Hazel May Beck Andre made quite an impact at Iowa State as a student and later as the wife of the Dean of Agriculture. Although her life was cut short by pancreatic cancer, she touched millions of Americans with her reflective article, “My Last, Wonderful Days,” which appeared in newspapers and magazines across the country, including Reader’s Digest, The Farm Journal, and the Boston Globe.
Beck was born near Kellerton, Iowa, and attended school in Ottumwa, where she graduated as valedictorian of her class in 1929. Her fall semester at school coincided with the beginning of the Great Depression. As a member of a family of seven, Beck had to support herself through school, working in the Office of the Dean of Science and serving as a dormitory counselor. Despite the hard times, Beck was known for her involvement and boldness.
Her classmate Grace Raffety later remembered, “One of the fondest memories I have is of the start of spring quarter—all the girls appeared in white sport shoes and cotton dresses—no matter if snow were a foot deep on the paths. If Hazel Beck did it—we all did!”
Beck’s activities on campus included several student publications, Science Women’s Club, Social Council, YWCA cabinet, Theta Sigma Phi, Journalism Professional Society for Women, President of Chi Delta Phi—a literary society, the Jack-O’Lantern—the sophomore honorary society for women, Mortar Board, Women’s Honorary Society, and Phi Kappa Phi.
She graduated with a B.S. in Biology in 1933 and received the Julia McCulloch Smith Award of $25 for the highest scholarship achieved by any senior woman during her undergraduate days. She had the highest grade average for seven consecutive quarters
Upon graduation, Beck took an editorial position at Iowa State Collegiate Press and was managing editor from 1936 to1938. She also held the position of Secretary of the Division of Industrial Science from 1933 to 1936.
In 1935, Beck married fellow Iowa State graduate Floyd Andre, an entomologist. When Floyd got a job with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 1938, the couple moved to Washington, D.C. Hazel did some cataloging work for the USDA, but soon after their arrival the first child was born. Two more followed in 1941 and 1943, all while the family lived in the nation’s capital.
The family moved back to Ames when Dr. Andre was offered the position of Dean of Agriculture in 1949. They lived in the Farm House, which had operated as a Home Management House the year before.
Hazel devoted herself and her family to community endeavors, just as she had as an undergraduate. She was involved in the College YWCA Advisory Board, Ames Campfire Board, Iowa State College Faculty Women’s Club, American Association of University Women, League of Women Voters, Iowa Ornithological Union, Collegiate Presbyterian Church, Mortar Board Alumnae and Theta Sigma Phi. She loved “anything outdoors,” especially Girl Scout activities, fishing and seeking song-birds.
In 1955, Hazel learned she was sick and that her time was limited. She spent the next year consciously cherishing the time with her family and trying to make special memories for her children and to make sure they knew her values and philosophies.
She gave her children advice like, “I’d rather see you flunk than cheat,” and, “Some day you might lose all your money and all your friends, but if you can enjoy the outdoors you can still enjoy life.”
When her health started to decline more rapidly, Hazel wrote an article entitled “My Last, Wonderful Days.” It expressed gratitude for the time on earth she had been given and offered words of comfort to others by stating that terminal illness was an opportunity to enjoy every moment and every encounter with family and friends. The article reached a circulation of over 17 million.
Hazel died shortly after the article was published, but her legacy at Iowa State remains through her intrepid spirit and the Hazel Beck Andre Scholarship for Journalism students, which still exists today.