Elsie Jean Gauley Vega, 94

Elsie Jean Gauley Vega died peacefully in her sleep on August 24, 2022, at Lantern Park in Coralville, Iowa. She was 94 years old and under hospice at the time. She has donated her body to science. There will be a memorial service in celebration of her life to be announced at a later date. Her ashes will be buried at Hillside Cemetery in Sheffield, Iowa with her parents. 


She is survived by one sister, Josephine (Loren) Fletchall; ten great grandchildren; seven grandchildren; and four children: Amy (Don) Jorgensen, Elena (Pat Westhoff) Vega, Eduardo Vega, and Eugenio (Panoula Ioannidou) Vega; numerous nieces and nephews; and countless friends and colleagues.


Elsie was born at home on her family’s farm just north of Sheffield, Iowa, on April 1, 1928, to Emma Hill and Frank Gauley. She was the eighth of ten children. She started school at Geneseo #7, the local one-room school, where she was taught by her older sister, Hazel. She graduated from Sheffield High School in 1946. At Westmar College she majored in English and Philosophy, minored in Religion, Speech, Biology, and Education, and graduated in 1950. 


After graduating, Elsie taught in Iowa. She became Catholic and on June 13, 1953, she married Eduardo Vega, whom she had met at Westmar. They moved to Texas for Eduardo’s studies where their first child was born. After graduation, they moved to Panama where they had three more children and she returned to teaching. 


In 1969 she returned to Iowa and divorced in 1970. She raised her children and taught for several years and then hosted a public access television show in Dubuque in which she interviewed local people and politicians about social justice. In 1980 she moved to Iowa City and worked for the University.


In 1988 she moved to Spearfish, South Dakota to be near her partner (whom she’d met through the Golden Threads pen-pal program for lesbian seniors), and where she returned to the Methodist Church and worked within it for LGBTQ rights and recognition. People loved the rainbow stoles she made for the annual conference of the Methodist Church. During her last years in South Dakota, she came out to her community and in 2007, after almost twenty years in the state, she moved back to Iowa to be closer to family and to continue her activism.


In Iowa City she moved into Ecumenical Towers and began to attend the Full Circle Catholic Faith Community, which she found to be open and accepting.


She became active at the Iowa City Senior Center where she hosted an LGBTQ Movie series and a public access television show called “Neighbors and Friends,” which ran from 2008-2014. The series featured interviews with local clergy and community members and was intended to introduce Iowans to their LGBTQ neighbors and friends. In 2019, because she required more care, she moved into Lantern Park.


Elsie always believed in learning, love, peace, and equality and maintained close relationships with her sisters and brothers. She was a poet, a prolific letter writer (with news clippings galore), a storyteller attuned to sounds, a peace advocate, and a true lover of walks and nature (stemming from her childhood years of walking the cows to pasture and creek).


“My children say that I can turn any topic into a plea for acceptance of global civic responsibility. I don’t deny it. Everything is connected. All life, organic and inorganic, is related. The same ocean of air bathes and revitalizes us all, in wave after wave, day after day, eon after eon.”


The family would like to thank all the wonderful staff of Care Initiatives Hospice, Lantern Park, Iowa City Senior Center, and Ecumenical Towers. Special thanks to Elsie’s great-niece Christina Neve for all her love and attention.


Donations can be made to: Your local LGBTQ rights organization, local library, Iowa City Senior Center, neighborhood gardens, the Nature Conservancy.


Sheffield Press & Pioneer Enterprise

The Sheffield Press
305 Gilman Street
PO Box 36
Sheffield, IA 50475
Phone:  641-456-2585

The Pioneer Enterprise
PO Box 302
Rockwell, IA 50469
Phone:  641.456.2585

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