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Schwieder, Presho native, dies at 80

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A Presho native and Dakota Wesleyan University alumna is being remembered for her commitment to Iowa history, while never forgetting where she came from.

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Dorothy Schwieder died Wednesday from lymphoma. She was 80. Her colleagues at Iowa State University, where she worked for 34 years as a researcher and professor, said her commitment to education and community was her greatest trait.

"She was a marvelous person," said Pamela Riney-Kehrberg, who is the chair of the history department at Iowa State. "A dedicated educator and terrific scholar and in a lot of ways, she's our most famous professor we've had in our department."

Born Dorothy Hubbard in 1933 as the ninth child in a family with 10 kids, Schwieder grew up in Presho and graduated from high school in 1951. She attended DWU that fall and took her initial history course from George McGovern. Also one of the members of DWU's debate teams under McGovern, Schwieder credited McGovern for sparking her love of history before she graduated with a bachelor's degree in history and psychology in 1955.

"He exposed us to important readings and big ideas. I ended up majoring in history but really I majored in George McGovern," she said, when speaking to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2012 about McGovern's death.

The bond between student and teacher lasted for years, and Schwieder made a point of seeking out McGovern when she came back to Mitchell.

"For a girl from a small town in West River South Dakota, McGovern's courses made world events and politics understandable for the first time, and they conveyed the possibility of betterment and change," Schwieder wrote in her memoir, which is part of the archives now at DWU and the George and Eleanor McGovern Center for Leadership and Public Service.

In 1955, she married Elmer, whom she met at DWU and who would become a well-regarded professor of sociology at Iowa State. She taught at DWU on a part-time basis in 1960 until she took a job at Iowa State, where she was the history department's first and only female professor for almost 20 years.

Riney-Kehrberg said Schwieder's work ethic was particularly representative of the time, when many women balanced careers and their families

"She would be conducting her research on her kitchen table and then she would clear it off and fix dinner for her husband and her children," she said. "She really is an example of blooming where you're planted."

Her research included Iowa's Amish communities, the role of women in rural communities and the growth of Iowa during its early years. She created from scratch an Iowa history course and taught courses on American women and the Midwest.

She's the only professor in the ISU History Department to ever earn the title of "university professor," which recognizes not only scholars and teachers but those who are committed to making a difference. She also was honored in the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame and a seminar room at Iowa State was named in her honor.

And while Schwieder made her name on Iowa history, she also wrote of her time growing up in Presho. Her 2002 book, "Growing Up with the Town: Family and Community on the Great Plains," details her growth as her town came of age.

"This is still a land that dominates all aspects of life, whether it be plant, animal, or human," she wrote in her book. "This is a land that transcends all things; this is a land that seems to have no boundaries, it is the kind of country that never hems you in. Away from the few small towns that remain, there seems nothing but a vast landscape, a dominating sky and horizon that seem to stretch on forever. This is West River, South Dakota, a distinctive and capricious land."

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