Elaine Bland Baxter of Burlington, who helped blaze a trail for women in Iowa state politics, died March 26, following a brief illness, at Great River Hospice House in West Burlington. Elaine was born on January 16, 1933 in Chicago, IL. She was the daughter of Clarence and Margaret Bland. On October 2, 1954 she married Harry Youngs Baxter of Burlington in Oak Park, IL. Harry preceded her in death in 2013, following 58 years of marriage. Elaine received a B.A. in International Affairs from the University of Illinois in 1954 and an M.S. in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Iowa in 1978. She also received graduate training at the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government.
Following graduation from the University of Illinois, Elaine and Harry resided in San Francisco, CA for three years and then moved to Burlington. Under the guidance of her mother-in-law Kate, Elaine embraced Burlington, its history and its families. Kate and Ray Baxter encouraged Elaine’s involvement with the local Democratic party. This led to many years of volunteer work and ultimately public office. In 1973, Elaine became the first woman elected to the Burlington City Council, serving 2 terms. During this time, she initiated the effort to save and restore the Port of Burlington building and, in 1976, served as Chairperson of Burlington Steamboat Days.
After completing graduate school, she was appointed as a Congressional Liaison at the Department of Housing and Urban Development in Washington, DC. In 1980, she returned to Burlington and was elected to the Iowa House of Representatives for the 60th District (1983-‘86.) She subsequently was elected as Iowa’s Secretary of State, serving 2 terms (1986-‘94).
Her statewide appointments included the Iowa Humanities Board, Iowa State Lottery Board, Mississippi River Parkway Commission Board, Iowa Historic Preservation Alliance and Terrace Hill Society Foundation Board.
Elaine was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2006 and quickly became an advocate for improving the quality of life for Parkinson’s patients. For the remainder of her life, she continued to be involved in civic and political activities. In 2016, she was named Outstanding Elected Official by the Iowa Democratic Party. Her other interests included historic preservation and gardening and she took great pleasure in renovating her North Hill home and garden and opening them for others' enjoyment.
Besides her husband, she was preceded in death by her parents and her sister Arlene. She is survived by her 3 children-- Katherine (Kate) Anderson (Art) of Dallas, TX, Harry of Miami Beach, FL and John of New York, NY, her grandchildren, John and Will Anderson of Dallas and two nieces; Karen Varnhagen of San Francisco, CA and Sarah Brown of Coeur d’Alene, ID.
The family wishes to thank Nola DeBerg and her team for their dedicated caregiving over the past several years, which gave Elaine the blessing of continuing to reside at her home.
A memorial service will be held in the summer, followed by a reception at the family home.
The celebration of life service for Elaine will be 3:00 PM Friday, June 25 at First United Methodist Church, 421 Washington St., Burlington, Iowa 52601. A reception will follow the service. The service will be live streamed for those unable to attend; to watch, go to: www.umcburl.org and click on button for YouTube channel at bottom right of screen.
Memorials can be made to the Des Moines County Historical Society, 501 N. 4th St., Burlington, 52601 or Great River Parkinson’s Disease Support Group c/o Great River Health Fitness Center, 1401 Agency Rd., West Burlington, 52655.