Remembering civic leader Willie Stevenson Glanton, J.D.

Willie Stevenson Glanton, J.D., an attorney, civic leader and longtime member of the DMU Board of Trustees, died July 6, 2017. She was 95 years old.

“Mrs. Glanton epitomized servant-leadership. She worked tirelessly to open doors for all people,” said Des Moines University President Angela L. Walker Franklin, Ph.D. “Her compassion, advocacy and dedication improved countless lives in central Iowa and beyond.”

In 2004, to honor the Glantons’ leadership, service and commitment to justice and education, DMU established the Luther T. Glanton Jr. and Willie Stevenson Glanton Fund. With donor contributions, the fund provides scholarships for minority students, under-represented in health care, and supports programming that helps all DMU students become more culturally competent health professionals. DMU’s annual Glanton Dinner has since become a signature event that brings together hundreds of people representing civic, business and nonprofit organizations.

Mrs. Glanton was a champion for civil rights for all and a pioneer with many “firsts” in her career. Born in Hot Springs, Arkansas, she was taught to value community service and education by her father, who organized the Negro Civic League in Hot Springs, and her mother, a school teacher. By age 11, she knew she wanted to become a lawyer.

After completing her bachelor’s degree in business education from Tennessee A&I University in Nashville, Mrs. Glanton earned her law degree from the Robert H. Terrell Law School in Washington, DC. There she met her husband, Luther T. Glanton Jr., J.D., who would go on to be appointed Iowa’s first African American district judge. In 1953, after the couple had moved to Des Moines, Iowa, Mrs. Glanton became the second African American woman to be admitted to the Iowa Bar. One year later, she became the first African American woman to become an assistant county attorney in Polk County.

In 1962, the Glantons were sent by the U.S. State Department to Africa and southeast Asia, where she studied legal and civic rights of women. Back in Iowa, she joined the League of Women Voters and became active in Democratic political organizations. Her organizational skills and hard work earned her colleagues’ encouragement to run for office. In 1964, she became the first African American woman to be elected to the Iowa General Assembly.

After a term in the Iowa House, Mrs. Glanton continued to focus on civil rights and women’s rights as a lawyer with the U.S. Small Business Administration. She stayed with the organization until she retired in 1987.

Mrs. Glanton held leadership positions on numerous boards, commissions and councils, and in church, civic and community organizations. Among them was Des Moines University: Judge Glanton was appointed to the DMU Board of Trustees in 1979. When he passed away in 1991, Mrs. Glanton took his place on the board, became its chair in 1999, and served as a member through 2012.

A member of “Who’s Who in America,” Mrs. Glanton was the first woman and first African American to be elected president of the Iowa Chapter, Federal Bar Association. She represented the association in a people-to-people tour of China, Finland and the Soviet Union in 1986.

Her many honors included induction into the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame in 1986; the Legacy Celebration Award for distinguished service as an area and national officer to The Links, Inc., 1993; the Young Women’s Resource Center Visionary Woman Award, 1991; and the Judge Luther T. Glanton Community Service Award for Meritorious Service to the Community at Large, given by Blacks in Government, 1992. The Des Moines Register named her one of the 10 “most influential black Iowans of the 20th century.” In 2010, Mrs. Glanton was part of a small group invited to the White House by President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama for a celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

She is survived by a son, Luther Glanton III of Des Moines, and a granddaughter, Angela Glanton.

A wake will be held on July 14 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., with tributes starting at 5:30 p.m.

The memorial service will start at 11 a.m. on July 15 at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 4114 Allison Ave., followed by burial at McLarens Resthaven Cemetery in West Des Moines.

Memorial gifts in honor of Mrs. Glanton can be made to the DMU Glanton Fund.

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