C. Esco Obermann

Many years of loyalty and devotion to The University of Iowa​

The Obermann Center for Advanced Studies is named in honor of University of Iowa Professor Emeritus C. Esco Obermann and his wife Avalon L. Obermann for their generous financial commitments, their tremendous enthusiasm for interdisciplinary endeavors, and their many years of loyalty and devotion to The University of Iowa.

picture of C. Esco Obermann speaking at an event

Esco Obermann was born July 31, 1904, in Yarmouth, Iowa. Avalon Florence Law was born June 24, 1904, in Texas but grew up in Washington, Iowa. The couple met in the fall of 1922 after each of them had begun classes at The University of Iowa. Years later, Esco described their meeting: “On the day that [I] met her, [I] saw so much beauty and warmth and intelligence and character in her, it is reported that [I] confided to [my] college roommate, ‘I am going to marry that girl.’”

The two were soon engaged, but due to the Depression they weren’t able to marry until 1929. Avalon had graduated from The University of Iowa in 1925 and taught high school music for several years. Esco received three degrees from The University of Iowa: a B.A. in political science in 1926, an M.Ed. in 1931, and a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and speech pathology in 1938. While a student at Iowa, Dr. Obermann was an outstanding gymnast (pictured below, fourth from right, with the UI gymnastics team) and a member of the Hawkeye yearbook staff. 

Dr. Obermann’s career as a psychologist and rehabilitation counselor began in 1928, when he was named chief of vocational education for the Rochester, Minnesota, schools. After earning his doctoral degree and holding a research fellowship at The University of Iowa from 1938 to 1940, he served in the U.S. Air Force from 1940 to 1946. He then joined the U.S. Veterans Administration in Minneapolis and served as director of rehabilitation from 1946 to 1960. He directed the St. Paul Rehabilitation Center from 1960 to 1963; worked for two years as an associate professor of Psychology at Iowa Wesleyan College in Mt. Pleasant; and was named associate professor in Counselor Education at The University of Iowa in 1968. He left the UI in 1970 to become a rehabilitation consultant in Wisconsin, and in 1977 became an adjunct professor for Mankato State University. The couple had a country home in Afton, Minnesota in their latter years. Avalon passed away in 1992, and Dr. Obermann remained active in consulting until his death in 1999.

picture of C. Esco Obermann on the college gymnastics team

An active alumnus, Obermann chaired his Class Gift committee and became a Presidents Club member in 1975. In the mid-seventies, he and President Sandy Boyd and Vice President D. C. Spriestersbach discussed the idea of an institute that would encourage the exchange of ideas among researchers from many disciplines and institutions. That idea was formalized as University House in 1978 and then, nurtured by generous funding from Esco and Avalon Obermann (who donated part of the sale of their estate) and from the Vice President for Research, grew into The University of Iowa Center for Advanced Studies in 1990. In 1993, with great ceremony and celebration, it was renamed the C. Esco and Avalon L. Obermann Center for Advanced Studies. 

Esco’s financial commitment to the Obermann Center was extraordinary but no more so than his intellectual commitment to interdisciplinary and collaborative scholarship. Esco was able to see his dream realized in the creation of the Obermann Center and then, just recently, in the Provost’s identifying interdisciplinary research as a major UI strategic goal.

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