Donald R. Whitnah

History Faculty

Dr. Donald R. Whitnah, 77, of Cedar Falls, died Friday July 12, 2002, at the Western Home Communities Martin Center from complications of Parkinson's disease. He was born June 9, 1925, in Canton, Illinois, son of Leon and Anna Jackley Whitnah.  He married Florentine Egger on August 9, 1947, in Springfield. Illinois.  She died April 26, 2002. He served with the U. S. Army combat engineers during World War II and, following the war, was a merchandise control manager for the U. S. Army Exchange Service in Salzburg, Austria. Dr. Whitnah received his bachelor's, master's, and doctorate degrees from the University of Illinois at Urbana and from 1956 to 1959 taught history at Valley City State College, Valley City, North Dakota.  He then joined the faculty at the University of Northern Iowa, where he was head of the history department from 1969 to 1988.  He was then acting dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences from 1989 to 1990, retiring in 1992. Survived by:  two daughters, Victoria A. Whitnah of Seattle and Tara B. Whitnah of Keokuk. Preceded in death by:  a sister, Maurine Lang. Memorial services:  1:30 p.m. Friday at First United Methodist Church, with inurnment at a later date in Cuba, Illinois.  There will be no visitation. Richardson Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements. Memorials:  may be directed to Cedar Bend Humane Society, the UNI Foundation, or the Cedar Valley Food Bank. Copyright Waterloo Courier, July 14, 2002, page C5.   Former UNI professor dies from Parkinson's   By JON ERICSON, Courier Staff Writer The University of Northern Iowa lost one of its better storytellers Friday. Donald Whitnah, 77, former head of the history department, died Friday from complications from Parkinson's disease. He leaves behind memories of great conversations, a mound of published work, and the legacy of four decades of caring for the university. Whitnah came to UNI hi 1959 as an assistant professor of history. By 1969, he was head of the department. He would later serve as acting dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. He became one of those faces you would just see everywhere around campus. Noreen Hermansen, executive director of the UNI Alumni Association, worked with Whitnah on many committees. She remembers how he was an active supporter of UNI sports, theater, and music, in addition to academic activities. "He was really a well-rounded university person," Hermansen said. "He was popular with the students." Hermansen said Whitnah was never too busy for a good conversation, and once started, he'd commit his full attention to you. Whitnah and his wife, Flora, were good friends with LeRoy and Nancy Redfern over the years. They'd go out for dinner and swap stories. Many of those stories centered on how the Whitnahs met. Flora Whitnah was Austrian, and they met while Don was stationed in Austria as part of an occupying army following World War II. "They were so interesting because of their vast interests and experiences," LeRoy Redfern said. Just recently Don Whitnah had given a speech at a local club regarding how they met in Austria. Despite the long relationship with the Whitnahs, Redfern said he always heard something new when they met. "They had so many experiences, he told stories that even I hadn't heard," Redfern said. The Whitnahs had come to the United States and married in 1947. Don Whitnah went through his education all the way to a doctoral degree at the University of Illinois. He taught in North Dakota for four years before coming to Cedar Falls. Over the years, Whitnah's stories were hardly limited to the oral variety. He published several books on topics as far ranging as air traffic safety, the occupation of Austria, and the history of the United States Weather Bureau. Numerous articles published showed a similar diversity of interests. In April, Whitnah lost his wife of fifty-four years. With Parkinson's disease, he had also lost some of his abilities to write and read, his lifelong passions. When he died Friday, some close to him think it was his time, a time to rejoin Flora. "We sure are going to miss them both," LeRoy Redfern said Friday. Copyright Waterloo Courier, July 14, 2002, page C10. August 28, 2002 To: UNI Faculty and Staff Members From: Department of History In Memoriam: Donald R. Whitnah (1925-2002) Dr. Donald R. Whitnah, 77, distinguished teacher, scholar, and long time Head of the Department of History at the University of Northern Iowa, died on July 12, 2002, at the Western Home's Martin Center in Cedar Falls, Iowa, from complications of Parkinson's disease. Don was born on June 9, 1925, in Canton, Illinois. His parents were Leon and Anna Jackley Whitnah. Don married Florentine Egger on August 9, 1947 in Springfield, Illinois. Their long and happy marriage ended with Flora's death on April 26, 2002. The Whitnahs are survived by their daughters, Victoria A. Whitnah of Seattle and Tara B. Whitnah of Keokuk. After graduating from high school in Illinois, Don served from 1944-46 with the U. S. Army Combat Engineers in the European Theater. Following World War II, he stayed for a time in Austria, working as a merchandise control manager for the U. S. Army Exchange Service. He returned to the U. S. in the late forties to pursue higher education. After receiving the A .A. degree from Lincoln (Illinois) College in 1949, he began study in history at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He received the B. A. with high honors in 1951, followed by the M. A. in 1952 and the Ph. D. in 1957. While at the University of Illinois, he worked as a meteorological analyst for the Illinois State Water Survey and as a graduate teaching assistant. Don's first college teaching position, 1956-59, was in the History Department at Valley City State College in Valley City, North Dakota. In 1959 Don began his long and productive association with UNI. Actually Don came to our institution during its last years as the Iowa State Teachers College, served through the State College of Iowa era, and was an active faculty member and administrator at the birth and maturation of the University of Northern Iowa. Don moved quickly through the professional ranks, being promoted from assistant to associate professor in 1962 and to the rank of professor in 1966. He was the Acting Head of the former Department of Social Science for the 1968-69 academic year. In 1969 he was appointed Head of the newly independent Department of History, a position he held for nineteen years until returning to regular faculty status in 1988. During the 1989-90 academic year he served as Acting Dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. Don retired from the UNI faculty in 1992 but continued directing students in correspondence study until shortly before his death. Don's principal historical specialties were U. S. diplomatic history, twentieth century U. S. history, and the history of federal agencies. Although administrative duties limited his time in the classroom, he possessed a solid presence before an audience and was regarded by students as a challenging but popular teacher. UNI alums remember fondly his many relevant and amusing anecdotes. Don was an exceedingly well-published historian. His book-length works included a history of the U. S. Weather Bureau, a study of air traffic safety, an examination of the American occupation of Austria, and an award-winning edited volume on government agencies. His accomplishments as a publishing scholar led to his selection in 1990 as a UNI Distinguished Scholar. His publications on Austrian studies occasioned his receipt in 1991 of the Commanders Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Austria. Don's scholarly accomplishments served as a beacon to the professional growth of faculty in his department in the 1970s and 1980s. Colleagues in History and around the university will probably remember Don best in his role as a department head. Don was a quiet but firm leader of a large academic unit with a number of strong personalities. He had many friends around the university, but that did not keep him from serving as a passionate advocate of the interests of his department. Even when Don disagreed with a colleague, however, he was cordial to a fault. The phrase "gentleman and a scholar" could have been coined with Don in mind. External to UNI Don was a member and past president of the Cedar Falls Kiwanis Club and the Arcturus Club. He was a regular attendee at numerous Cedar Valley athletic events, musical performances, and live theater. Although burdened by illness in his last few years, Don never lost the spark in his eye or his upbeat attitude. He will be missed by friends and colleagues. Memorials may be directed to the UNI Foundation, the Cedar Bend Humane Society, or the Cedar Valley Food Bank.