Long-time Iowa labor leader laid to rest today

Don Rowen became a card-carrying member of a union in 1955. He served as executive vice president of the Iowa Federation of Labor from 1978 until his retirement in 1990. He was an Eagle Scout who graduated from high school at the age of 16 and a husband for nearly 58 years.

Rowen grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska, was drafted into the Army and served in Korea. In 1958, he and his wife, Virginia, moved to Iowa and they’ve been here ever since.  It’s hard to think of a Democratic Party event I’ve covered in the past three decades where I didn’t see Don and/or Virginia Rowen.

In this interview, conducted five years ago by Polk County Democratic Party chairman Tom Henderson (no relation), Rowen discussed his life and his work in the labor movement.

Rowen died last week and his funeral was this morning in Des Moines.  I’ve posted his obituary below.

Donald P. Rowen, 87, passed away March 3, 2016 at home surrounded by his family. Funeral services will be held 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, March 8, 2016, at St. Augustin Catholic Church in Des Moines. Visitation will be from 4:30 – 7:30 p.m. Monday March 7, with a Rosary and Vigil service at 7:30 p.m. at St. Augustin.

Donald was born on January 20, 1929 in Lincoln, Nebraska to Martha (Brocker) and Paul D. Rowen. He attended the University of Nebraska, College of Mechanical Engineering from 1946 to 1949 when he was drafted into the U.S. Army. He served in the Korean War from 1950 to 1952. Don was a printer and joined the Amalgamated Lithographers of America, Local 82 in 1955. This was the beginning of Don’s long career in the labor movement.

He married the love of his life, Virginia Ann Krouse, on May 31, 1958 in Lincoln. They moved to Fort Dodge where Don became superintendent of Messenger Printing and joined the Des Moines local of the Lithographers. In 1961, they moved to Des Moines when Don was elected full-time President of the Iowa Local, Amalgamated Lithographers of America, later merged into Lithographers and Photoengravers International Union, then Graphic Communications International Union, and presently Graphic Communication Conference, International Brotherhood of Teamsters. In 1970, he was elected President of the South Central Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO. In 1978, he was elected Executive Vice-President of the Iowa Federation of Labor, a position he held until his retirement in 1990.

Civic and community involvement was a lifelong passion. Don was an Eagle Scout and had 20 years of service with the Boy Scouts. He was member of the Knights of Columbus since 1950 and was the oldest Knight at St. Augustin Parish at the time of his death. He served on many boards and committees, including Greater Opportunities, Inc; Greater Des Moines United Way; Des Moines Botanical Center Board; Manpower Area Planning Council; Polk County Corrections Commission; Iowa Health Systems Agency; Iowa Commission for the Blind; Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services, Inc.; Career Education advisory committee with Des Moines Public Schools; Public Services Research, Inc.; Iowa State Compensation Commission; Des Moines Area Community College Board of Directors (1974-1986); Iowa High Technology Council; Advisory Committee on Workers’ Compensation; Polk County Charter Commission; Des Moines Area National Council on Alcoholism; Iowa Leadership Consortium on Health; Health Policy Corporation of Iowa; Child and Family Policy Center; Central Iowa Chapter American Red Cross; Gov. Vilsack’s Committee on Administrative Rules; Gov. Vilsack’s Committee on African-Americans in Prison; Moingona Girl Scout Council; Vocational Rehabilitation Services; Polk County Health Services; Iowa Alliance for Retired Americans; MICAH (Corrections and Prison Reform); Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation; Polk County Health Services Foundation; and Iowa Citizen Action Network. In addition he was a delegate to the 1988 Democratic National Convention; a delegate to the White House Conference on Aging (1995); and was appointed to the Polk County Board of Supervisors as interim Supervisor for the 4th District (1996). At the time of his death, Don was still an active member of the Friends of Iowa Legal Services Committee.

Don’s public service earned him numerous awards including a place on the list of the “25 Most Powerful People in Des Moines” in 1976; Des Moines Citizen of the Year (1977); SCIFL Jim MacDonald Award; Iowa Trial Lawyers Association Public Service Award; American Red Cross Special Recognition for Labor Leadership; Iowa AFL-CIO Labor Hall of Fame inductee; Douglas A. Fraser Community Service Award, Iowa UAW CAP; Iowa Civil Rights Citizen of the Year; ICAN Board Service Award; Honorary Member of Pioneer Lawmakers; Iowa Alliance for Retired Persons George Kourpias Award; and Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation Lifetime Honorary Board Member.

In addition to his work to make the community a better place, Donald was a devoted son, loving husband and wonderful father and grandfather. He led by example and has left a legacy of good deeds. This world is truly a better place because of him. He is survived by his wife of almost 58 years, Virginia; son John (Kris) of Altoona; daughters Pamela Glider of Des Moines, Karen (Joseph) Romano of Johnston, Elizabeth (Jeff) Regenold of West Des Moines, and Susie Stroud of Des Moines; grandchildren Natasha (Manon) Lovan, Kendra Glider, Rosie Romano, Nick Romano, Jake Stewart, Christopher Rowen, Alex Regenold, and Ben Regenold; great-grandsons Eli and Manning Lovan; brothers Robert of Washougal, WA, and David of Granada Hills, CA; and numerous nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents, son Steven, and brother Harold.

In lieu of flowers, Don requested memorial contributions to Iowa Friends of Legal Services (P.O. Box 41803, Des Moines, IA 50311-1103) or Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation (505 Fifth Ave, Suite 444, Des Moines, IA 50309-2321). On line condolences will be welcomed at IlesCares.com.

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.


  1. Marcia nichols says

    Thank you Kay for such a great tribute to a great man!