Janice Karen (Piper) DeGowin, age 80, died in her sleep Monday, 13 March 2017. She was in Hospice Care at Oaknoll Retirement Residence, after coping with cancer for a year.
Karen Piper was born to Mark M. Piper, MD and Janice Marie (Nichols) Piper in Rochester, Indiana on 12 October 1936, during the Great Depression. Her parents divorced when she was four years old, and Karen lived with her Grandmother Nichols in Clear Lake, Iowa for two years. Then Karen’s mother placed her in foster care from age 6 to 10, with good friends, Charles and Helen Price of Mason City, Iowa who loved her like a daughter.
Karen’s mother, Jan, completed her training in Dubuque, accepted the position as Director of Social Welfare for Winneshiek County, and brought Karen, now 10 years old, to live with her in an apartment above the Lyric Movie Theater in Decorah, Iowa. Jan married Ernest A. Sivesind, the projectionist at the movie theater, and they moved into the finished basement apartment of the house, to be completed later when funds became available. This home is where Karen grew up in Decorah, and where she was living when she met her fiancé. Ernie, with Jan’s support, developed the J&E Cable System, the second television cable system in the State of Iowa, enabling them to complete, in 1963, the second story of their beautiful home at 901 Walnut Street.
Karen attended the University of Iowa for two years before accepting a scholarship from Delta Gamma, her sorority, to receive training and certification as an Orthoptist in the Department of Ophthalmology, assisting physicians to correct the strabismus of “cross-eyed” children. During the summer of 1956, Karen’s sorority sister, Mary Ann Clark, who was dating Richard DeGowin’s University High School classmate, Reverend Stephen Hulme, arranged for Karen and Dick to meet on a blind date. In Chicago, on 15 March 1957, Karen and Dick announced their engagement to marry. They visited Jan and Ernie in Decorah and were driving to Iowa City to spend Sunday afternoon with Dick’s parents on 17 March 1957, St. Patrick’s Day. Shortly after noon, they were nearly killed when a drunk (0.300 blood alcohol) driver crossed the center line, crashed into and totaled their car in front of the Catholic Church in Ossian, Iowa. Instead of marrying in Bond Chapel at the University of Chicago in September, they married in front of the fireplace of Dick’s parents’ home in Iowa City before a small gathering of friends and family members on 30 June 1957, a modest affair, resulting in a union of almost 60 years. After a week’s honeymoon at the Drake Hotel in Chicago, Karen returned to finish her training in Iowa City, and Dick began his clerkship as a junior medical student at the University of Chicago Hospitals and Clinics.
After summer’s separation, Karen and Dick moved into a one bedroom apartment in a racially integrated Chicago Dwelling Association building across the Midway Plaisance from the University of Chicago Hospitals and Clinics. Karen’s salary as an Orthoptist, from working in the Eye Clinic there, paid rent and bought groceries when Dick’s Intern stipend was $150 per month. Requiring a second bedroom for their first son Bob’s arrival on 5 November 1962, the family moved to an apartment in Brainerd in South Chicago. Shortly thereafter, Dick was commissioned Captain in the US Army Medical Corps, and they moved again. Following Dick’s discharge from two years’ active duty in the Army, the family bought their first house at 10331 South Leavitt, in the Beverly Hills neighborhood of Chicago when Dick served as Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine, Hematology, at the University of Chicago. After 3 ½ years, the family moved to Iowa City, when Dick accepted a position on 1 December 1968 as Associate Professor of Medicine, Hematology, and Radiation Research.
In addition to caring for his family, Bill was born 3 April 1970, Karen enjoyed good times with friends, playing tennis, playing bridge, attending PEO, and working with Delta Gamma Alumnae at vision screening of elementary school children. She delighted in reuniting with brother, Mark Piper, whom she first met as a toddler, the child of her father’s and his third wife. Since then Mark and his wife, Cheryl, have become cherished family members.
Karen started volunteering on 1 January 1973, several months after the inauguration of the Volunteer Services program at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, compiling 6,020 on-site hours during the next 43 years. She loved people, answering the volunteer’s telephone, and enticed little patients to acquire sock monkeys knitted by other volunteers. With Bill and Dick, she enjoyed house-boating with friends in the Upper Mississippi Wildlife Refuge, camping on sandbars and viewing, from her cottage on a bluff, the Mississippi River Valley. Her easy smile and upbeat spirit made many friends in Northeast Iowa, enduring for 45 years until her death.
Karen’s family thanks Internist, Dr. Rebecca Davis, Gynecologic Oncologist, Dr. David P. Bender and his staff, Neurologist, Dr. Joel Geerling, Immunologist, Dr. Zuhair Ballas, and the nurses at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics for providing excellent personal care. After her discharge to Oaknoll’s Short Stay Unit, Karen received outstanding care from nurses Mitchell, Scott, Mary Jo, and Madrene, and nursing assistants Jessica and Ash Lynn, and others, including physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech therapists. Later, she greatly benefitted from care by the nurses and volunteers of Iowa City Hospice, working with the Oaknoll Staff to ensure her comfort.
Please join her husband, Richard; son, Bill and his wife, Carrie; grandchildren, Thomas and Emily; and Karen’s brother, Mark and his wife, Cheryl in services celebrating Karen’s life to be held at 11:00 am Saturday, April 29, 2017 in the Spring Street Community Room of Oaknoll Retirement Residence in Iowa City. In lieu of flowers, those who wish to contribute to Karen’s memory may send donations to the University of Iowa Volunteer Services, in care of the University of Iowa Foundation. To share a thought, memory or condolence with her family please go to the funeral home website @ www.gayandciha.com. Gay & Ciha Funeral and Cremation Service is caring for her family and arrangements.