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Bean, Dorothy Severin Kehlenbeck

Published onJul 30, 2021
Bean, Dorothy Severin Kehlenbeck

(May 25, 1912 – June 1, 1999)

Quick Facts

Dorothy Kehlenbeck Bean was the first archivist at Iowa State, whose diligent work captured the history of the university’s first 100 years.


Source: University Archives, Iowa State University Library

Dorothy Severin was born May 25, 1912 in Elberon, Iowa, the youngest of three children born to John and Dora Ottsen Severin. The family moved to Cedar Rapids when Dorothy was in the third grade. She continued her education in Cedar Rapids, graduating from Cedar Rapids Washington High School in 1929. She then began working in the Alumni Office at Coe College, which made it possible for her to attend the College. She and her sister, Arlene, who had been working after high school, both entered Coe at the same time, rooming together and pledging Alpha Gamma Delta sorority.

Her job at the Coe Alumni Association also brought her into contact with a German instructor, Alfred “Kelly” Kehlenbeck, whose office was across the hall. They were married June 27, 1932, in Joliet, Illinois. They then went to the University of Wisconsin, where Alfred Kehlenbeck received his PhD in 1934. Dorothy Kehlenbeck had planned to complete her undergraduate degree at Wisconsin as well—she left Coe after her junior year—but health problems prevented her from doing so. She later returned to Coe, taking summer school classes, and graduated with a BA in French in 1938.

During the 1934-1935 school year, Alfred Kehlenbeck served a year as acting head and assistant professor at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio. He then joined the Modern Language Department at Iowa State, staying until 1946. From 1943 to 1946, during World War II, Dorothy Kehlenbeck worked as a bookkeeper in the Memorial Union, keeping track of food expenditures for Navy men receiving training at Iowa State.

From 1946 to 1950, the Kehlenbecks lived in Charlottesville, Virginia, where Alfred Kehlenbeck was Associate Professor of German at the University of Virginia. In 1950, they returned to Ames permanently, when Alfred Kehlenbeck was named head of the Modern Languages Department. Dorothy Kehlenbeck kept active in the community, and was involved in P.E.O, Alpha Gamma Delta, and Faculty Women’s Club.

In 1953, Robert Orr, director of the Iowa State Library, asked if she would be interested in a year-long, part-time job, organizing the Iowa State History Collection. These historical materials had been gathered under the auspices of the College History Committee. Looking ahead to Iowa State’s Centennial in 1958, the Alumni Achievement Foundation had allocated $2500 to organize the collection for campus-wide use during the celebration.

Mrs. Kehlenbeck was named Curator of the collection. Her initial equipment included office space in the Library, ten metal filing cabinets, and a dry-mount press for photographs. What had been envisioned as a one-year project became an eighteen-year career. In her own words, “…history is made every day, there was no end to the job. It turned out to be very interesting and I was called upon to do many things I’d never done before—appear on radio and TV, give speeches, and was even a narrator in a centennial film.” She also produced A Chronology of Important Events of the First 100 Years, Iowa State College. This timeline, published in part in the Alumni Association’s Alumnus magazine, was released in booklet form in 1958. This was followed by Chronology of Important Events, 1958-1967, with yearly supplements added through 1972.

She became a regular participant at Alumni Days, recording the memories of alumni, and interviewing award recipients. Thanks to these efforts, the Iowa State University Archives today holds transcriptions of these oral history interviews with outstanding alumni and faculty members. As she said, “I think it’s important to get it written down, because not only is it preserved but the personality of the writer comes through. I once heard personality described as a whiff of stardust and I’d like to see that whiff of stardust preserved.”

In 1969, the Iowa State History Collection was incorporated into the Iowa State University Library’s new Department of Special Collections, and Dorothy Kehlenbeck was named University Archivist on July 1, 1970. She continued in this newly named position until her retirement in 1973. She received the Alumni Association’s Superior Service Citation that year, with this statement:

“Almost single-handedly, Dorothy Kehlenbeck has organized the early history collections and has laid foundations for a well-organized University archive. Her work has been a real labor of love and her duties expanded far beyond that demanded by routine. The annual chronology of important events (since 1969) and the 100-year chronology which she has compiled have been important resources for the entire campus. She has both shared her knowledge through displays, talks and discussion and has actively sought to add to the collection in varied ways including individual interviews. Her work, valued as it is for the intrinsic value and professional organization of the collection, has always been especially appreciated because of her charm, humor and graciousness. For her talents and for the manner in which they were dedicated to Iowa State University, the alumni are proud to honor her.”

Alfred Kehlenbeck died in 1969, and Dorothy married Ralph Bean on November 23, 1974. Ralph Bean was another long-time University employee who worked in administration in Iowa State’s College of Agriculture. He too received the Superior Service Award, in 1976. Ralph Bean died in 1994.

In later years, Dorothy Kehlenbeck Bean was active with the Mary Greeley Hospital Auxiliary, ISU Retirees, Order of the Knoll, and Friends of the Iowa State University Library, Friends of the Ames Public Library, and Friends of the Coe College Library. During the nation’s Bicentennial, in 1976, she served on the local Bicentennial Speakers Bureau, giving programs about Iowa State. She also compiled a genealogical history of her mother’s family, Ottsen Family History, published in 1977.

Dorothy Kehlenbeck Bean died June 1, 1999 of a heart ailment. She is buried in the Iowa State University Cemetery.

Selected Sources

Dorothy Bean Papers, RS 25/04/51, University Archives, Iowa State University Library.

Bean, Dorothy Kehlenbeck. Ottsen Family History, 1777-1977. Ames, Iowa: the author, 1977.

Branson, Joyce and Sue Dobson. “A Bible, A Compass, and a Baggage Check.” Iowa State Scientist 11, no. 3 (1957): 11.

“Dorothy Bean.” Des Moines Register, June 5, 1999.

Find A Grave Memorial. “Dorothy Severin Kehlenbeck Bean.” Accessed July 1, 2016.

Iowa State University. “Plaza of Heroines: Dorothy Severin Kehlenbeck Bean.” Accessed July 1, 2016.

Iowa State University Alumni Association. “Superior Service Citation.” Alumni Days, June 8-9, 1973. Ames, Iowa: The Association, 1973.

Iowa State University Library Special Collections and University Archives. “Twentieth Century Women of Iowa State: Dorothy Kehlenbeck Bean.” Accessed July 1, 2016.

“She has the Answers.” News of Iowa State, 18, no. 23 (1966): 5.

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