People & Places

Sandy and Susan Boyd on love, 62 years later

'We always celebrated Valentine's Day'

Former University of Iowa President Sandy Boyd his wife, Susan, talk about their life together at their home in Iowa City on Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016. Sandy Boyd was UI president from 1969-81. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
Former University of Iowa President Sandy Boyd his wife, Susan, talk about their life together at their home in Iowa City on Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016. Sandy Boyd was UI president from 1969-81. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
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She was the writer.

There had been two others — a socialite, who Willard “Sandy” Boyd said he knew and liked.

“But that was not right,” Boyd said. “And there was a perfect one, and I went out with her, but it wasn’t perfect.”

Finally, he said, “I came to the writer.”

“I was the writer,” said Susan Boyd, who was Susan Kuehn at the time, a reporter for the Minneapolis Star and Tribune.

They were set up on a blind date, and Susan said she immediately was struck by Sandy’s good looks.

“I remember seeing him get out of the car,” Susan said, “And I thought, ‘Well, he is good looking.’”

“Was,” Sandy clarified, as the couple shared the story of their relationship with The Gazette earlier this week from inside their Manville Heights home, just northwest of the campus he led as president from 1969 to 1981 and again as acting president from 2002 to 2003.

“Still is,” Susan said, “just a little hunched over.”

In February 1954, “probably around Valentine’s Day,” Sandy proposed. It was a Friday night, and the couple had visions of spending the rest of their lives in the Twin Cities — Susan as a writer and Sandy as an lawyer at the Minneapolis law firm of Dorsey & Whitney.

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“The next morning, I got a call from the dean of the law school at Iowa asking me to come down and look at things,” he said.

Susan was surprised.

“But the idea of being in a college town was kind of attractive,” she said. “Also, the writing workshop here had great appeal.”

Sandy, who grew up in St. Paul, Minn., had amassed an impressive resume by that time, serving as a U.S. Navy hospital corpsman from 1945 to 1947 and earning several degrees, including a master of laws degree from the University of Michigan in 1952.

But Susan had, too — graduating from Wellesley College in Massachusetts, serving as a guest editor and writer for Mademoiselle magazine, and winning awards and contests before returning to Minneapolis to write and edit for the Star and Tribune. She won a creative writing fellowship to Stanford University, where she published prizewinning stories and articles that appeared in Redbook and Harpers.

Paul Engle, legendary founder of Iowa’s International Writing Program, was interested in Susan joining the workshop. But, she said, policies against nepotism prohibited that once the Board of Regents appointed her husband to the UI faculty.

“That was out in those days,” Susan said.

Sandy, 88, and Susan, who turns 90 next week, said their relationship has been full of sacrifice and service — to one another and to others — along with change and challenges, both big and small.

They got married on Aug. 28, 1954, in Minnesota, with plans to take a trip to Quebec before moving to Iowa.

“We took a honeymoon and got an urgent message from the dean that we needed to get here to get our football tickets,” Sandy said.

So they did.

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Sandy Boyd started in the UI College of Law as an instructor and moved up through various professorships until joining the administration as associate dean of the College of Law in 1964. He went on to become vice president of academic affairs and dean of the faculties, and in 1969 succeeded Howard Bowen as the university’s 15th president.

That, Boyd said, was “probably the most tumultuous time in the history of the university.”

“Some nights, you’d have about 3,000 students demonstrating in front of the Old Capital,” he said. “We were trying to open the university to blacks and women and so forth . It was a great period of opening of the university, but it was also very traumatic.”

News outlets were calling for Boyd to be fired from the presidency — a position he didn’t volunteer for. In fact, he said, around the time Bowen retired, the University of Washington in Seattle offered Boyd the position of dean of its law school.

“That’s what we were going to do,” Boyd said.

But Iowa’s Board of Regents wanted him to stay.

“And the president of the university that was inviting me said, ‘With support like that from a board, you owe it to them to go back and be president,’” Boyd said.

He and Susan had three young children at the time, adding to the stress.

“It was just so very difficult, but somebody had to do it,” Boyd said.

During the day, the university was tripling in size — in terms of faculty and students.

“About 4 o’clock we had to start with the demonstrations and work through the night,” Boyd recalled.

“Every day was very long,” Susan added.

“But we always celebrated Valentine’s Day,” Boyd said. “She always gets a book.”

These days, Boyd heads down to Prairie Lights, where he gets help choosing his wife’s Valentine’s Day present from the local bookstore’s owner.

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And looking back on their 62-year marriage, Boyd pointed to the importance of respect for one another and support — both in the small things, like the dishes, and the big.

“I could never have been president without Susan — or done anything without Susan,” Boyd said. “When The Gazette is saying you’re a terrible president and so on and so forth and the Press-Citizen and the Des Moines Register and all of the media are saying that, you need someone to say, ‘It’s not all bad. You’re doing a good job.’”

Boyd credited his wife for the strength of their marriage.

“She has always been better at her end of the job than I have been,” he said. “She’s been wonderful.”

But, Boyd conceded, their union also has relied on mutual independence. They attend different churches, for example.

“We don’t have to do everything together,” he said. “That’s been a very key point in our lives. She’s had her life, I’ve had my life, and we’ve had our life together.”

And, together, they’ve developed and maintained a service-centered perspective that life is much bigger than their relationship and immediate family.

“Our philosophy is that others give meaning to life,” Boyd said. “We like people. We are very optimistic about people. We wanted to be helpful to people.”

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