Robert Edward Lee, age 93, of Waverly, Iowa, died June 24, 2022, at Bartels Lutheran Retirement Community in Waverly.
“Can the Lord be wrong?” was a saying commonly heard by Wartburg College Band members during the tenure of their director Robert E. Lee. His ultimate answer has come as Robert Lee humbly offered up the joys and struggles of his life to the resurrection promise of Jesus Christ on Friday, June 24, 2022.
Lee was born on July 18th, 1928, in Decorah, Iowa -- the home of Luther College, which would become his alma mater, and Weston Noble ‘43, the much-loved Luther music conductor who shaped Lee’s career and unwittingly facilitated his marriage.
Lee’s parents were Arthur Ophelius Lee (LC Class of 1917) and Arla Ovedia (Scarvie) Lee. It was clear from an early age that music of various styles was the love and driving force of Lee’s life. He started performing his first band gigs at the age of 16 when he began playing and singing professionally in a local dance band.
Lee graduated from Scandinavia Wisconsin High School in 1946 and from Luther College in 1950. At Luther he was prominent in band activities and the first president of the noted Dorian Society there. He also earned an athletic letter as a gymnast. Advanced degrees would follow– an M.A. from the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 1957 and a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa in 1966.
Shortly after graduating from Luther, Lee began his teaching career as a public-school teacher in New Richland, Minn. This was followed by teaching stints in Wisconsin (Trempealeau, Mt. Horeb, and Madison).
While teaching in Madison, Lee met his wife, Joyce Everson ‘56, through Luther College connections and mutual music interests, having recruited her for his Lutheran Student Association choir at the University there. They married in 1957.
In 1959, Lee began his thirty-seven-year tenure at Wartburg College. Initially he taught all instruments, all band activities and, during his first five years, also directed the orchestra. He added numerous instrumental specialists to the music faculty along the way and thus helped build what has become an outstanding college music program.
After retirement in l995, Lee volunteered for fifteen years at Waverly-Shell Rock High School helping instrumental musicians prepare for All-State Auditions and Solo-Ensemble Contests. Lee retired a final time at age eighty-two for a total teaching career of forty-five years.
Along the way, Lee took part in other local music events. In 1965, he provided support and inspiration for his brother-in-law, Dr. Dale Everson, in the founding of the annual Shell Rock Spring Swing Show. Over the many years of participating in this show, Lee amused audiences with a variety of songs and musical characters but was best remembered for his Snoopy “Suppertime” and Music Man “Ya Got Trouble” acts.
Lee considered himself a most blessed individual enjoying family life, personal life and professional life. His career was not considered work because “It isn’t work unless you would rather be doing something else.” And he often said if he were independently wealthy, he would gladly pay for the privilege of conducting the Wartburg College Concert Band.
Lee is survived by his wife, Joyce (Everson) Lee ‘56 of Waverly; son Andrew (Gretchen) Lee of Laclede, Idaho; daughter Heide Lee Malat (Ron) of Minneapolis; granddaughters Ariel (Nick) Tintle, McKenna Lee, Madeline Lee Malat and Julia Dismore plus one grandson, Hunter Dismore; and a brother, Arthur Lee ‘53 (Judy) of Bemidji, Minn. He was preceded in death in death by his parents, sister, Madelyn (Lee) Larson ’42, and brother, Loren Lee ‘49.
Lee has donated his body to science and a memorial service was held July 23, at the Wartburg Chapel in Waverly. Memorials may be directed to Robert E. Lee Memorial Scholarship or Cedar Valley Hospice. Online condolences may be left at www.kaisercorson.com. 319-352-1187