Caroline Dieterle

Caroline M. Dieterle

1937 - 2023

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Obituary of Caroline M. Dieterle

Caroline Dieterle passed away after a sudden cardiac event in her home on the morning of August 10, 2023. She had just returned the previous evening from a joyful summer holiday with all her children and grandchildren by the shores of Lake Superior and Lake Michigan, places she dearly loved. It was a beautiful sunny day; her treasured garden was in full bloom, and she planned to spend the morning refilling her birdfeeders and harvesting vegetables for the food bank. There was so much more work left for her to do, not only in her garden but also for the many organizations she supported and to which she belonged. Her bereaved family is struggling to come to terms with this sudden loss; she was their lighthouse, their unwavering beacon of love.

Caroline’s absence also leaves a void in the lives of those she touched through her compassion, generosity, and indefatigable advocacy for the causes she believed in. Although Caroline was known for the courage of her convictions, she was ever playful at heart.

Caroline was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan on November 1, 1937, the first child of Dr. Robert R. Dieterle and Jennie Van Akkeren Dieterle. She grew up on a small farm in Washtenaw County and attended a one-room school through 6th grade. She credited her childhood spent outdoors, playing in the woods and waters around her home, for her love of nature and fierce devotion to protecting the natural environment. Caroline graduated from Ann Arbor High School in 1955. She then attended the University of Michigan, where she graduated with distinction in 1959, earning a bachelor’s degree in botany. Caroline married Robert W. Embree, a fellow botanist, in 1959, and together the couple moved to California for graduate school at UC Berkeley. There, Caroline was the recipient of a National Science Foundation fellowship and received a master’s degree in Botany in 1962. Following graduation, Caroline and Robert spent 2 years in England before returning to Berkeley and starting their family. After their first daughter, Emily, was born, Caroline and Robert moved to Providence, Rhode Island where Robert accepted a faculty position at Brown University. Caroline and Robert served as house parents in a women’s dorm at Pembroke College, and welcomed their second daughter, Anna. In the summer of 1967 Caroline and Robert returned to the Midwest, settling in Iowa City, where they welcomed their third daughter, Jennie. This was when Iowans proudly funded public education and the state’s rural landscape and waterways were not ravaged by the monoculture of corporate farms, unregulated hog waste, and Round-Up-Ready-fueled super weeds. Caroline and Robert divorced in 1984 but remained close friends until his death in 2015.

Caroline entered the workforce in 1974, a time when it was very difficult for a woman to find a job. She was first employed as a pharmacy technician at UIHC from 1974 to 1975. She then accepted a position at the Johnson County auditor’s office from 1975 to 1977. In 1977, Caroline began working in the newsroom of the Daily Iowan newspaper and was their proud archivist until technology finally made her job obsolete in 2013. In 1980, Caroline began her other long-term career as an undergraduate academic advisor at the University of Iowa, a job she enjoyed until her retirement in 2006. She specialized in guiding students in STEM, including pre-med, pre-PA, and pre-nursing students. Interacting with students at the DI and Advising Center was a pleasure for her because it helped keep her young at heart. She was dedicated to their success, often going above and beyond to help them achieve their goals. During that time, Caroline also briefly worked as a pre-trial release interviewer at the Johnson County Jail, which was quite a shock for any of her advisees who had been picked up for public intoxication the previous evening. Other jobs Caroline held included taxicab driver, science test question editor for ACT, and teaching associate at the University of Iowa department of botany.

Caroline was known for her political acumen, advocacy, and support for many organizations, including the Iowa Native Plant Society, the ACLU, Seed Savers, the Johnson County Democrats, Emma Goldman Clinic, the New Pioneer Co-op Board, the Community Food Bank, the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center, and the Save Lake Superior Association, among others. Caroline strongly believed in civil rights, democracy, and good citizenship, and she lived out these values every day. She questioned authority, spoke truth to power, and built coalitions for change. Notably, she worked tirelessly to establish the Iowa City Citizens Police Review Board after the murder of Eric Shaw, a childhood friend of her daughters, by an Iowa City police officer. Caroline spoke her mind plainly and did not tolerate lies or liars. She had strong opinions, but she was also flexible enough to change her mind when presented with compelling evidence.

Those who knew Caroline will remember her as a good listener, a skillful editor, a kind-hearted friend, a meticulous record keeper and minute-taker, an environmentalist, an intellectual, a newspaper columnist, and a photographer. She was highly analytical and loved a good puzzle, completing the NY Times Crossword every day. She was always supportive of, and sympathetic to, those she cared about, and she was fiercely protective of those whom she loved.

Caroline was practical and economical in all things and believed one could do any job with the right tools. She was also ahead of her time; she maintained an organic, biodiverse, pollinator friendly back yard garden for over 50 years. Caroline lived courageously and selflessly for others and will be deeply missed by many.

Caroline leaves behind her daughters, Emily Caroline Embree, Anna A. Embree, and Jennie L. Embree (David A. Johnson) and her three grandchildren, Anneke Caroline Johnson, Donovan S. Johnson, and August H. Johnson, and her beloved “adopted” daughter Laura D. Routh. The family requests that those who wish to express sympathy consider making a donation of time or money to the Iowa Native Plant Society, the Community Food Bank, the Save Lake Superior Association, or any organization fighting for LGBTQ+ and reproductive rights. The family thanks the Iowa City Fire Department, EMTs and police officers who responded promptly when she called 911.

 “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” -- Arthur Schopenhauer