Elsie Stimson Dockendorff

Honored by:Karen Dockendorff Murphy, Janice Dockendorff, Lyle Dockendorffand and Mary Margaret Dockendorff
Brick location:B:6  map

The children of Elsie Stimson Dockendorff have chosen to honor her in the Carrie Chapman Catt Plaza of Heroines because Elsie exemplifies the pioneer spirit in many ways. Family and friends admire her sense of independence her interest in world events and the energy she finds to focus on family, friends and community.

Elsie Margaret Stimson was born on April 2, 1917 in Page County, Iowa near Shambaugh. Her parents were John Henry Stimson and Anna Elizabeth Hamm Stimson. Elsie was the youngest of six children. Her father was a farmer who served as a state legislator from 1920-1922. He died suddenly in 1923, leaving a widow and six children, including Elsie, who was six years old.

Elsie attended Fruits country school and graduated from Clarinda High School. With hard work, the family was able to save their family farm during the Depression years. Elsie hoped to attend Iowa State, as did her father and her four older brothers--Harold, Stanley, Fred and Jacob--and her sister LaVaun. The tuition at that time was $36 per quarter, but Page County was declared a disaster county and the fee exemption reduced the fee to $16 per quarter. It was necessary for Elsie to work for room and board, and she lived and worked for Mr. & Mrs. Fred Dudley, an English professor. This required long hours of work before there was time for studies. During her senior year, Elsie lived in Clara Barton dormitory, which gave her the opportunity for new friendships and activities. Elsie graduated in May 1938 in home economics education in the Smith-Hughes program.

Her first teaching job was in Collins, Iowa. In addition to teaching English and home economics, she was responsible for preparing and serving a hot lunch to all students for ten cents per person. Her salary was $110 per month. She interviewed for a teaching job in Denmark, Iowa. When she met the board president, she hid her engagement ring so that she would have a better chance for the job.

Elsie was engaged to Max W. Dockendorff (Iowa State-Agronomy ‘39), whom she met at Iowa State at a young peoples meeting at the Collegiate Methodist Church. On June 2, 1940 Elsie and Max met two special friends and took them to the Collegiate Methodist Church in Ames where they surprised them by asking them to be witnesses to their wedding, which was held immediately.

They lived near Danville, Iowa where Max farmed with his father, William Dockendorff, and brothers. They began raising hybrid seed corn and the Wm. Dockendorff & Sons Hybrid Seed Co. was established in 1936. Elsie and Max bought the seed corn business in 1960 and worked as partners, as Elsie helped manage and operate the seed business for 40 years.

Elsie worked with youth over the years as a Sunday School teacher, Bible school teacher and a 4-H leader for 10 years. She was active in the Danville Methodist Church. Elsie and Max are the parents of four children: Karen Dockendorff Murphy (‘65), Janice Dockendorff, Lyle Dockendorff and Mary Margaret Dockendorff. As parents, Elsie and Max instilled in their children a desire to learn more about their world. They gave their children the opportunities to learn about other ways of life within the United States through travel and through meeting people of various ethnic backgrounds and lifestyles. Elsie and Max hosted children from Chicago through the Fresh Air program and they hosted an IFYE exchange student from Venezuela. They encouraged their children in 4-H activities and exchanges which involved living with families in other states for several weeks. This interest in other people and other cultures prompted Max and Elsie to travel to several continents, including Europe, Asia and New Zealand.

After Max's death in 1982, Elsie stayed on the farm for six years. In the winters she drove the 1500 miles to Phoenix by herself for several months. While there, she volunteered daily at a Phoenix High School to help teach English as a second language. In 1991, after moving to Washington, Iowa Elsie married Frank Kleese on April 2, 1991.

They continue to volunteer in community activities including the Community Y, Conger House Historical Society, West Chester Methodist Church and Washington Saddle Club. Elsie continues her interest in international events as she encourages her six grandchildren as they seek out opportunities for global experiences and volunteer opportunities on several continents. This recognition was presented to Elsie by her children on her birthday and she is quite excited to be a part of the Plaza of Heroines at Iowa State.

Elsie is a part of a four-generation tradition of Iowa State graduates and she has very special memories and special friends from her years at Iowa State.

Elsie remained active until the end of her life. She participated in Toastmasters and her Senior Center where she played pinochle a couple of times a week. She was also involved in the Hispanic community and she babysat for two preschoolers. She continued to travel in her later years, including trips to Hawaii, Oregon and Maryland for weddings and celebrations. Over the years, her grandchildren lived and traveled abroad and she enjoyed following their travels and jobs. Elsie lived until she was 99 ½ years old.

Originally submitted 5/2/94; updated 7/27/20