Reminiscences by Roger's Son

Pastoral Reminiscences

Postlude of "Amazing Grace" in a Blues/Jazz Style

Oral History Remarks


Roger T. DeWolf, 81, of Ames died November 15, 2003 at Kavanagh House in West Des Moines. Services will be 3 p.m. Wednesday, November 19 at Collegiate Presbyterian Church, with burial in Ames Municipal Cemetery.

He was born Sept. 22, 1922, to James and Carrie DeWolf, in Rolfe. Roger grew up on a farm near Rolfe and graduated from Rolfe High School in 1939 at the age of 16. He served as class president. After high school, he attended Iowa State University and was a member of AGR Fraternity. During World War II, Roger enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and entered officer's training at Notre Dame University, where he was a member of the 1945 national championship cross-country team and a letterman. In 1945, he received his commission and married Helen Neville of Pocahontas. He was stationed in China. After his discharge from the service, he returned to Iowa, where he taught school and coached basketball in Grant Township. He returned to Iowa State and received his bachelor's degree in animal husbandry. He farmed with his father for several years in Rolfe. In 1959, he accepted a position with the Boone Valley Co-op in Eagle Grove. Roger opened the DeWolf Equipment Co. in Eagle Grove, which he operated with his wife until their retirement. He was active in Rotary and served as an elder in Goldfield Presbyterian Church and was elected to the Eagle Grove Community School Board. He and Helen moved to Green Hills Retirement Community in Ames in 1997. He again became active in Rotary. He was a keen supporter of ISU athletics, a member of the Cyclone Club and a season ticket holder for ISU football, and men's and women's basketball. A highlight for Roger was to be able to attend the Bowl in 2000.

He is survived by his wife, Helen of Des Moines; daughters, Mary DeWolf of Peoria, IL, Deborah Emery of Braintree, MA, and and Ann Erb of West Moines; son, James DeWolf of Saddlebrook, NJ; sisters, Phyllis Thompson of Hayfield, MN, and Beverly Weigert of Bradgate; one granddaughter, Erica Ann Kiefer; and stepgrandchildren, Joseph of Florida and Patricia, James and William of New Jersey. He was preceded in death by his parents.

Visitation is after 3 p.m. Tuesday at Adams Funeral Home in Ames, where the family will be present from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Visitation continues until noon on Wednesday at the funeral home. Memorials may be made to Rotary.

Reminiscences about Roger DeWolf
at his memorial service on November 19, 2003
by his son Jim DeWolf

This will not be a fair and balanced report. It will be a celebration of the life of my father, a chance for me to express how much I loved and admired him. I don’t know if he realized the depth of those feelings but I cannot let this occasion pass without telling you a little about My Dad and what he meant to me.

Tom Brokow wrote about the "Greatest Generation" and in many ways Dad was typical of that time. He was born in 1922 which means he was 7 years old at the beginning of the Great Depression. As a farmer’s son, the depression probably started much earlier. Doing without or making the best of what you had was a necessity, which I believe shaped his entire life.

Although he didn’t tell a lot of stories from his childhood, I know:

He was a good student who skipped a grade in elementary school and graduated as class President at the age of 16. He came here to Ames and enrolled at Iowa State, initially living in a rooming house behind Collegiate Church and supporting himself by waiting tables at a sorority house. He soon joined the AGR fraternity and moved to the AGR house. Although the only son of a farmer and entitled to a deferment, he joined the Marine Corps during World War II.

He entered the V-12 officer’s training program and was sent to Notre Dame. This wasn’t easy as he was borderline as to meeting the height and weight requirements and had poor eyesight. He memorized the eyechart, gorged himself but I’m unsure how he met the height requirement. His major at Iowa State had been Agronomy but the Marine program mandated he take Pre-Med. Courses. Needless to say it was a bit of a change. He used to say he never studied harder. Less than a "B" average resulted in immediate posting to the front. He somehow found the time to join the cross-country team and was a member of the 1945 national championship team. It was also during these college years that he dated and fell in love with my mother, a relationship that endured over 50 years and 4 children.

Dad was on his way to Hawaii, scheduled for the invasion of Japan when the atomic bomb was dropped. To his great surprise and disappointment, the ship did not turn around but continued to Hawaii, Guam and eventually China where he served both in the field and at the Embassy. When his enlistment was ending the Marine Corps offered early separation if he entered the Reserves. My Mother strongly advised him not to take the early release and end his commitment to the military permanently. He took her advice and thusly avoided being recalled to Korea.

Upon leaving the Marines he returned to Iowa and taught school and coached boys and girls basketball at Grant Township, he studied coaching techniques from a book in the evenings and passed the knowledge to his players the next day. Recognizing the need for a college degree he returned to Iowa Sate with his wife and daughter Ann to complete his schooling. They lived in the married student housing at Pammel Court and it was here at Mary Greeley Hospital that my sister Mary was born.

Armed with his fresh degree in Animal Husbandry, Dad took his young family to Rolfe to operate a farm with his Father. They were blessed with two more children, my sister Debbie and myself. The weather seemed to conspire against them and following several years of flood or drought, Mom convinced him to leave the farm and accept a position in Eagle Grove.

In 1968 Mom and Dad opened DeWolf Equipment Co. which they operated until their retirement. I don’t believe that Dad had any formal business education but always ran his business according to Christian principles. In a business environment dominated by rampant greed and Enron style ethics I hope that more entrepreneurs follow his example.

Dad was an avid supporter of Iowa State Athletics. He often took me to football games at old Clyde Williams field. Some of my favorite memories are of those trips and games, particularly during the Johnny Majors era. He was eventually able to become a season ticket holder for Football and Men’s and Women’s basketball. In 2000 although he was in failing health, he was able to witness ISU’s victory in the Insight .com bowl in Arizona.

There was a popular phrase in the sixties that said, "I’m third: God first, Others Second, I’m Third." Dad loved that saying and it pretty much sums up his approach to life. He lived a life of service, to his family, his church, his customers and his community. Whether operating his business according to Christian Principles, supporting his children’s musical endeavors and careers, or serving his community on the school board or through Rotary, he always put himself third. My niece Erica tells a story about Dad buying her a pair of Iowa Hawkeye earrings, a very painful purchase for a Cyclone fan, but typical of Dad’s habit of putting others first. As she told him often, he was a good Papa.

He always remained hopeful, always believing that most things would improve with hard work and perseverance. He taught me that although you might not be the strongest or the smartest, nothing could stop you from working the hardest.

My wife Carolyn says I have a lot of my Father in me. I sure hope so. If I manage to end my days as loved and respected as my father, it will indeed be a life well lived.  



Pastoral Reminiscences about Roger
at his memorial service on November 19, 2003
by the Reverend Kent M. Organ,
co-pastor of the Collegiate Presbyterian Church of Ames

The DeWolf family and the Reverend Kent M. Organ have graciously have given us permission to post the pastoral reminiscences about Roger that were shared at his memorial service. Even if you don't know Roger and his family, we think you would enjoy listening to the pastor's remarks. You will need Real Audio software to listen to this file. If you don't have the software, you can go to the Real Audio site and download the free version of the software.


When lay and clergy officers are ordained and installed in this denomination, we attest to the importance for us of what Robert Greenleaf calls "servant leadership." On these occasions, the church remembers publicly "that our Lord Jesus said: Those among you who want to be great must become the servants of all, and if they want to be first among you, they must be the slaves of all! Just as Jesus Christ came not to be served, but the serve, and to give his life to set others free."

This perspective is central to a Presbyterian understanding of what's important in human life. That to be human is to live in and to foster community. That true humanity is co-humanity. Roger DeWolf, a Presbyterian through and through, took this perspective to heart.

Roger's ties with this congregation go back sixty years – to the 1940's – when, as an Iowa State student, he lived in a rooming house nearby and attended church here. World War II interrupted his college years. He joined the Marine Corps, and was sent to Notre Dame for "V-12" officers training.

Roger's major at Iowa State had been animal husbandry, but at Notre Dame he was placed in "pre-med," which was a challenge. Another challenge was being a Presbyterian kid at the premier Catholic university, where – in the 1940's – the deal was: you either go to mass or you clean the latrines. So Roger went to mass.

He was a competitive runner. He ran on Notre Dame's national-championship cross country team, and was a letterman, as he was also at Iowa State. Do you know of anyone else who was an athletic letter-winner at both Iowa State and Notre Dame universities? I don't.

Roger and Helen Neville were married in early 1945. Just before he got his Marine Corps commission. Actually, they were supposed to wait till after he got his commission, but they didn't. They were also – after their wedding – supposed to stay at the Willard Hotel, but they got bumped (on January 20, 1945) by an inaugural party, President Roosevelt's fourth. Given Roger's deep-seated allegiance to the Democratic Party, I expect that was okay.

He was to go to Japan, as part of the invasion force. But the atom bomb made the invasion unnecessary, so his unit went to China. Ann was born while he was away.

After the war, Roger returned to Iowa State. Mary was born, while they were at Pammel Court. Roger graduated in animal husbandry, and the family headed for the DeWolf farm in Rolfe, where Roger farmed with his dad until 1959. Debbie arrived, and Jim.

Roger loved farming. He never wanted to leave it. But several years of drought and flood – his kids say their dad "finally figured out that God – and Mom – were trying to tell him something" – after several very difficult years, he took a job with the Boone Valley Co-op in Eagle Grove.

Eventually, Roger started his own business: DeWolf Equipment Company in Eagle Grove, which he and Helen operated until retirement in 1997. The company specialized in the design of housing and ventilation – ventilation being Roger's specialty – for livestock confinement.

But even more, Roger DeWolf's specialty was people. He was an example of what it means to be a Christian businessman. Which meant addressing issues, such as fair pricing and profit margins and wages, and doing so in light of his faith. Which included that humanity is co-humanity.

Jim recalls asking his dad why he continued to sell feed to a certain customer who never paid his bills – to which Roger replied, "Well, the hogs still need it." The family sometimes went without so the company could make payroll. Other times, he would make work for his employees, so they would continue to have a job.

Roger was active in Rotary whose motto, significantly, is "service beyond self." He was a Paul Harris Fellow, serving on the board of the Rotary Ann retirement home. He was an elder in the Goldfield Presbyterian Church, and a member of the Eagle Grove Community School Board. 

When the kids had grown and were away, Roger returned to running. He competed in a number of 10K races – and his only marathon when he turned 60! He became known in Eagle Grove as the guy who runs. Son-in-law, Gene, remembers that "when Dad and I used to run together one of his favorite sayings, on days when he felt like he was just gliding down the bike trail, was `Some days you float.'"

In 1997, Roger and Helen retired, and moved back to Ames, to the Green Hills Retirement Community. Back to Ames, and ISU athletics and the Cyclone Club, and season tickets for every football and basketball game. Back to Ames, and Rotary, and Collegiate Presbyterian Church.

When Roger had to give up running around that time, due to age and ill-health, it was hard. After that, one year Debbie and Steve invited him to come to Boston at the time of the Boston Marathon, to watch it with them. But he said he just couldn't; it would make him cry. Nevertheless, the next time he visited – not during the Marathon – the family drove the course, and when they came to Heartbreak Hill in Newton, Roger asked them to stop at the bottom of the hill, and he ran up it.

In Eagle Grove and environs, Roger DeWolf was known as the friendliest guy anybody ever knew. He was very generous with his time. He especially had time for farmers. He had a remarkable ability to remember people's names. People were his highest priority. When he was talking with you, you felt loved and very important. He reached out to neighbors in many ways, living a life of "service beyond self." The whole family remembers regularly sitting in the car, waiting, while Dad was still talking with someone. And how supper would often be cold, because he was late getting home – because there were people to see, and spend time with, and help.

Throughout his days, Roger DeWolf remembered "that our Lord Jesus said: Those among you who want to be great must become the servants of all…. Just as Jesus Christ came not to be served, but the serve…."

And we remember today some additional words of Jesus: "Well done, good and faithful servant; enter the joy of your Master."

I'll close with something Roger and Helen's granddaughter, Erica, wrote two days ago – her remembrances of

"Papa… swim[ming] laps between the docks at Okoboji. Even though he was afraid of the water, and didn't put his face in, he would make himself do it. He told me that he had to prove he could swim to be a Marine.

"[I remember] the year Papa gave me the Hawkeye earrings (which he called `chicken earrings') for Christmas. It must have killed him to go and buy Hawkeye merchandise, but because I wanted them, he got them.

 And "I would like to have the Irish blessing read, that I sang to him over and over before he died:

May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
May the rain fall soft upon your fields,
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.


 Kent M. Organ
Collegiate Presbyterian Church, Ames
November 19, 2003


Postlude at Roger's Memorial Service

"Amazing Grace" played by Roger's daughter, Debbie Emery, on piano and Roger's son-in-law, Steven Emery, on trumpet. We asked Steven at the reception following the service how he would describe the style of the music they played for the postlude. He said it was OK to call it blues, jazz, Dixieland, Bourbon Street style, etc. He also said that the song was not one that he and Debbie would have chosen to end a funeral service for her dad but that Roger had once heard them play the blues/jazz version and directed that he wanted them to play it at his funeral. It is sure neat that Roger got his way. The music is awesome in our humble musical opinion and is a great reflection on Roger and his family. You will need Real Audio software to listen to these files. If you don't have the software, you can go to the Real Audio site and download the free version of the software.



Oral History Remarks by Roger DeWolf

RHS web site editor, Helen Gunderson, interviewed Roger in about 2000 as part of her project about the road she grew up on between Rolfe and Pocahontas. By the time that she interviewed him, he had already been impacted by Parkinson's Disease, and his voice was soft and his story-telling ability was not as sharp as it was when Helen had first talked to him in the early 1990s about his memories of growing up in the rural Rolfe area. Even so, she had a wonderful time meeting with him. He had a twinkle of joy in his eye, some dry but wonderful humor, and a gentle compassion. You will need Real Audio software to listen to these files. If you don't have the software, you can go to the Real Audio site and download the free version of the software.