Iconic Linn County leader Jean Oxley dies at 94

She was a champion for youth, elderly and disabled

Girl Scouts join Linn County supervisors March 12, 1987, to help conduct a board meeting celebrating the organization's
Girl Scouts join Linn County supervisors March 12, 1987, to help conduct a board meeting celebrating the organization’s 75th birthday. Supervisors at the time were Joe Rinas, Jean Oxley and Ken Schriner. (Gazette photo)

CEDAR RAPIDS — “Trailblazing,” glass-ceiling-breaking Democratic activist and social service pioneer Jean Oxley has died, her family said Sunday. She was 94.

Oxley was the first woman ever elected to the Linn County Board of Supervisors, missing being the first female supervisor in the state by a couple of years. She became the longest-serving Linn County supervisor, on the board for 24 years from 1972 to 1996 and earning a reputation as a champion for the elderly, young and disabled.

Linn County’s administrative building at 930 First St. SW was named to honor her — the Jean Oxley Linn County Public Service Center — in 2010.

“It becomes even more clear as we are going through boxes of her things she cared so much about people who were underserved or undervalued in the community and helping people get a leg up,” said Breanna Oxley, 29, her granddaughter.

The younger Oxley said Jean Oxley died peacefully Sunday surrounded by family. She had been living at The Views of Cedar Rapids assisted living facility.

Breanna is a teacher in the area and is active in a variety of Cedar Rapids leadership roles, including several board posts once held by her grandmother.

She noted that although the death was not related to COVID-19, planning funeral services has been impacted. Details will be forthcoming as well as charities to support in lieu of sending flowers, she said.

Jean Oxley pioneered in-home services for the mentally disabled in Linn County to help prevent them from ending up in institutions. She also pushed for the Juvenile Detention Center and the Youth Shelter in order to separate juveniles from adult inmates.

Oxley, whose husband and former state representative Myron “Mike” Oxley died in 2002, grew up in Center Point and graduated from the University of Iowa with a sociology degree. They were longtime Marion residents.

Officials paid their respects as word of her death spread Sunday.

State Rep. Molly Donahue, D-Cedar Rapids, posted a tribute on Facebook to an “icon who is forever memorialized with the building in her name.”

Former Linn County Supervisor Linda Langston said Oxley’s leadership was inspirational, and she worked with people across the board.

“She always took a leadership position,” Langston said. “She did a lot. … She was an inspiration and mentor in inspiring me to run. She is such a special lady and was very committed to finding unique ways to solve social equity problems in the 80s and 90s — at a time people weren’t talking about this.”

Linn County Supervisor Brent Oleson proposed Oxley’s name for the administration building a decade ago and found little resistance. He said he did not know her well, but her reputation proceeded her.

She was highly regarded by late Republican state Sen. Mary Lundby, a mentor of Oleson’s. Oleson met with Oxley shortly after being elected and was impressed by her recall of accomplishments and her advice on being an elected official.

“She was such a strong personality,” Oleson said. “She blazed a lot of trails.”

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