|Joan Nassauer, Richard Iverson and Neal Iverson
Ona Lee Wittman Iverson has been and continues to be a source of much love and inspiration for us her children and grandchildren. Through her teaching writing music friendship and grassroots activism she also has touched many others.
Born on January 31, 1930 in a farmhouse in south-central Minnesota our mother was the youngest of George and Elsie Wittman's four daughters. At the age of four she moved with her family to the nearby village of Kiester. In written recollections Mom describes a simple but happy depression-era childhood in which she and her friend Gilma "wander the streets around town and are known and watched over by all." The same writings tell us that an attachment to books and music had grown strong by the age of ten -- as had an itch to attend and perform in theatrical and musical productions! These proclivities would last a lifetime.
Mother excelled in music and academics. Through high school she and her friends Doris Beverly and Gilma toured southern Minnesota as an award-winning singing quartet. She graduated as valedictorian from Kiester High School in the Spring of 1948. The next Fall she enrolled at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota -- the first of the Wittman family to have the opportunity of higher education. Competing opportunities also appeared for mother had recently made the acquaintance of a handsome young farm boy Roger Iverson! Three years her senior and returned from military service Roger was soon to graduate from Iowa State University. Before mother could finish her degree Roger whisked her away in matrimony. Their wedding date of February 10, 1951 commenced a joint venture of love and accomplishment that continues today Christmas 1995.
The early part of Mom and Dad's marriage included many changes and many moves. Their first home was a sheet-metal Quonset hut in Ames' Pammel Court student housing. Then came Dad's jobs teaching high school in Buffalo Center and Rolfe, Iowa interspersed with a stint running the Iverson family farm north of Scarville, Iowa. Never a pair to tarry Ona and Roger meanwhile collaborated in producing daughter Joan (born 1952) and son Dick (1954). As wife and mother Ona had her hands full! By 1957 Dad had decided to leave teaching and assume the role of Iowa State University County Extension Agent in Denison, Iowa. And in 1960 Ona became a mother a third time when son Neal was born.
The next year brought another relocation and significant change. Mom and Dad moved the family back to Ames where Dad became District Supervisor for ISU Extension and simultaneously commenced graduate studies. Needless to say he had little time to spend at home and Mom held down the fort. With baby Neal suffering from bronchitis Dick prowling the backwoods of Brookside Park and Joan nearing the nexus of adolescence Mom coped without so much as a car. This changed in 1962 when Mom got her first vehicle -- a rotund blue Buick built in 1952. A new class of adventures ensued especially after Mom began commuting to a part-time job at Ames' National Disease Lab. The "Blue Ick" Buick was definitely not dependable transportation!
The years in Ames marked the beginning of the annual Big Camping Trip a tradition Mom and Dad continue each summer. In those days however the Big Trip meant loading three overly exuberant kids in the back of the car and cramming all manner of odds and ends in a peculiar homemade trailer. Mom was in charge of this "mobile household". Her great sense of adventure helped her fill this role with aplomb -- although a few instances arose when aplomb deteriorated into mosquito-infested rain-besieged group apoplexy! We kids loved it all. The learning and togetherness with family and Nature were irreplaceable.
After seven fondly remembered years in Ames Mom and Dad moved the family again -- this time to Sioux City where Dad became Area Director for Iowa State University Extension. In 1969 with all the kids ensconced in school Mom made a big investment of time and scarce family dollars and started back to college. After juggling homework and homemaking for two years she graduated from Briar Cliff College with a degree in English and a minor in education.
She promptly took a job teaching fifth grade at Sioux City's Hunt Elementary School. For seventeen years at Hunt and another two at Clark School Mom was the quintessential teacher imbuing students with the values of citizenship and hard work as well as the details of reading writing and Arithmetic. Her creativity and great sense of fun were apparent in the annual musical shows that she wrote and directed for her class to perform. While she accompanied on piano students who might not have shone in the classroom shone on the stage as singers and actors. Not infrequently she amused her students with homilies such as "the early bird gets the worm" which were instilled in her through repetition by her own mother. And just as often, Mom regaled us at home with dinnertime tales of the antics of some irresponsible fifth grader!
Beginning in Ames and continuing in Sioux City, Mom and Dad had slowly and ineluctably developed a minsdet of dyed-in-the-wool populist Democrats. (Few know the dirty secret that they once registered Republicans!) Political issues were discussed often and fervently. Newspapers were consumed each morning, and news magazines at night. Mom's active participation in politics took a leap once all the kids were away at college, for teaching and homemaking were not enough to consume her energy. This eventually led to participation as a delegate to Democratic conventions, and to meetings with party luminaries such as Bruce Babbitt and Albert Gore. Mother's activism also extended outside the realm of politics, as she led organizations such as the Sioux City Education Association and served on the boards of the Sierra Club and the League of Women Voters.
As with many who love to read, Mom eventually developed an irresistible urge to write. She finally found time to assuage the urge once she retired from teaching in 1990. Her first literary successes were childrens' plays. Next she researched, wrote and sold an essay about the life of Josephine Herbst, an early-twentieth-century iconoclast writer who grew up in Sioux City and hobnobbed with Hemingway and other giants in the era. Mom continues to pursue her writing with ardor. Not the least significant of her efforts are newspaper editorials that speak for the environment, education, and a social conscience.
Mother's urge to see the world and understand its history took root in the vicarious adventures to exotic lands that filled her childhood readings. In recent years, she and Dad have had the freedom to travel and realize some lifelong dreams. Trip to Europe, MExico, and extensive explorations in forgotten corners of the US, have added to her wisdom and perspective.
Now, Christmas time 1995, Mom is 65. She has an enviably productive and meaningful intellectual life, and she continues as a wife, mother, and grandmother, full of fun and love. We want her to know how much we love and appreciate her. As a testimonial we place this brief history at the Plaza of Heroines in the archive of Carrie Chapman Catt Hall of Iowa State University, where each of her children has studied and prospered.