A Narrative History
The People of Iowa
SPECIAL TREATMENT OF THEIR CHIEF ENTERPRISES IN
EDUCATION, RELIGION, VALOR, INDUSTRY,
EDGAR RUBEY HARLAN, LL. B., A. M.
Curator of the
Historical, Memorial and Art Department of Iowa
THE AMERICAN HISTORICAL SOCIETY, Inc.
Chicago and New York
HON. RALPH POWERS, judge of the Municipal Court of Des Moines, has the
distinction of being the youngest man to sit in this court, and as its judge he is
proving his ability and his knowledge of the law, and at the same time
administrating justice impartially to all classes. He was born at Chariton, Iowa,
March 20, 1894, a son of Fred and Zora (Holmes) Powers, both of whom were
born at Chariton. They are now residents of Des Moines, and highly regarded by
their fellow citizens.
For many years the father worked as an iron smelter. He and his wife had
eight children born to them, of whom Judge Powers is the eldest. The parents
are active members of the Church of Christ, and he is an honored brother in the
Independent Order of Odd Fellows. As a Republican he is a well known figure
in politics. The Powers family is a pioneer one in Iowa, in which state the
grandparents, W. C. and Emily (Blair) Powers, came before it was admitted to
the Union, from Ohio where both had been born. They had a strange experience
on their trip to their new home. While crossing the Mississippi River on a
ferry boat the wagon fell off the ferry, but the horses swam to shore,
dragging the wagon behind them, so that the loss was small one.
It is a difficult matter for the present generation to understand the
dangers and hardships of the pioneer period, because all of those conditions have
passed with the progress along all lines and the settlement of the country.
Where once there were but a few huts, today are either large commercial
communities or well cultivated farms, and in view of this extraordinary progress one
cannot but admire the intelligence, zeal and perseverance of the ones who
blazed the way for succeeding generations. Existence on what was the frontier
when the grandparents of Judge Powers came to Iowa was full of the tragedy of
Indian warfare, but this has been softened by peace and religion. In that
struggle of the pioneers, when man pitted himself against primeval forest and
aboriginal inhabitant, the strongest types of manhood and womanhood were
evolved. W. C. Powers and his wife settled at Eddyville, Iowa, and there for a
number of years he managed a lumber company, and in spite of his hard work and
tireless energy, lived to be eighty-four years of age, and the grandmother
lived to reach the same venerable age. The maternal grandparents of Judge
Powers, W. S. and Eliza (Shutt) Holmes, natives of Southern Ohio, moved to Iowa
at a very early day and settled at Chariton, where he engaged in farming. His
death occurred from cancer when he was seventy-seven years old. Of the
twelve children born to him and his wife eleven are living.
Judge Powers attended the public schools of Ottumwa, Iowa, and was graduated
from Drake University in 1917, with the degree of Bachelor of Laws, and
immediately thereafter entered upon the practice of his profession at Des Moines,
and his success is all the more remarkable from the fact that he has made
his own way in life, having worked his way through both high school and the
On August 27, 1917, Judge Powers enlisted for service in the World war, and
went to the Officers Training Camp at Fort Snelling, where he remained for
ninety days, after which he was assigned to the Fortieth Infantry at Fort
Sheridan, Illinois, where he continued until in February, 1918, at which time he
was transferred to the Camp Stanley, Texas. In August of that same year he
was sent to Camp Perry, Ohio, where he remained for thirty days, after which he
was transferred to Camp Travis, Texas, and placed in the Fifty-third Field
Artillery and kept at that point until early in November, when he entered the
School of Fire, Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where he remained for ninety days, after
which he was sent back to Camp Travis. Through all of these changes he held
the rank of a second lieutenant. In February, 1919, he was honorably
discharged, and returned to his law practice at Des Moines in April, 1920. From
1923 to 1925 he was captain of the local company of the Iowa National Guard, and
he has taken an active part in the American Legion. Under Vernon R.
Seeberger he served as assistant state's attorney for four years, and then, March
26, 1928, he was elected judge of the Municipal Court of Des Moines, which
office he is still holding.
On January 18, 1924, Judge Powers married Miss Helen Sheely, who was born at
Des Moines and educated in its high school. She is a daughter of Jesse and
Josephine E. (Wheeler) Sheely, members of pioneer families of Iowa. Mr.
Sheely served as a soldier in the Civil war, and by occupation was a bridge
builder, having constructed some of the first bridges in Iowa and Nebraska. Judge
and Mrs. Powers are both active members of the Christian Church. He is a
Scottish-Rite Mason in fraternal connections, and a Republican politically. His
associates recognize the fact that Judge Powers possesses a brilliant
intellectuality, is clear and cool in judgment, and has a fine discriminating
ability, which admirable qualities result in giving to his official life a
direction that is wise and beneficial along many lines of usefulness.
Debbie Clough Gerischer
Iowa History Project
Scott County, Iowa
**************One site keeps you connected to all your email: AOL Mail,
Gmail, and Yahoo Mail. Try it now.