(February 24, 1906 – August 4, 1969)
Former Head of the Iowa State University Department of Modern Languages and German professor, Alfred Kehlenbeck is included in Who’s Who in America for his work.
Alfred Paul Kehlenbeck was born in Omaha, Nebraska. He was raised by Herm and Anna Kehlenbeck of Williamsburg, Iowa. He studied German with AB and AM degrees from the University of Iowa in 1927 and 1928. He was an instructor of German at Coe College 1928-29, then instructor of German at Oberlin College 1929-30. He returned to Coe College as assistant professor and acting head of German from 1930-32, when he began his PhD studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. After receiving his PhD in 1934, he was an assistant professor and acting head of German at Ohio Wesleyan University. In 1935, he became an assistant professor of German at Iowa State College, and was promoted to associate professor in 1941 and professor in 1945. In 1937, he received an SS degree from the Sprachatlasinstitut, Marburg, Germany. He left Iowa State in 1946 for a position as professor of German at the University of Virginia, and then returned as Head of the Department of Modern Languages at Iowa State in 1950. He continued as head until his death in 1969.
Kehlenbeck believed that a foreign language should be taught in groups no larger than 25 to 30; it should be taught completely on an oral basis, and it should be taught to include a knowledge of the country – its customs, habits, politics, education, national philosophy and history. To prepare Iowa State graduates for careers in the government foreign service or business, he established a major in foreign trade and foreign service that specifically focused on preparation of those with science or agricultural backgrounds to work overseas.
He was a scholar concerning the teaching of German, co-authoring Introduction to Reading German published by Rhinehart with former ISC department head Louis DeVries (1952). He also authored “An Iowa Low German Dialect” published by the American Dialect Society in 1948, and German Handbook (1949). His publications drew national attention, including personal letters from journalist H.K. Mencken and author Margaret Mitchell. Mencken wrote in 1938 that he only wished that a scholarly analysis of Pennsylvania Dutch similar in quality to Kehlenbeck’s work could be done. In 1949, Mitchell wrote to ask Kehlenbeck to evaluate the quality of the German translation of her book, Gone with the Wind. He agreed to do this, but Mitchell died in an automobile accident soon after and the evaluation was never completed.
Kehlenbeck married Dorothy Severin in 1932 after she took his German class at Coe College, and they traveled together to Germany during summer months for several years leading up to World War II. [Dorothy became Iowa State’s first curator in 1958 to prepare for the university’s centennial, and remained in this position until her retirement.] During the period prior to the war, Kehlenbeck was a regular listener to the British Broadcasting Company’s news from Europe, and received a letter from the BBC thanking him for his analysis of signal strength of short wave BBC broadcasts and the impact of ionosphere storms on signal strength. As a result of his research and reports, the BBC strengthened its signals to North America during the war years.
Kehlenbeck was listed in Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in Education and the Directory of American Scholars. He was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, the Modern Language Association, the American Dialect Society and the American Association of Teachers of German. One house in the Larch residence hall at Iowa State was named in his honor.
He had several health problems, including a heart attack in 1961. One morning in 1964 Kehlenbeck awoke to discover that he had lost his vision. Eventually, it was diagnosed as uveitis in both eyes, and he was transferred to the University of Iowa hospitals for successful antibiotic treatments. He died in 1969 of a heart attack and is buried in the ISU cemetery.
Alfred P. Kehlenbeck Papers, RS 13/11/14, Iowa State University Library Special Collections and University Archives.
Abbott, Eric, “Kehlenbeck, Alfred Paul” The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa, University of Iowa Press