In Memory of Robert Wessel, 1926 - 2015




It is fitting that the beginning of the end of Bob Wessel’s life started in Canada in his beloved cabin after spending a week with family. He fell and broke his hip. Bob loved to travel and had visited and/or lived in Denmark, Spain, Italy, Germany, England, The Netherlands, Greece, Turkey, and the Azores (Port.). But he felt most content in his cabin on Eagle River in Canada.

He loved the untarnished and undeveloped home away from home. He could sit on the dock or in a boat for hours fishing. It didn’t matter whether he caught a fish, he just wanted to be there.

Robert Irving Wessel passed away Sept. 24 from complications from surgery from his fall in August. Bob was born on March 7, 1926 in Manson, Iowa. He was the son of Bessie (Jeffords) and Lawrence Wessel, a carpenter. The fifth in a family of 10 children raised during the depression, he spent much of his early childhood in Belmond, Iowa. The Wessel family moved to Ames in 1939. In 1944 Bob graduated from Ames High School; in 1952 he received a BA in history from ISU; an MA in history from ISU and in 1966, he received his PhD. from the University of Minnesota. He returned to teach at ISU from 1967 – 1987. He retired to teach on military bases in Europe.

"The fact that a great many people believe something is no guarantee of its truth." -W. Somerset Maugham, The Razor's Edge. Bob related to this book as he spent much time in self-reflection and wanderlust.

Bob didn’t want us to talk about his degrees and he was happy not to use the title “Dr.” He loved to teach; he loved to travel, he loved left-leaning politics and he loved his family: wife, children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and more. Bob’s family extended well beyond blood.

He had a heart for those who had less than him. As a child, he did not know, from day to day, if he would have food to eat. Bob’s biggest fear was that the generations to come would forget what it was like to go hungry. He was passionate about serving the poor, worked for civil rights for all and was passionate about preserving the environment.

Following high school, Bob joined that Army Air Corps but failed to find meaning as a nose gunner. He concluded that war is not the answer and became a peace activist. He challenged the US involvement in Viet Nam and elsewhere.

In addition to his time in Canada, Bob had a deep love for travel and in particular cherished the time he spent in Denmark and Turkey. He often pointed out the things that most affected his life: his childhood during the Depression, where he saw and felt what poverty was; his years in the army at the end of World War II, where he saw and came to believe in the idea of rules for rules sake as meaningless; and his year in Denmark (1949-1950) where he learned what it means for the government to take responsibility for the health and care of all of its citizens. It was in Denmark that he found his political place and it was from these things his life grew.

In 1973 Bob and Edith took the family to Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Germany so he could introduce his family to his love of travel and the ability to appreciate and love other cultures.

As a part of his commitment to others, Bob, and his beloved wife Edith, were active in their church life, pushing the church to be more involved in caring for others through food banks or homeless shelters, always believing that in Christ we are called to serve. In all ways his life reflected his respect and compassion for people of all faiths and economic resources.

Bob was a voracious reader, loved classical music, strong cheese, Greek salads and a good argument. He was a compassionate contrarian.

At the center of Bob’s life was his family. He met his Edith at a Lutheran Student Association meeting in 1951. They were married for more than 63 years.

Bob is survived by his wife, Edith Wessel, Ames, Iowa, his children Keith Wessel (Lori) of Madison, Wisconsin, and their blended family including sons, Sven Irwin (wife Heather, daughters Kinley, Kianna), Erik Irwin (wife Chelsea, daughters Aishe, Jayla and Avannah) and Matthew; Ellen Schuler (Jeff) of Stevens Point, Wisconsin and their daughters Eleni (husband Will, son Asher), Hannah and Sophie; Beth Wessel Kroeschell (Tom) of Ames, Iowa, their daughter Liza and son Robbie; Cheryl Wessel of Oak Harbor, Ohio and her daughter Kiri; Joanne Ellarson of Mazomanie, Wisconsin and her sons Wesley and Casey.

Bob is also survived by his sisters Katherine Eschbach of Ames, Betty Dodge and Donna Erickson of Shawnee, Oklahoma and a brother Tom Wessel of Bozeman, Montana and his nephew Terry Wessel of Ames, IA. Bob was preceded in death by his parents and brothers Carrol, Clair, Chester and James Wessel and sister Helen Policastri.

Memorials may be given to Emergency Housing in Ames, Doctors Without Borders or a charity of your choice. A visitation will be held at St. Andrews Church in Ames Sunday, Sept. 27 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. A celebration of life service will be held at 11 am Monday, Sept. 28 at the St. Andrews Lutheran Church in Ames.



My grandpa passed away today at the age of 89. I wish I had gotten to see him one last time. I am going to miss unhooking those Northern Pike of yours on the end of the dock in Canada. You always had interesting stories to tell us. You surely did talk a lot about politics though. I will admit it, I will miss every time a name comes up that goes with an old song, you would start singing. Right now, I bet you're somewhere fishing for those walleyes with with Murdick.
Grandpa, I will truly miss you, I love you and look over all of us.

Casey Ellarson

Our hearts are heavy this evening after hearing of the passing of such an incredible man. For many years Robert Wessel has come up to Canada and we always had the pleasure to visit with him. He had so many stories to share each time from the present, past and any other topic he was passionate about. Some of his best stories were his fishing stories from Camp Wessel. If he wasn't out in the boat, you could find him on the end of his dock waiting to snag a big one. He was so intelligent and full of information. We listened and learned something always. He traveled to so many places so we had the pleasure of hearing about his worldly adventures. He had such a kind soul and was one of the kindest people we have ever met. Camp Wessel will never be the same. We will miss seeing him on the dock or pulling in our driveway. Even though he is gone, we will never forget him. His spirit will live on north of the border. We send our condolences to the Wessel family. We are thinking of you all at this difficult time.

Lesley Ann Barker

So sorry. He was one of my favorite professors at ISU and remained a strong and articulate advocate for civil and human rights after his retirement. My sympathies to you and Beth.

Tom Slockett

Our hearts are heavy for our family and friends South of the Border as well as here in Canada . Today a wonderful man made his journey to the realm where the flesh no longer separates him from his loved ones, where his thoughts and his ideas are heard with much more than the naked ear and the beating of his heart is felt within all who knew and loved him. I am honoured to have met this very gentle, kind man. It can seldom be said of a man whose eloquence in speech and great wealth of knowledge was equally matched with his ability to really listen with genuine interest when others shared their opinions and views. Our hearts, thoughts and prayers are with his beautiful family as they comfort their Mother and each other through this difficult time. Rest in Paradise Bob, your memory will always bring a smile to my face and joy to my heart. 

Kerry Lyn

I respected him so much. On one hand he was a realist and on the other hand a dreamer.

Tom Slater

We all miss him. I knew him as an uncle, as a great thinker, as a teacher, and as a role model. My heart goes out to all of you.

Dennis Ryerson

Your dad was such a good model to all of us who were his students over the years. We are grateful.

Tom Higgins

I am a former student and admirer of your dad. So sad to hear this news.

Suz Boyde

Sorry, Keith. He was a good friend for me when I arrived in Ames. We had great fishing and wonderful talk together.

John Solensten

Keith, so sorry to hear this. My thoughts are with you and your family. I was also a student of your father. A very great man.

Dave Iliff

He was such a good man--funny, thoughtful, compassionate & wise. Such a marvelous sense of humor & dedication to living life on his own terms. You hit the jackpot when God was handing out dads, as I'm sure you already know. My heart is heavy as I know how much I miss my own dad every day. We carry so much of them within us. Much love to your entire family.

Vicky Brenner

While working on a campaign in 2010, I had the pleasure of talking to your father. He invited me inside the house and we talked for about politics and other things a good 20 minutes. It was a great experience and I will never forget him or his kindness.
I'm so sorry for your loss.

Michael Fox

So sorry for your loss; you and your family are in our thoughts. I have many fond memories of your kind and thoughtful parents.

Dianne Liepa

Edith and family,

Curtis and I are so sadden to hear of Bob's death. We have so many wonderful memories of you both and such deep respect for Bob's gifts as a teacher, parent, carpenter, friend and so much more. We are simply grateful for having Bob in our lives, and especially for the time together in Ames when we needed mentors and a place to belong. Thinking of you all.

Andrea Hansen

To the grandpa who let me dig my nails into his arm during the scary dinosaur part of Fantasia, told me I could only have two chocolate kisses after school but always let me take three, and spent a brisk December weekend spray painting eight-foot wooden boards in the garage with me in the seventh grade, when I spontaneously decided to construct the most epic church Nativity set Lutherans had ever seen (it was that epic, by the way): I love you more than a million chocolate kisses. Rest in peace, Grandpa!

Liza Kroeschell

Just want you to know I’m thinking of you all and sharing your loss. It’s just so hard to believe that someone who has been in your life forever is suddenly gone.  I won’t be able to be there for his service, but I will be there with you in spirit.

I always enjoyed the lively conversations I had with my Uncle Bob…I remember one of the last ones being about a new book he was reading. He had a list of all these words he had to define while reading the novel. Of course me; always the language enthusiast, was fascinated with the discussion we were having about figuring out the definitions…we could’ve gone on for hours!

Bob could relate to anyone, at any age, about anything; he was such an accepting, kind and caring person. I will always appreciate the effort he made to see Lindsey the last time she was in Ames. But most of all, I will be forever grateful to Uncle Bob for the kindness and friendship he showed to my mother… Mom has lost her “best friend”.

Love to all of you and hopefully we can connect again in Ames or up in Canada.

Kim Koppen

Our hearts are sad today for friends south of the border. The world lost Such a gentle kind hearted soul. Bob always had a smile on his face and a good story to share. Camp Wessel will never be the same. Thinking of the Wessels, Chelsea Irwin, Casey Ellarson....

Ashlea Barker

Today we lost one of the most beautiful and interesting souls I have ever had the honor of knowing, a kindhearted man who never missed the opportunity to talk about history, politics and his love for our side of the border wink emoticon. A man who was filled with many stories and always eager to share. I will miss you Grandpa Bob you welcomed me into your family with open arms and a warm heart heart emoticon I always looked forward to seeing you at the cabin. We will miss you terribly. 
2015 has been a tough year filled with a lot of loss in our family, more than I had ever experienced in my life. Sometimes its easy to get caught up in the sorrow and grief but this year has taught me a lot. I had the pleasure of knowing and loving some of the most remarkable people and I myself am a better person because of that. 
Rest in Peace Robert Wessel I hope you're up there with my Grandpa B slaying those walleyes.

Chelsea Irwin

If we all could be "compassionate contrarians" the world would be a better place. 

Lynh Nguyen Patterson

I was sorry to read of your father's death.  But, with that said, I'm certain his long, productive life gives you smiles, support and comfort.  I know I remember him as  one of my most memorable teachers at Iowa State.

Reid Crawford

I am so very sorry.  Bob was special and whenever he came to Heartland, he always had such wonderful things to say about you and your kids.  I'll miss him.

Carol Lamb

I regret not being able to get to your dad's funeral today, because I had hoped to share with you a perspective on Bob that I had not seen elsewhere in the comments (although I may have missed something).

I came to teach at ISU in 1973 right out of graduate school. Bob was one of those who went out of his way to welcome and include young faculty, myself included. I have always been grateful for that; it went beyond simple courtesy to taking time to get to know me and inviting me to be included in the informal life of the department. I think Bob may have been the first to invite me to join a group for lunch. That may not sound like much, but it meant a lot to a new faculty member trying to find his bearings.

Bob also made a point of soliciting ideas from me and other new faculty.

In both of these cases, it goes without saying that the welcoming attitude that your dad displayed was not universally shared; it required effort and time on his part and his consideration has been a particularly good memory of my time on the faculty.

Mike Coveyou

I usually enjoy contributing my fair share to any conversation. While with your father, however, I preferred to listen. He was wonderfully unique and he leaves behind many who are grateful to have known and listened to him.

Gary Conners- Boe

Oh, Ellen, so sorry to hear this news! He truly was a wonderful man and will be missed by many. May it be of some comfort to know that a great many people are holding you and your family tenderly in their hearts right now. Take gentle care of yourself. ((hugs))

Sarah Halstead

The pain of losing a parent is only somewhat outweighed by the time you were able to cherish with them . And it sounds like you made that happen.

Carla Troxel


Keith ~

Bob means the World to so many. What a Legacy! He made an impression upon everyone he met, including me. All my memories of Bob make me smile. What a Treasure of a soul on this Earth. He will never, not, be with you. Wishing You Peace.




The death of a fine man such as Bob  is heart-breaking.  I deeply sympathize with you on the death of your splendid husband.  Joe and I are thankful we have known both of you and that you took the time  to visit us after you had moved from Troy and to let us hear from you every Christmas since then.    Even though we were together briefly, I,  especially, feel that I knew you and Bob and your family well.   The pictures with Bob’s obituary brought my memories back very keenly.     We wish we could have been with you for the visitation Sunday evening and the memorial service for Bob on Monday morning.  Our thoughts and prayers were especially with you and your family at those times.  If there is a program or bulletin from Bob’s memorial service, we would be interested in having a copy.  We will send a memorial gift for Bob to Doctors Without Borders.  

Norma Taylor Mitchell   


Dear Edith,

You and your family are in my prayers. Bob was more of a grandpa to me than my own. His kindness and supportiveness will never ever be forgotten. I regret that I can't be there to say farewell, but even more so that I didn't get the opportunity to visit the two of you in Ames. I really hope that I will get there to see and spend time with you and that Isaac can meet you as well. 
I'm singing spirituals for my son this week to be reminded and to share my memories of Bob with my son.


Dear Edith,

Our prayers and thoughts are with you and your family at this time. You and Bob were such welcoming neighbors when we lived in Ames. When I think of Bob it is of his interest in politics and how he used to ride away down Hodge Avenue on his bicycle.

Walter, Karen & Jozef


A steadfast friend from his undergraduate days at Iowa State - he made a point of being Lutheran by conviction (his choice) not by the accident of birth - we wrestled together with the ebb and flow of Lutheran social consciousness political naivety - his worldwide travels as a lecturer and sometime collector - his efforts asd a woodworker/builder - his constant devotion to a growing family - all are precious memories.

Pr. Bob & Bobbie Lorenz


Dear Edith: I am very saddened about Bob's passing.  And wish to express my deepest sympathy to you and the family.  Bob was a great pleasure to work with while we were at Minnesota and for our families to socialize together.  We were of a like mind on many social issues, a pleasure to be with.

Know you will miss him very much.  A great loss for all of us!  It is fortunate that your family is near by and will be very supportive in this time of need.  Having been through it when Sally passed away, understand how you feel. A terrible emptiness.  Bob would want you and the family to go on.  Remember all those happy moments in your long relationship.  God be with you  Edith,  you are in my prayers.   Clark 

 Oh, Beth... My heart is breaking for you. Such an amazing man. Do you remember when he helped us move into our college apartment? He saw our couch held up by inner tubes (unbeknownst to us) that we had bought 2nd hand & said, "I think you girls got took. Should we take it to the gas station & fill it up with air before we take it to your apartment?" Please give your mom a hug from me. I'll call you. I love you.

Vicky Brenner


It was a gift to have been with you and Bob last Friday while he was home for the week and I chose that weekend to be in Iowa. We have so many cherished memories of the two of you who kept me sane while I spent the year working at Beloit. Our friendship has been wonderful. Thank you for being who you are. Jack and I send our love and sympathy to all the family, to you Edith, and to you, Keith, Ellen, Beth, Cheryl, and JoAnne.

Mary Heller

Dear Edith - We are thinking of you and your beautiful family in this sad time. How he will be missed - his welcoming spirit, his invitation to engage the world, and his commitment to compassionate justice and community. Thank you for sharing your home and your family with us - We hold these precious memories and you and Bob's considerable kindnesses in our hearts forever. 

Andrea Hansen


Hi Edith,
 I'm so so sorry for your loss. I will miss Bob; and he as well as you have been such an important part of my life. Still I will never forget the memories, and special times together. As simple as when I was 17 and we went back and forth with the stereo between classical and rock music; discussing the details the acoustics - which was real music, and like two children kept turning the volume up.  I send my deepest condolences.



Dear Edith:

Monika and I much appreciate your informing us of Bob's death. We send our strongest condolences to you, and you should be told that we both believe strongly in the rejoining--after this world's challenges--and in a wonderful reunion with the ones you love.

Bob and you were not only true and very enjoyable Troy personal friends. He was also my most professionally rewarding associate while we were together in that Troy faculty.  

Again, our true condolences, and stay in touch as you can.

With Love,  Bob & Monika

Dear Edith and Family,

We are so saddened to hear about Bob. The Family photo page is wonderful as we can share in your family and very full and beautiful life. You have been in our thoughts and prayers and we will light a candle in Boston for all.
I would like to send a memorial to Doctors without Borders in memory of Bob.

What is your address now so I can send you a card?

Love to all,
Cynthia Larson Richard

And Chuck

Beth. The service was very meaningful---you and your sibs made it so personal. Robbie sang beautifully and I know it must have been hard for him. He is a great kid! 



We are so sad for you and your family.  The several weeks of hospitals and concerns must have been greatly unsettling and frightening for all of you.  Bob was a Mensch, and we were privileged to know him.  There will be a big gap in your lives, I'm sure. 

Reuben and Jeanne Peterson


Dear Aunt Edith and all my Wessel Cousins,

First I want to say how sorry I am for the loss of Uncle Bob. It's hard to imagine coming home to visit and not seeing him as I always looked forward to visiting when he would stop by Moms. It seemed he always showed up when I was there unless he was visiting one of you or in Canada. I always loved our conversations and learned from him each time we spoke, often I had questions that I would save just for him as I trusted his opinion above all others. I spoke with Mom yesterday and she said "I never realized it until now but every time Bob walked in my door I felt warm inside. I keep expecting him to walk through my door at any moment, I wonder what it will be like to no longer have him coming by". He was always so kind and non judgemental, he was the only one she was ok with having over when Walter was drinking because of this. She also noted having difficulty conversing over the past few years due to their collective hearing loss and stated she was glad the last few times they spoke was on the phone as she was able to understand him perfectly. She also stated being happy for him because they had numerous conversations about neither one of them wanting to end up in nursing homes.

The obituary you all wrote was the most beautiful I have ever seen, he raised ( along with you Aunt Edith) 5 awesome, intelligent and giving human beings, I know he was proud. Uncle Bob lived his beliefs as few people do and by what I know of all of you and what I see you posting on Facebook you all do the same. 

I am sorry I missed his service as I would have loved to see you all, I had a friend visiting from Colorado and could not leave. I am also sorry I missed the reunion last spring. I wanted to attend but had to choose between that and Kim's sons wedding, since no one else in our family was going I felt I needed to represent the Eschbachs. I knew if I attended it would probably be the last time I saw some of those people I just never thought it would be Uncle Bob. He gave to so many in his life and I think the most accurate thing I can say is his life made a difference and the world is a better place for having had him in it. Again I am so sorry for your (all of our) loss.

I love you all and hope to see you sometime.