Gwendolyn Mix

November 30, 2020

Service Details

Gwendolyn Maxine Mix, 96, passed away peacefully November 30, 2020, at Parkridge Specialty Care in Pleasant Hill, Iowa, from Parkinson’s disease. There will be no funeral per her wishes. She will be buried in a private ceremony at 2:00 p.m. Wednesday, December 9, in Swan, IA.

Gwen was a remarkable woman! In spite of being deaf from birth, Gwen earned a bachelor’s degree in science at a time when few women went to college and even fewer majored in the sciences. That accomplishment is all the more extraordinary because she did it without the aid of an interpreter. Subsequently, she worked at Methodist Hospital for 30 years. She loved to write as attested by her journals and correspondence with family and friends. Gwen treasured cats, ice cream, theater, travel, nature, family, friends, and faith.

Gwen was born in Des Moines on August 24, 1924, and grew up in Linden about 45 miles west of Des Moines. She attended the Iowa School for the Deaf (ISD) in Council Bluffs for 11 years, graduating in 1942. To make the trip to and from Council Bluffs easier and faster her father considered buying a biplane. Three people were on the test flight in Swan, IA - Gwen, her father, and the pilot. Taking off from a clover field just north of town, the plane brushed the tops of trees, became entangled with electrical wires, hit a pole, and had a wing sheared off, sending the plane plummeting to the ground. All three survived. The plane did not.

After ISD, Gwen attended St. Joseph Academy in Des Moines for three years to further her high school education, graduating in 1945. For the next four years she attended Coe College in Cedar Rapids, graduating with a B.S. in biology in 1949. As with St. Joseph, there was no accommodation for her loss of hearing; she relied on sitting up front in her classes and studying the notes from helpful classmates. After Coe, she trained at a Catholic hospital in Dubuque to become a lab technician.

Upon her return to Des Moines, she worked in the hematology lab, the microbiology lab, and the blood bank at Methodist Hospital until 1980, when she retired.

With her sister and friends, she frequently attended performances at the Civic Center and the Des Moines Community Playhouse. These shows had American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters for the benefit of deaf attendees. To help the deaf community, Gwen donated to the Civic Center and the Playhouse to help provide ASL interpreters for their performances and educational programs. Her commitment to helping the deaf community also led her to support several deaf organizations and to teach ASL to members of Grace United Methodist Church and fellow residents where she lived. Her legacy will live on with the funding she will provide to a college training program for ASL interpreters.

Gwen’s generosity extended beyond the deaf community. She contributed to many nonprofits helping the homeless, children, and animals.

Being deaf, Gwen had a heightened visual awareness and became a keen observer of the natural beauty that surrounded her. She loved to visit local parks, especially Yellow Banks and Easter Lake, to see the wonders of nature with the changing of the seasons. She wanted to share her love of nature with others. Today Easter Lake has two pollinator gardens, one handicapped accessible, thanks to Gwen. And a year ago Jester Park opened the Petra Alward Bouldering Room, again thanks to Gwen.

An adventurer at heart, Gwen often traveled on her own or with friends and always encouraged others to do the same. She visited all 50 states and several European, Asian, and Latin American countries. Her journeys also included New Zealand and Australia. One fond memory of hers was riding a camel in the Sahara Desert of Morocco.

Parkinson’s affected her mobility, but her smile, warm greetings, generosity, and appreciative attitude made her a favorite of caregivers at Parkridge and a blessing to those who knew and loved her.

She was preceded in death by her father, Albert L. Mix; mother, Zora G. (Kamp) Mix; and sister, Greta Faye Mix. She is survived by her extended family and many friends.

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to either Grace United Methodist Church, Gwendolyn Mix Memorial, 3700 Cottage Grove Avenue, Des Moines, IA 50311 or Parkridge Specialty Care Activity Fund, 5800 NE 12th Ave., Pleasant Hill, IA 50327.

Condolences may be expressed at