(March 29, 1890 — April 26, 1956)
Alumnus Helser was professor of animal science and Dean of Students at Iowa State College during a career that spanned over four decades. As a researcher, he was an expert in meats investigations and farm animals and in his role as administrator he was a beloved mentor to thousands of Iowa State students.
Maurice David Helser was born to David M. and Emma S. Helser of Thornville, Ohio, on March 29, 1890. He was raised on the family farm and graduated from high school in 1909. Helser briefly taught at a country school before entering The Ohio State University and graduating in 1914 with a BS in agriculture.
Upon receiving his diploma, Helser immediately pursued a career in teaching at the college level. He was employed for one year as an instructor of animal husbandry at Arkansas State College (now Arkansas State University) in Jonesboro, Arkansas. In September 1915, Helser arrived at Iowa State College (now Iowa State University) in pursuit of an advanced degree in animal husbandry. He initially served as a Teaching Scholar in the Department of Animal Husbandry (now the Department of Animal Science), a position similar to today’s graduate teaching assistants. He received his MS degree in 1916 and was promptly hired as Instructor of Animal Husbandry.
For the next 16 years, Helser worked his way up the teaching ranks reaching full professor status by 1931. Helser was put in charge of the ISU Meat Laboratory when it was completed in 1918 and he became well-known for his expertise in the field of meats and food animals. He authored the textbook Farm Meats (The Macmillan Company, New York, 1923), co-authored a text titled “Essentials in Selection of Meat” (1927) with Iowa State food scientist Viola M. Bell, and wrote several Iowa State Experiment Station Circulars instructing farmers on the best methods of butchering cattle, hogs, and lamb on the farm. For much of the 1920s, Helser acted as carcass division supervisor of the International Live Stock Exposition in Chicago and served as assistant superintendent of the Iowa State Fair's sheep department from 1917 until 1932.
In 1931, Iowa State President Raymond M. Hughes approached Helser about becoming Assistant to the President and Director of Personnel for Men, a position that worked closely with students. Helser, by that time known for his strong teaching skills and ability to connect with his students, accepted this new role. In 1933, his responsibilities expanded when he was also named Dean of the Junior College. In these roles, Helser oversaw student classification, guidance, and career counseling and, as Dean of the Junior College, had responsibility for freshman and sophomore students.
Over the next two decades, Helser became a well-known and beloved figure in the campus community. He served on numerous campus committees, including as Chair of the Athletics Council, the Dates and Events Committee, the student Government Committee, and the Personnel and Placement Committee. He was a regular contributor to WOI Radio programming and spoke on issues related to leadership, religion, and career counseling. Helser served on the Ames City Council for two terms and, in addition to being active in the Collegiate Presbyterian Church in Ames, Helser served as lay minister for the Presbyterian Church of Jordan in Boone County for 25 years.
In 1955, Helser reached the mandatory retirement age of 65. As a testament to the fondness students and other member of the community felt for him, a spontaneous fundraising effort was initiated which resulted in the purchase of a Cadillac that was gifted to him during that spring’s VEISHEA celebration. The remaining funds were used to start a scholarship in his name.
Although Helser was near retirement age, Iowa State President James H. Hilton asked him to help with an administrative reorganization of the student services units. The result was the combination of the Junior College and the Department of Personnel, the two units Helser had so effectively led for more than two decades. Helser became the first Director of the newly formed Office of Student Affairs, however his tenure be brief.
Helser died unexpectedly on April 26, 1956, and was buried in the Iowa State University Cemetery. In Helser’s obituary, President Hilton stated, “Dean Helser probably had a greater influence on the lives of more Iowa State College students than any other person in the history of the institution. No student body ever had a better friend. He was firm, yet kind and always objective in dealing with every student.” Helser was survived by his wife of nearly 42 years, the former Elizabeth Stevens of Linnville, Ohio, and their two daughters, Carolyn Jane and Margaret Elizabeth.
Maurice D. Helser papers, RS 7/3/11, Special Collections and University Archives, Iowa State University Library, Ames, Iowa.
“M. D. Helser of ISC Dies; Rites Saturday.” Ames Daily Tribune, v. 89, no. 282, p.1. April 27, 1956.
“Show Honors M. D. Helser.” Ames Daily Tribune, v. 87, no. 115, p.4. November 13, 1953.
“Helser Appointed Junior College Dean at I. S. C.” The Milepost, v. 5, no. 27, p. 1. July 6, 1933.
“Helser Appointed Personnel Chief.” Ames Daily Tribune and Times, v. 64, no. 306, p. 2. June 30, 1931.
“Admirers Honor Helser, Dean of ISC Jr. College.” Ames Daily Tribune, v. 88, no. 267, p. 1. May 13, 1955.