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The Elbert Files: A Bright love story


This week’s Valentine Day-themed column is based on work I did in 2015 for the Bright Foundation.

One day in 1928, farm girl Lois Rynor drove her family’s Model T Ford to high school in Lineville, Iowa. The Ford had a hand-crank starter, and when Lois pulled it, the car backfired, spinning the crank backward and breaking her wrist. 

That’s when Dale Bright, a good-looking boy with curly blond hair, offered to walk her to the doctor’s office. Years later, Lois recalled fondly: “I put a rope around his neck that day, and two years later we were married.”

Once when they were on a date, Dale told a story Lois thought was inappropriate. 

“I hauled off and hit him,” Lois said. “He cleaned up his storytelling from then on, at least in front of me.” 

When Dale graduated from high school a year ahead of Lois, he enrolled in Capital City Commercial College in Des Moines. Lois followed him to Des Moines the next year, taking a job at the Rollins Hosiery Mill on the east side. 

Dale proposed in early 1930. After he completed his studies that fall, they were married. The wedding announcement in the Lineville newspaper said Lois was “one of Lineville’s prettiest and most accomplished young women”; Dale was described as “one of our finest young men.”

After the wedding, Lois’ father drove them 20 miles to Leon where they caught a bus to Des Moines; a streetcar dropped them at the Grand Avenue entrance to the Iowa State Fairgrounds, and they walked two blocks south to their new apartment on Logan Street.

The apartment was near Lois’ job at the Rollins plant, where she sewed the back seams on women’s stockings for $10 a week. Dale was a railroad bookkeeper at Union Station in downtown Des Moines. 

Both were lucky to be employed during those early years of the Great Depression.

On Thursday, Sept. 13, 1934, 700 of the more than 800 workers at the Rollins plant went on strike.

The timing could not have been worse. Dale had come down with a severe case of rheumatic fever and was no longer able to work. He was in bed for nearly a year with a disease that weakened his heart and likely eliminated the possibility of children. 

There was no such thing as health insurance. Lois’ meager paycheck was the only thing that kept them in food and the medicine Dale desperately needed.  

On the first day of the strike, the atmosphere outside the plant was ugly. As Lois crossed the picket line, workmates derided her and called her names. She felt bad because she agreed that  working conditions were not good and the pay was poor. 

But crossing the picket line that first day of the strike allowed her to pick up her paycheck for the previous two weeks. The plant closed the next day and did not reopen until Monday, Sept. 24, when the union was recognized. 

Lois continued to work at Rollins into the 1940s when Dale was back on his feet and established in business.

After Dale’s long recovery, he did odd jobs for Valley Bank President John H. Cownie, and the couple lived in a small apartment in Cownie’s Grand Avenue home, where Lois did housekeeping and laundry, in addition to her work at Rollins. 

In the late 1930s, Dale went to work for Western Tool, a startup that he helped become the largest supplier of lawn equipment for Sears and Roebuck. 

In addition to having a good head for figures and a personality for business, Dale was a smart investor. Gradually, the childless couple acquired a comfortable nest egg, which they rolled into a foundation that benefited local nonprofits. 

After Dale died in 1996, financial advisers helped Lois restructure the foundation. Since 2012, the Bright Foundation has focused on providing full-ride, four-year scholarships to bright Iowa high school seniors who can demonstrate a financial need. 

In the past decade the Bright Foundation has provided $14.5 million in scholarship aid to approximately 400 students attending Iowa colleges.


Dave Elbert

Dave Elbert is a columnist for Business Record.

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