Eliza H. Kesler

Honored by:Alison Shepherd Lewis and Murray Family
Brick location:F:4  map

Roby Kesler's life and work are deeply rooted in Coe College, and her love of children and their ambitions still spurs her on.

She is the daughter of one of Coe's most beloved and distinguished professors, Dr. Charles T. Hickok, who taught political science from 1905-1940 and founded that Coe department. Graduating from Coe in 1931, Roby majored in English and Journalism. She has been an enthusiastic, generous, and loyal friend and trustee of Coe College, serving from 1953-1956, 1961-1982, and 1983-1992, when she was designated a Life Member.

Through her lifelong friendship with William G. Murray, Iowa State's Emeritus Professor of Economics, and his extended family, she has an association with the university as well. Bill Murray's parents, and all of his siblings graduated from Coe College and his sister, Eleanor Murray, married Geoffrey Shepherd, who was also a notable member of Iowa State's faculty. Roby knew them well, from their time together at Coe and throughout their lives as they became part of Iowa State, and she continues to keep up with their children and grandchildren.

Following her Coe graduation, Roby was a staff writer for the Cedar Rapids Gazette for three years before going on to Chicago's Northwestern University, where she earned an M.A. in Journalism in 1940.

While in Chicago, Roby was named assistant program director and head of publicity for "The Quiz Kids" national radio program. In that role, she interviewed bright children to be prospective panelists on the show and she provided supervision and TLC for these young celebrities when the program traveled to other cities around the country for broadcasts or special appearances.

In 1947 she wrote a book about that experience, specifically the gifted children selected for that program. (The affection which those former Quiz Kids still have for Roby was demonstrated nearly 50 years later when one of them made a special trip to Cedar Rapids in 1994 to be present when Roby was honored by Planned Parenthood of East Central Iowa for her support of that organization.)

It was also in 1947 that Roby returned to Cedar Rapids to marry Dr. Carl C. Kesler, an innovative chemist at Penick and Ford Company. He was widowed with two children, Carl Jr., 9, and Mary, 10, and Roby helped rear them, as well as David, the son born to her and Carl in 1950.

Roby has established three scholarships for students at Coe: the Charles T. Hickok Scholarship in memory of her father, the Carl C. Kesler Research Scholarship in Chemistry in memory of her husband, and The Rev. Theodore Lilley Scholarship, in honor of her long-time friend who is a former Cedar Rapids pastor and former member of Coe's religion faculty. She takes a personal interest in each of the students named to these scholarships inviting them to her home for dinner at least once each term and following their progress at Coe.

Roby wrote biographies of her father and of Cedar Rapids leader John M. Ely, Sr., in 1980-81.

In 1988 she spearheaded an effort to establish Coe's Thursday Forum, a series of weekly lectures on a wide range of monthly topics for adults in the community. These mini-courses are led by outstanding members of Coe's faculty and attract an average of 100 participants each session.

Her other community service has included membership on the St. Luke's Hospital Board of Directors and the Jane Boyd Community House. She is also a past president of Coe's Alumni Association, the 1931 Class Representative and Class Agent, and promoter of the endowed Class of 1931 Library Fund.

Coe honored Roby in 1966 with an Alumni Award of Merit and in 1993 with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters Degree. Her friends and former neighbors, Coe trustee Vincent Martin, and his wife, Janet, established a Coe scholarship in Roby's name in 1993 to recognize her life of accomplishment and service.

Submitted on 5/25/95