Iowa Alumni Magazine | June 2005 | Features

A Love for Iowa

By Anne Remington
The UI made a world of difference—professionally and personally—in this couple’s lives.

"It’s easy to talk about the love of your life,” says Faye Hyde Strayer, 50BA, 54MA, 72PhD. Her husband, Gordon Strayer, 51MA, agrees. While the Strayers easily could be referring to their devoted, 57-year marriage, in this case they are talking about the University of Iowa—their alma mater, employer, source of pride, and object of their ardent support for more than 50 years.

From their respective vantage points in the university—Gordon as a student and longtime public relations leader at the UI and Faye as a student, test item writer, medical researcher, and Museum of Art docent—they have spent their lives participating in and promoting the university’s greatest strengths, as well as ensuring that such excellence is able to continue in the future.       

Ironically, foiled plans marked the beginning of each of the Strayers’ affiliations with the university.

“Early in life I decided I wanted to attend the University of Iowa,” says Faye, a native of Colesburg. “While still in high school, my ambition was to go to Iowa City to complete in the Brain Derby [a competitive program the university hosted that quizzed students on a variety of academic subjects] but it was discontinued the year before I became eligible.”

Gordon also had to modify his original plans for attending the university. “After serving overseas in the army in World War II, I had wanted to come to the journalism school as an undergradu-ate,” says Strayer, who grew up in rural Canada near Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. “I met with the school director and he talked with me as a father would.” The director advised Gordon to complete his undergraduate degree at the Iowa State Teachers College (now the University of Northern Iowa) and then come to Iowa for graduate study.       

“After the war, there were so many experienced journalists back on the Iowa campus that I feared ending up as the third assistant garden beat reporter on the Daily Iowan, so I stayed in Cedar Falls,” he recalls.      

Gordon ended up with a much more significant beat—the university itself. As an undergraduate, he developed an interest in educational public relations, and by the time he earned his master’s degree in journalism from Iowa in 1951, he was an editor in the UI news service. He became director of university relations—the institution’s chief public relations official—under UI Presidents Howard Bowen and Sandy Boyd, and he later created the public relations office for the UI’s ever-expanding health sciences programs.

He also served as professional advisor for the UI chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America, helping students pursue careers marked by integrity and excellence. Gordon’s professional acumen was recognized by numerous professional societies, including the Public Relations Society of America and the American College Public Relations Association; he served on both organizations’ national boards of directors.

“This particular university is a most fascinating place to work,” Gordon says. “In the collection of faculty, scientists, and researchers, you have the full spectrum of human knowledge. You can’t help but feel good about being associated with it.”      

Known as a champion of the public information model of public relations—“We don’t run around hiding things,” he says of the university’s dedication to sharing information with alumni, Iowans, and the greater public—Gordon oversaw UI communication strategies during times of triumph and strife. He helped break the news of the discoveries of physics and astronomy Professor James Van Allen, 36MS, 39PhD; he took education Professor E. F. Lindquist, 27PhD, to New York to announce the creation of ACT; and he oversaw media coverage of events such as First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s campus visit.       

But perhaps his proudest moment as a public relations practitioner came during the Vietnam War, a time when the public’s concern about campus unrest was a serious worry for American universities.      

“Many schools were assuring parents that there was nothing like [the Kent State riots] going on at their campuses and if there was, it was kids from out of town who were causing the problems,” Gordon remembers.       

Newspapers were quick to label any student assemblies as “riots,” but Gordon and other university officials felt it important to share a more complete story of the Iowa campus environment. The result was a publication—simple by today’s standards—that used photographs of police in riot gear, reprinted letters to the editors of Iowa newspapers, and provided other facts to paint an accurate picture of the UI campus during a period of great uncertainty. Presenting such unvarnished documentation was risky.      

“[Sandy Boyd] sat at his desk and read the whole thing through; then he looked up and asked if my colleagues and I really thought we should do this,” Gordon says. “I said yes, and that meant showing and telling what was actually happening on our campus.”         

The publication met with complimentary views from regents, alumni, legislators, and others who were concerned about the university.      

While Gordon was promoting understanding and support of the UI among the public, Faye was helping to provide much-needed support from the university to the public. After earning three UI degrees—a B.A. in economics and social sciences in 1950, followed by master’s and doctoral degrees in education in 1954 and 1972, respectively—Faye put her knowledge and expertise to use as part of a UI medical research team. Collaborating with UI physicians and other health care professionals, she helped develop an innovative program that enabled pediatric cancer patients to receive care in their home communities. Faye and her colleagues employed computer technology to help local physicians maintain contact with the specialists at UI Hospitals and Clinics.      

“It distributed the emotional load of caring for very sick patients,” Faye says. “It allowed patients to receive care in their home communities where the family had support.”      

The research to which Faye contributed led to improvements in certain treatment protocols that resulted in better care for young cancer patients. “It was a wonderful medical advance, and it’s an example of the kinds of things you can contribute,” she says.      

The Strayers each helped advance the university’s contributions to Iowa, the nation, and the world in their own ways, and they’ve also ensured that the UI continues to be a vital resource. For the past 50 years, they have made financial contributions through the UI Foundation to a variety of university departments and programs. Their support echoes their careers at Iowa—gifts to education, medicine, journalism, the university’s public radio stations, and the Museum of Art—and their status as 50-consecutive-year contributors is a rare distinction.       

“My only regret is that we’re not able to do more,” Strayer says. “There’s so much important work to be done.”      

Faye holds yet another claim to fame related to her support of the university. In an era when many women gave gifts under their husbands’ names, she was among the first women to make a contribution to the UI in her own right.      

“I had to contribute because I felt very strongly about this institution,” she says. “I’m personally very grateful. My life is very different because of the University of Iowa. There have been so many opportunities to learn things throughout my life and it never ends, even in retirement.”       

Though both retired now, the Strayers still live in the Iowa City area. Faye serves as a docent at the UI Museum of Art, and Gordon has been involved with the UI Retirees Association and Senior College programs. Their love affair with the university is far from over.      

Says Gordon, “The growth of this institution and the increasing depth over the years has just been fantastic—and we were there to see it happen.”