|Special Collections Department
Clair Heyer (MS-334)
Biography of Clair Heyer
Clair Heyer's roots go back to ancestors in Germany-to-Norway and Scotland-to Ireland but within our memory in1998 we start with--
Great-grandparents Mordecai and Elizabeth Smith immigrated from Ohio to Iowa's Decatur and Clarke counties, then to Ringold county in 1862 where his son William and Will's daughter Daisy were born, near their future hometown of Tingley, Iowa.
Clair's other grandparents, Bernhardt and Anna Heyer, arrived from Norway in 1869, eventually settling at Ridgeway, Missouri. Their sons, John and Fred, came to Tingley in 1901 and established Heyer Brothers general merchandise store in 1903. Their Ridgeway family followed them in 1906-07. John married the above Daisy Smith in 1909, thus consolidating the geneaology of this archival history.
Clair Bernhardt Heyer launched his career in 1910, with a glorious boyhood and loving family, in the small town of Tingley. In 1918 he started his Diary that continued for 800,000 words to his marriage in 1931. In recent years he predicted it would become as famous as Lewis and Clark's chronicle--after a hundred years. With the Web, maybe the time will be reduced? Psychiatrists please note--in his diary, Clair descibes his thoughts as well as actions.
Clair took his first picture in 1920 and ran them into the thousands. It was a family tradition--Uncle Lloyd Smith was the hometown photographer at the turn of the century until 1915; then Mother Daisy started using a box Brownie when Clair arrived. He cannot remember whether he took picture to illustrate his diary, or wrote the diary to explain the pictures.
At age 14 Clair's family moved to Waterloo, Iowa where he graduated from West High School in 1926, then attended Iowa State Teacher's College (now University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls) for two years before following his parents to Freeport, Illinois. He was yearbook staff photographer for both schools.
The daily Freeport Journal-Standard gave Clair his first advertising experience, handling all local display advertising. And here he met and married Hazel Voltmer in 1931.
With savings of $600 and a Ford car, Clair took Hazel back to Cedar Falls where he again enrolled at ISTC. Their money ran out; the Great Depression hit with a crash; and they struggled through 1932-1934 with ideas that flunked, Des Moines winter jobs at six to $15 per week; summers at Tingley with a garden, hamburger-pop stand and $2.50 monthly house rent.
A comedy episode as first advertising manager of the new Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman led to his start in radio, first with station WMT Waterloo, the commercial manager at WCLO, Janesville, Wisconsin and KGBZ, York, Nebraska. With the support of Alex Sherwood, former boss turned radio business consultant, he went on to W9XBY-KXBY, Kansas City; WHBF, Rock Island, Illinois; KGIR, Butte, Montana; and WOC, Davenport, Iowa.
He reversed his role in radio when in 1940 he joined Armour and Company, Chicago as assistant advertising manager and handling all radio, where his station merchandising contest aroused stations and led to Clair publishing Radio Market Guide.
At Armour, he also was assistant to Edward N. Wentworth, director of Armour's Livestock Bureau on producer relations, a prominent alumnus of Iowa State University and author of several books on livestock history. They were behind the scene in the organization of the RFD (Radio Farm Directors Association) and worked on a federal wartime food program.
Also during 1942-1945 Clair was enrolled in the USCG-A(T), a little-known branch of the Coast Guard that accepted older men with children, permitting them to hold their civilian jobs and perform duties on nights and weekends.
In 1946 Clair and Hazel decided to leave the "radio rat race" and located at her hometown of Milledgeville, Illinois where he established and operated a small manufacturing and sales company in steel building products for the next 20 years. He was first to produce picnic table steel frames and legs for homes and parks, soon attaining national distribution through lumber and hardware wholesalers and dealers.
Under a peculiar but logical arrangement during this period, he also was a district manager of American Lumberman trade magazine (1952-1955), handling advertising in seven states.
Hazel, a former teacher, took several college courses to teach Special Education at the Milledgeville school. Her record inspired Clair to resume academic study in 1961, commuting daily to earn his BA at Shimer College (1963) and MA in history at Northern Illinois University (1964) while teaching during graduate work. He also spent one summer of research and study at Norway and Oxford College, England. His area of concentration was demography of the small midwestern town.
After Iowa agencies said he was too old (57) to teach school, Clair joined the staff of Herbert Hoover Presidential Library at West Branch as archivist, then audiovisual marketing director at the University of Iowa until his alleged retirement in 1973 to his hometown of Tingley, Iowa.
Ending 53 years of marriage, Hazel died at Tingley in 1985 after a long illness. Two daughters: Anna Kathryn (now at Tingley) and Emma Kristine.
Great-grandmother Smith's restored home became Clair's study where he constantly worked on his photos and history papers--plus a large orchard and garden. An active Rotarian for 48 years, past-president of his two clubs at Milledgeville, Illinois and West Liberty, Iowa; now a Paul Harris fellow and member of the nearby Lenox club.
All the Heyer family have been active members of the Tingley Christian church and deceased members are buried at the Tingley cemetery.
A new career was launched in 1988 when Clair Heyer and Donna Olney of Thatcher, Arizona were married. Listed in Who's Who of American Women for 1982, Donna taught school for 40 years,12 in her native Michigan and 28 at Morenci, Arizona. She is active on many church, civic and political areas, from Sunday School to the Silver Haired Legislature at Washington, D.C. Tingley remains their principal home, with winters at Donna's Arizona home. A major project in Arizona is Clair's research of the nearby New Mexico Carlisle mine where President Hoover held his first management job--and spent a night in jail.
Clair's genealogy of his Smith family revealed that he and Herbert Hoover are cousins, both descending from John Scott (1654-1700) and Jane Bond (1664-?). And, like his Uncle Doc and Herbert Hoover, Clair smokes a pipe.
Most archival collections, including this one, dwell on the bright side of a career. Clair, however, intends to transcribe the negative elements of his story, the "what-ifs" and unfortunate episodes.
- written by Clair Heyer
Iowa State University Library, Ames, IA 50011
Revised: 23 February 2000.