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Spriestersbach remembered as tireless UI, arts supporter

Longtime UI professor and administrator Duane Spriestersbach died Monday at Mercy Iowa City at age 94.
Longtime UI professor and administrator Duane Spriestersbach died Monday at Mercy Iowa City at age 94.

Duane Spriestersbach was a respected cleft palate researcher, a longtime University of Iowa administrator, a community theater lover and a song and dance man, friends and colleagues said Tuesday.

“He just really did it all, and did it with a lot of pizazz,” June Braverman, of University Heights, said.

Braverman and Spriestersbach were members of the Ronald McDonald Players, a musical entertainment group that for many years raised money for the Ronald McDonald House in Iowa City.

“It was a great run for him, and that’s kind of the way we’d like to remember him,” she said.

Spriestersbach , who friends and colleagues called “Sprie,” died Monday at Mercy Hospital in Iowa City. He was 94.

He earned master’s and doctoral degrees from the UI in 1940 and 1948 and went on to serve as Graduate College dean, vice president for research, vice president for research and educational development and interim UI president for seven months in 1981 and 1982.

He became vice president and dean emeritus in 1989, after he twice postponed retirement to help fill administrative roles at the university.

“He was one of the great figures in the history of the university,” Willard “Sandy” Boyd, UI president emeritus and a law professor, said. “He was a person of great imagination and vision, and he was also a great organizer. He moved us forward in many ways.”

Spriestersbach was at the vanguard of bringing computer instruction and research to campus and a strong supporter of the UI Press, Boyd said. He also helped develop the Oakdale research campus and started the Cleft Palate Research Program, one of the university’s longest-running National Institutes of Health partnerships, in 1955.

During Spriestersbach’s tenure as vice president, university researchers attracted more than $1 billion in grants and gifts. Boyd, as president, renamed the UI’s meritorious graduate student research award as the D.C. Spriestersbach Dissertation Prize.

“Carl Seashore was his hero, and I would say that he was a hero to the university just as Seashore was,” Boyd said.

As vice president for research and development, Spriestersbach was instrumental in establishing relationships to foster business development through technology transfer, said Ray Muston, a UI administrator who took a leave from 1984 to 1990 to establish the group that eventually became Iowa City Area Development.

“Sprie was very crucial in establishing a platform for that kind of communication and cooperation,” Muston, of Coralville, said.

John Keller, dean of the UI Graduate College, said Spriestersbach always attended the annual graduate student awards day, when the dissertation prize bearing his name is awarded. Spriestersbach attended this year’s ceremony just a few weeks ago, in late March, Keller said.

When he was in better health, Spriestersbach every year would read the award-winning student dissertations and write a personalized note to each winner in a copy of his book, “The Way it Was: The University of Iowa, 1964-1989.”

“I can’t remember a time that he did not attend our graduate research awards day,” Keller said. “It was really meaningful for the students to receive their book and their award from Sprie.”

Spriestersbach, who received a Bronze Star in World War II, wanted his memorials directed to a UI fund to support student excellence in the Graduate College.

“It’s an indication of how his legacy will continue here,” Keller said.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. May 15 at The Englert Theatre in downtown Iowa City.

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