Duane C. Spriestersbach - Iowa City

Duane C. Spriestersbach - Iowa City
Duane Spriestersbach

Duane Caryl "Sprie" Spriestersbach, passed away on Monday, April 25, 2011, at Mercy Hospital in Iowa City.

A memorial service to celebrate Sprie’s life will be held Sunday, May 15, 2011, at 2 p.m. at The Englert Theatre in downtown Iowa City.

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be directed to the University of Iowa Foundation for the Fund to Support Student Excellence at the University of Iowa Graduate College.

Arrangements are with Lensing Funeral and Cremation Service in Iowa City.

Survivors include his sister, Beverly Spriestersbach of Pine Island; son, Michael and wife, Gerry Abernathy, of Tucson, Ariz.; daughter, Ann Swain and husband, Terry Morris, of Albuquerque, N.M.; grandson, Mathew Swain and wife, Sasha; great-grandchildren, Jasper and Liliana Swain of El Cerito, Calif.; and housemate, George Stratton. He was preceded in death by his sister Gretchen Ruth, his parents and his wife Bette.


The son of Esther (Stucky) and Merle Spriestersbach, he was born on Sept. 5, 1916, in Pine Island. He graduated from Winona State University in 1939, received his MA at the University of Iowa in 1940, and PhD in 1948. In 1946, he married Bette Rae Bartelt and together they raised two children, Michael Lee and Ann. He was assigned to the Army’s 13th Armored Division during World War II, and received a Bronze Star in 1945. After the war, he continued to serve in the Army Reserve, retiring at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. In 2007-09, he was president of the 13th Armored Division Association.

He was professor of Speech Pathology and Audiology at the University of Iowa (1948-89), Dean of the Graduate College (1965-89), Vice President for Educational Development and Research (1966-89), and interim UI president (1981-82). As a professor of Speech Pathology and Audiology, he specialized in the field of cleft lip and palate and authored many books and articles related to their management. The 36-year cleft palate study he initiated generated $13 million in grants. As a university administrator, he developed programs for evaluation and reward of faculty productivity, recruitment of high quality graduate students, and support programs for faculty seeking external funds in support of their research. During his tenure, The University of Iowa competed successfully for more than one billion dollars in external funding. He re-established the University Press, provided initial support for the establishment of the Center for the Book, and established the Iowa Fellows program in the Graduate College. He established the Division of Sponsored Programs, supported the development of the Weeg Computing Center, established the teaching/research fellowship program in the Graduate College, conceptualized and implemented University House, now called the Center for Advanced Study, provided the initial seed money for the expansion of the Natural History Museum that led to the creation of Iowa Hall. He was responsible for changing the Oakdale Campus into a viable University facility, and organized mechanisms, still in use today, for marshaling University resources for meeting unforeseen emergencies involving people and/or natural catastrophes. He provided the initial leadership for the establishment of the Technology Innovation Center, provided leadership for the development of the NSF Center of Excellence award in Biology, and secured federal funding for Van Allen Hall, the English-Philosophy Building, the Music Building and Clapp Recital Hall.

He was chairperson or president of numerous national organizations, including the American Cleft Palate Association, American Speech and Hearing Association, National Institute of Dental Research, Easter Seal Research Foundation, and received many national awards for his dedication and service.

He had a long-standing interest in international activities, establishing the Office of International Educational Services. He served on the Board of the Midwest University Consortium on International Activities from 1977-89 and was chairman from 1978-87. He spent time in Germany, Nepal, Korea, Indonesia, China, Japan, and did extensive work in Brazil as part of the United States Agency for International Development. He was also a member of the first group to re-enter Vietnam with the People to People Citizen Ambassador Program.

He twice postponed retirement to fill gaps in central administration at the university. President Willard Boyd established the D.C. Spriestersbach Dissertation Award, given annually, and James O. Freedman created the Spriestersbach Professorship in the Liberal Arts in his honor. He became Vice President and Dean Emeritus in 1989.

After retirement, he wrote a book on his experiences as a UI administrator. Then in 1994 he became the Vice President for Operations for Breakthrough to Literacy and remained with them as a consultant until 2008.

He was active with the Iowa City Community Theatre, serving as president on three occasions and was one of the founding members of the City Circle Acting Company of Coralville, serving as their first president. For 18 years, he performed with June Braverman’s Ronald McDonald House Players, raising over $35,000 for the local Ronald McDonald House. He was recipient of the Hancher/Finkbine Alumni Award, the University of Iowa Alumni Association Distinguished Alumni Award, the John Hughes Award and the Will Hayek Award.

In 1992 he established the Bette R. Spriestersbach endowment, to fund an annual lecture at the Museum of Art.


Sprie loved trains, and with the Society of International Railway Travelers, rode most of the luxury trains of the world.

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