but he was also a survivor.  He escaped from Vienna, Austria in 1939 as Jews, including his father, were being captured and imprisoned.  After immigrating to the U.S. and graduating high school, he was drafted and eventually returned to liberate his old neighborhood.  Fred Lorber died at the age of 91, on December 9th.

Mike Gowdy is a familiar name, and was a familiar voice to listeners of WOI Radio, where he was a classical music announcer for 30 years.  Gowdy was equally quick with his wit and kind words.  Holidays were not complete without his bourbon balls, a concoction whose potency was rivaled only by his home-made horseradish.  Gowdy was an avid reader and bike rider.  He served in the United States Air Force from 1961 to 1965.  A father, husband, grandfather and friend, Mike Gowdy died March 13th at the age of 70.  He will be missed.

Tom Teesdale, an internationally renowned bicycle frame designer and builder from West Branch died while doing what he loved - riding his bike on RAGBRAI.  Described as one of Iowa’s “secret famous people,” Teesdale was at the forefront of mountain bike design.  He died of a heart attack July 22nd at the age of 63.  George Brinkerhoff, President of the Siouxland Cyclists was also found dead in his tent at the Mason City camp site during RAGBRAI on July 24th.  He was 74.

Mark Eyeball Kneeskern, an Iowa-born artist known as the “last American hitchhiker,” was hit by a train and killed in Fairfield.  He was a sculptor and painter who had just published a book based on his experiences as a wanderer who claimed to have only refused three rides from shady characters in his travels.  Without a car or cell phone, Kneeskern made it from Texas to Colorado, Iowa and Minnesota each year.  He was in Fairfield for a reading and died August 31st.  He was 42.

The founder of Cedar Falls’ College Hill Arts Festival, Hugh Pettersen, died October 23rd.  Pettersen founded the festival in 1979, and headed it for the first 16 years.  He was also instrumental in creating the Hearst Center for the Arts and the Crème de la Crème concerts at the Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center.  Pettersen received the Cedar Falls Representative Citizen Award in 2008, and a College Hill Plaza is named in his honor.  He was 83.

Charlie Haden, known as one of the most influential bassists in the history of jazz, was born into a family of musicians in Shenandoah in 1937.  The Haden family traveled the Midwestern country circuit and had a radio show featuring appearances by a yodeling toddler known as “Cowboy Charlie.”  It was seeing saxophonist Charlie Parker play in Omaha in 1951 that set him on the path to jazz greatness, and Haden enjoyed a 70 year career. In his early 20s, as a member of the Ornette Coleman Quartet, he helped set off a movement that came to be known as free jazz.  Haden won three Grammy Awards and was recognized as a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master in 2012.  He received a lifetime achievement award at the 2013 Grammy Awards.  Charlie Haden died July 11th after struggling with the effects of Post Polio Syndrome.  He was 76.