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Marjorie Mills Vandervelde 1908-2010

Mar 25, 2010

Marjorie Mills Vandervelde was born Sept. 13, 1908 in Le Grand, IA, the ninth of ten children born to Dr. Ernest Manning Mills and Mrs. Anna (Burgess) Mills. Throughout her childhood, Marjorie enjoyed playing in her "Magic Treehouse" where she fantasized about "traveling beyond the horizon". From her treehouse, she watched her mother walk to the Le Grand school, wearing her Sunday best to cast her vote in the first ever election allowing women to vote. Marjorie wrote many stories about her life as a child growing up in a large family of a country doctor. She recalled many times her father telling of playing with African American children hidden in his parent’s barn in southeast Iowa (a station on the Underground Railroad). After high school, Marjorie attended Penn (now William Penn College) and Iowa State University where she met her husband Andrew (Vandy) Vandervelde. The couple married at the Friends Church in Le Grand on Dec. 31, 1929.

Marjorie and Vandy farmed during the Depression when corn was 9 cents per bushel – using corn for fuel because it was cheaper than coal. To their marriage, three sons were born: Dr. Gerald Mills Vandervelde, MD (Joan) of Chetek, WI, Donald Mills Vandervelde (Jean) of Gig Harbor, WA, and Kent Mills Vandervelde of Oak Harbor, WA.

Marjorie and Vandy purchased the Vandervelde farm northwest of Emmetsburg and developed a hybrid seed corn business, "Vandy’s Best by Test". To gain railroad access, the business was later moved to east Broadway Street in town.

A devoted farm wife and mother, Marjorie also was an avid writer and photojournalist. She entered a "twenty-five words or less" hardware store jingle contest, won, and found herself with a new writing career and was the proud owner of a new bike. She traveled the world from Alaska to the jungles of Panama living with people of primitive cultures and building bridges between cultures with her magazine articles, photos, newspaper stories and award winning books. Marjorie wrote weekly columns in the Fort Dodge Messenger and Emmetsburg newspapers.

Vandervelde published ten books: Keep out of Paradise, 1966, Sam and the Golden People, 1970, (juvenile), Could It Be Old Hiari? 1970 (juvenile), Across the Tundra, 1972, (juvenile), Beauty Is – A Ring in My Nose?, 1975, Born Primitive, 1982, Me Run Fast Good, 1983 (juvenile),  My Magic Tree House: An Iowa Childhood in the Early 1900, 2004,  Kuna Yala Stories, 2006,  Go West, Young Woman: Nellie Burgess, Pioneer Idaho Homesteader, 2008. She won numerous awards from the Iowa Press Women, Lyrical Iowa annual poetry competition, and the National Federation of Press Women award in 1973 for Across the Tundra.

Her many artifacts, letters and books are available at the Iowa Women’s Archives at University of Iowa Libraries, the Special Collections Department at Iowa State University, and the Emmetsburg Public Library. The story of her life and travels is preserved at Iowa Lakes Community College in the Vandervelde Primitive Culture Collection. She provided scholarships to help others including Kuna Indians of the San Blas Islands, Panama and Quaker youth in the Le Grand area.

Marjorie Vandervelde died Friday, March 19, 2010, at age 101.

Surviving Marjorie are her three sons, nine grandchildren, eleven great grandchildren, nieces and nephews and other family and friends – both near and throughout the world – whose lives she touched during a lifetime that spanned more than a century. She is preceded in death by her parents, her husband, Andrew, (1982) and her five brothers and four sisters.

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday, March 27, at First United Methodist Church in Emmetsburg. Visitation will be held one hour prior to time of service.

The family requests that memorials may be directed to Lakeside Lutheran Home or the Kuna Indian Mission Fund First United Methodist Church.

Martin-Mattice Funeral Home in charge of arrangements. Online condolences: