Donald Dean Avenson Papers, ca. 1966-1990

Collection Overview

Title:  Donald Dean Avenson Papers, ca. 1966-1990

Record Series: MsC-49

Record Group:


Creator: Avenson, Donald Dean

Date: ca. 1966-1990

Extent: 24 boxes (30 linear feet)

Repository: Special Collections and University Archives, Rod Library, University of Northern Iowa.

Language: Materials entirely in English.

Information for Users

Accessing the Collection:

No restrictions. Materials are open for research.

Sensitive Materials Statement: Manuscript collections and archival records may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy or similar laws, and the Iowa Open Records Law (see Iowa Code § 22.7). Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in this collection without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications (e.g., a cause of action under common law for invasion of privacy may arise if facts concerning an individual's private life are published that would be deemed highly offensive to a reasonable person) for which the University of Northern Iowa assumes no responsibility.

Preferred Citation: [Identification of item], in the [Series Title] #[series number], [folder number or title when applicable], [Collection Name], Rod Library, University of Northern Iowa.

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Historical Note

Donald Dean Avenson was a state representative in the Iowa General Assembly from 1972 through 1990. Don Avenson was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on September 16, 1944. Early in his childhood, he and his family moved to Oelwein, Iowa, where he graduated from high school in 1962. He received his B. S. degree in political science and history from the University of Wisconsin in 1970, and in 1971 and 1972 he completed graduate work in history at the University of Northern Iowa.

After graduating from college, Avenson became office manager of the family business, Oelwein Tool and Die Company. He remained at the company throughout his political career, becoming its president in 1984. He and his wife Diane, whom he married in 1964, have three children. He is an avid supporter of wildlife, as is evident from his memberships in the Fayette County Conservation Club, Ducks Unlimited, Wildlife Federation, and the Iowa Wetlands Group. Because of these interests, Don Avenson was a strong supporter of legislation for improving and promoting recreation and tourism in Iowa. He particularly focused on environmental legislation concerning natural resources.

In 1972, Don Avenson, a Democrat, was elected State Representative of the Fayette County district in the Iowa House of Representatives; he held this office until 1990. In addition to his responsibilities as a representative, he held three important leadership positions: from 1975 to 1978, he was Assistant Majority Floor Leader in the General Assembly; from 1979 to 1982 he was House Minority Floor Leader; and from 1983 to 1990 he was Speaker of the House. In 1990 he was unsuccessful in his bid to become Governor of Iowa, losing to Terry Branstad.

Scope and Content

General Description of the Avenson Papers

The Avenson papers, with the exception of portions of constituent correspondence, are available to researchers. A complete inventory of the papers is available as a 19-page finding aid in Rod Library Special Collections. The records processor offers the following general description of the contents of the collection.

Don Avenson's papers that fall into the A, B, C, and D series were in fairly good order upon arrival in Special Collections. Most documents and newspaper clippings were in well-labeled folders in boxes with similar materials. Overall, the papers in these series are in excellent condition. After examining this collection, the processor found that the materials fell into four different areas: Campaign Materials, Correspondence, Legislative Matters, or Course Work.

Series A, Campaign Materials, is a good source of information about campaigns and elections occurring between 1966 and 1988. It contains a large collection of newspaper clippings from local and national newspapers. These clippings outline political issues involved in each campaign, and also provide examples of campaign publicity. This series also contains a well-developed collection of materials about individual candidates and is arranged chronologically.

Avenson's correspondence is found in Series B. The five boxes in this collection include letters dating from 1972 to 1990. They are arranged chronologically by year, and within each year by the individual's last name. Within this series there are approximately 25 folders which contain correspondence related to a specific subject. For example, Avenson created folders of correspondence dealing with abortion, gun legislation, and the drinking age. This area is a good source of information about the issues that were of greatest concern to Avenson's constituents throughout his terms in the General Assembly.

Series C contains materials on legislative matters. The strengths of this area are the lengthy treatment given to the Iowa redistricting plans, the Volga Lake recreation project and other environmental issues, and education. This series also contains many of Avenson's speeches, the Governor's "State of the State" addresses, and other official addresses. The folders are arranged chronologically beginning in 1969 and extending through 1990.

Series D contains class notes and research papers Avenson completed for graduate courses at the University of Northern Iowa in 1971 and 1972.

Don Avenson donated the papers in Series E to the University Archives in August 2001, sometime after he donated the papers in the preceding series. The papers in Series E consist almost entirely of material related to political campaigns, and most specifically to Don Avenson's run for the office of Governor of Iowa in 1990. Due to their complexity and the condition in which they arrived in Special Collections, these papers are not so well organized as the papers in Series A-D. Of special note are papers relating to polls and focus groups undertaken in 1989 and 1990 in preparation for Don Avenson's run for Governor. However, most of the papers in this series have to do with the financial aspects of Don Avenson's political campaigns from 1982-1990. These papers include bank statements and Iowa financial disclosure reporting forms.


Avenson Papers Classification Schedule Outline

  • A--Campaign Material, 1966-1988 (5 boxes)

    The 5 boxes in this series contain materials relating to Avenson's and other Democrats' campaigns for office. In addition, these files also contain material on Republican campaigns. The boxes include publicity, newspaper clippings, reports, voting and voter information, budgets, candidate information, and other election materials, arranged chronologically.

  • B--Correspondence, 1972-1990 (5 boxes)
    These boxes contain correspondence to and from Avenson's constituents, other legislators, and government officials. All correspondence is arranged first chronologically by year, and then by the last name of the person sending a letter to Avenson or receiving one from him. A copy of his response, if one was retained, follows the answered letter.


    The folders labeled "Complex" contain letters which meet one of the following conditions: 1) the letter is to or from more than one individual, 2) the letter is not to or from Avenson, or 3) the last name of the sender or receiver could not be discerned from the letter. The letters which were not addressed to Avenson, but were mailed to him as a carbon copy, are interfiled with the other correspondence. They were not considered complex unless they met one of the above conditions.

    The folders contain letters on a variety of subjects, including the bottle bill or "Ban the Can," helmet law, taxes, home schooling, alcohol, education, and medical care, among many others. However, for some of the more frequently discussed topics, Avenson created separate folders. The contents of these folders are outlined within each box description in the full length finding aid.

  • C--Legislative Matters, 1969-1990 (10 boxes)

    The boxes in this series contain material relating to the general operation of the legislature while Avenson was a member of the General Assembly and then Speaker of the House. The folders are arranged chronologically beginning with 1969.
    Most of the folders in this series contain information about a single subject and are labeled as such. For example, information about redistricting plan #1 can be found in Box 4 in a folder labeled "Redistricting - Plan #1." However, Avenson also created general files which contain many different subjects.

    To find all relevant information on a topic, researchers are advised to review thoroughly the folder contents list for their subject; to check all folders which seem to have a chance of including that subject; and to examine the contents of the "General" folders.

    Information about specific topics also may be filed under several different years. For example, information about the Volga Lake project can be found in Boxes 1, 2, and 10, and perhaps the general files in the corresponding years. Again, researchers should review the contents list thoroughly for their topic.
    Many of Avenson's addresses and speeches are located in this series as well as addresses of the Governor and other government officials. Box 4 contains a large amount of information on Iowa redistricting; materials were collected on all of the proposed plans. Other strong areas of this series include interim committees, education, Volga Lake, and other environmental issues.

    Several of the boxes contain folders which have items from several years. For example, in Box 1 the folder with Volga Lake Project information is dated 1969-1982. The items in the folder were meant to be kept together; if the processor had broken up the contents, Avenson's original order and intent would have been lost.

  • D--Course Work, 1971-1972 (1 box)

    This box contains handwritten notes and research papers completed by Avenson while he attended history courses at the University of Northern Iowa. Inside the notebooks are lists of the classes he was taking and his notes.

  • E--Campaign Financing, 1982-1990 (3 boxes)

    These three boxes include extensive and detailed financial records pertaining to Don Avenson's political campaigns. Box E1 contains polling and focus group results from efforts undertaken during Don Avenson's run for Governor in 1990. It also contains campaign financing from campaigns for the Iowa House of Representative from 1982-1988. Boxes E2 and E3 are devoted to the financial aspects of the run for Governor in 1990. Papers in these two boxes include bank statements, accountant's memoranda, and Iowa financial disclosure statements that outline income and expenditures during the campaign.

Processing Information

Records processed and finding aid prepared by Library Assistant Susan Witthoft, January 1996; additional material processed and finding aid amended by University Archivist Gerald L. Peterson, October 2004; last updated, January 30, 2015 (GP). Linear feet count updated on August 9, 2017.