Photo taken by Fourth Wall just prior to Carolyn's "Villisca" documentary interview in 1994.


September 20, 2002

Our good friend Carolyn Cole-Gage died this morning at 6:55 a.m.  Carolyn was the publisher of the Villisca Review newspaper in Villisca, Iowa where she has been an active and valued member of that community for many years.  As an individual and a newspaperwoman, she has been a significant advocate for the small city in Iowa and beyond.  We have all benefited from her strength, humor, and character.  We would like to encourage everyone to keep her husband, and their families and friends in your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.

You can mail a card or letter to Carolyn's family at:

The Villisca Review
Villisca, Iowa 50864

If you'd like to leave your thoughts or memories at the e.mail address below, we will post them on this page as a memorial (memorials can be found after the obituary below).

Kelly and Tammy Rundle
Fourth Wall Films
Los Angeles, California


Memorial Service

Friday, September 27, 2002--Visitation, Wolfe's Funeral Home 6:00-8:00 p.m.

Saturday, September 28, 2002

10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.--Reception for out-of-town guests in Villisca Community Building (northwest corner of the square)

1:30 .p.m.--Service in Presbyterian Church, 109 South 3rd Avenue, Villisca

After the service, the family will gather in the cemetery for the burial of Carolyn's ashes.

Another reception for out-of-town guests will take place an hour after the funeral at the Community Building.



Carolyn Cole Gage was born in Dallas, Texas to Edward Perine and Edna Lorraine (Gilman) Cole May 13, 1939 and died September 20, 2002 in Red Oak, Iowa. The family moved to Atlantic, Iowa in 1941. Carolyn was a graduate of Atlantic High School and Iowa State University with a B.S. degree in Science and Humanities.

Her 1960 marriage to Gary Harter resulted in the birth of two daughters, Leslie Elizabeth in 1961 and Anne Margaret in 1965. She lived in Quantico, VA, and Twenty Nine Palms U.S. Marine Base, CA as a military wife and then lived briefly in Ames and Des Moines, IA before returning to southwest Iowa and settling in Villisca.

She was united in marriage to Kenneth Gage in 1981.

Carolyn Gage purchased the Villisca Review and Stanton Viking in 1976, becoming its owner and publisher. She was the managing editor for the Bedford Times Press in 1983/1984 and advertising manager for the North Scott Press from 1984 to 1986 and the manager there in 1986/1987. Carolyn was elected to the Iowa Newspaper Association Board of Directors in 1990 and served on the board until 1996 including one year as INA President in 1995. She was the first woman to serve as INA President. In 1999, Carolyn was elected to the Iowa Newspaper Foundation Board of Directors and served until 2001 when she was forced to resign for health reasons. In 1993, she received the top two individual honors bestowed by the INA - the Master Editor-Publisher Award and the Distinguished Service Award. She received the INA's Master Columnist Award in 1990. Carolyn and her newspaper received numerous awards in the INA's better Newspaper Contests, ones for editor, best advertising idea, best news story, best newspaper promotion, best feature story, and plus business. She also served on numerous INA and INF advisory committees over the years. She served on the Board of Directors of the Interstate Newspaper Association and was president of that organization. She was the subject of a PBS documentary on the day in the life of an editor of a rural Iowa weekly newspaper. Carolyn took her responsibility as a newspaper owner seriously but that did not mean the newspaper was serious. She occasionally used the tagline "a community newspaper with a sense of humor."

The Review was an opportunity Carolyn took hold of to encourage young people. A "photo op" for her newspaper was not a raging fire or a stunning arrest of wanted criminals, but a child with an ice cream covered face sleeping on Grandpa's lap at the county fair. She offered young people the chance to learn the skill of working on a newspaper through interning at the Review.

Carolyn was a leader in the local community and in southwest Iowa. She served as co-president of the Villisca Chamber of Commerce and as a member of the Board of Sessions and as an Elder at the Villisca First Presbyterian Church. She was a member of the Stanton Chamber of Commerce. She also taught Sunday School at the First Presbyterian church and taught at the Villisca Interchurch Vacation Bible School as well as being a coordinator one year. She served as Montgomery County representative on the Golden Hills R.C. and D; was on the originating committee for the Wallace Foundation for Research and Development; was vice-president of the Montgomery County Memorial Hospital Foundation Board; was a part of the fund drive for the new facility for the Montgomery County Memorial Hospital; was a board member, executive secretary and was on the board of trustees for the Iowa Chapter Arthritis Foundation; served on the Governor's Selection Board for District Judges; the Villisca Theatre Board; the Rural Economic Development Council; the Planned Parenthood Council; the AEA 14 Advisory Council; the Montgomery County YMCA; and Iowa State University's legislative contact committee. She was a coach for the Villisca High School Odyssey of the Mind team.

She enjoyed reading, cooking, gardening, needlework and crafts. Most of all she loved people! She organized social events at the newspaper office called "Back Room Parties" to bring together people of all ages, from all walks of life and from different communities. They contributed to the fun of life in a small community while offering the chance for "rural networking." She saw the best in people, encouraged the best in them almost to the point of it being a flaw.

Carolyn worked tirelessly to encourage and promote Villisca and Stanton. She loved to quote her father, Edward Cole, who taught his children to "Be a link"; meaning of course to be sure that they uphold their place and duty to society. She learned her lesson well. She helped with numerous fund raising efforts including raising funds for Villisca's Christmas decorations and the Villisca Community Building. One of her last efforts was to raise funds for some landscaping at the new facility for the Villisca Community High School. Carolyn was a co-founder, with mayor Susie Enarson and city clerk Eleanor Brown, of Villisca Heritage Days which initially commemorated the 75th Anniversary of the Villisca Ax Murders. They planned and organized Heritage Days for a number of years. Her creativity in promoting the area ran the gamut from the most serious to the zany. One of the most zany was using Willard the Pig to promote Heritage Days, even taking "Willard" to be photographed with Governor Branstad in his office and using the Review with the Win a Day in Villisca Contest. She was an organizer of the day Ragbrai came through Villisca, publishing a special issue of the Review and organizing a group to distribute it to riders the night before they came through Villisca. She was interviewed by the University of Iowa School of Journalism as a senior journalist for the Iowa Journalists Oral Project. She lobbied state and federal officials for southwest Iowa on a semi-professional level. She was the speaker at a National Honor Society induction ceremony at Stanton High School and was honored at the Stanton Elementary School for her 25 years in the newspaper business, with the Stanton Booster Club giving her a Plaque of Appreciation for the support and coverage of the sports in Stanton.

In 1978 Carolyn received the Governor's Leadership Award; in 1981 she received Ms Magazine's Toys of the Year Award. She received the Service Key Award in appreciation of community service from the Iowa State University Alumni Club of Southwest Iowa; was a recipient of the Governor's Volunteer Award; and the first place Print Media Award from the Iowa Health Care Association. She was made an Honorary 4-H Member in both Montgomery County and Taylor County and was recognized as Loyal Supporter in Adams County in 1989. She was a Grand Marshall of Homecoming; and a Grand Marshall of the Heritage Days Parade. The high school yearbook was dedicated to Carolyn twice.

Carolyn was preceded in death by her parents, Edward and Edna Cole and an older brother, Bill.

She is survived by her husband Kenneth Gage; her daughters Anne Harter and Leslie Harter Ibanez; her sister, Elizabeth Beck, her brother, Jonathan Cole and his wife, Pat; grandchildren Chase and Adriana Ibanez and George, Gilman and Augustus Jonathan Cooper; father and mother-in-law Lyall and Carmeleta (Nickie) Gage; Sister-in-law Karen Taylor and husband Roy; Brother-in-law Kent and wife Mary; 11 nieces, nephews and grandnieces and grandnephews.


Memorial Messages

Carolyn Cole Gage was a link.

She told that her father, Edward Cole always taught his children to "be a link". Meaning of course to be sure that they uphold their place and duty to society, not to be the one who let down and let a project fail, and to serve their fellowman to the best of their ability. She learned her lesson well.

Carolyn could be counted on to always add a fresh outlook and humor to any situation, but also intelligent, well informed input. If you could listen as fast as she could talk, you would get a lot of good information from her. The list of organizations, committees and positions that she has held in her home town of Villisca and in the state of Iowa is a long one. Suffice it to say she has certainly done her share and the share of several other people! She has also been the recipient of many well-deserved honors and awards.

She offered opportunity through her newspaper for young people to learn a skill that could take them to a lifetime occupation, but they had to work at it. She gave them an opportunity, not a gift, she trained them early to learn to carry their share of the responsibility of putting out a weekly paper.

Carolyn knew no social barriers, considered everyone on their own merit. She had no patience for slackers, no matter how important they were supposed to be. No one was exempt from discussion in her weekly newspaper column The Corner.

Encouragement of young people was the most important feature you would notice in her paper. She gave most freely of her time if young people were involved. A "photo op" for her newspaper was not a raging fire or a stunning arrest of wanted criminals, but a child with ice cream-covered face sleeping on Grandpa's lap at the county fair.

She was a link.

--Susie Enarson, Villisca, Iowa


Carolyn Gage was a devoted community supporter at a time when her small town needed every good mind and every good spirit. It is so typically American that a thoughtful, outspoken woman can be at the heart of community life.

She was a credit to her family to her community and to her time in America.

--Bettie McKenzie, Red Oak, Iowa


Not many people in small towns offer their communities the gift of opportunity. Carolyn Gage did that on a most regular basis.

Susie Enarson mentioned the opportunity to young people which held a prominent position in Carolyn's regimen of daily activities.

She also gave the small community the opportunity to digest her thoughts, opinions and ideas. Through her columns and comments in the paper and on the street, the citizens of Villisca and SW Iowa were given the opportunity to mull over her words. If they quickly disagreed, the opportunity was lost. If theytook the time to let the words sink in and interact with their previously held positions, the opportunity for external and internal dialog that engages the learning process was present.

No editor/publisher of a small town newspaper can do more than give their readers the opportunity to question the rationale of long held thought. To change long held beliefs that no longer hold water. To hold dear to those that are still relevant, but still need challenging. Carolyn did that everyday and relished her role.

When I presented the idea of bringing the ax murders out of the closet and on to the lights of the stage, Carolyn was the first to encourage, support and deflect the criticism of those who were the keepers of the darkness inside that closet of secrecy. She was there to reflect on ideas, re-aim the focus, question the motives, engage others in the creative process, and continue the never ending task of creating the opportunity to examine the facts and present their truths.

Villisca, morn. One of your hearts and souls walks new streets today. Asking new questions. Laughing with new friends. Creating new opportunities.

Just one last memory. One of the best parties I have ever been a part of was in the back room of the Review dedicating the renovated bathroom and signing the door. Carolyn created plenty of opportunities for laughter too.

--Larry Brandstetter, Red Oak, Iowa


Carolyn had a rare quality of being able to separate personal opinion and community responsibility.

When I wrote Morning Ran Red, it was not a particularly popular local exercise. But Carolyn recognized it as another step in the Villisca saga. She did not agree with my approach to the story, but she felt it could be part of community progress and, with a great deal of local disagreement, she threw a party and said let's have an open discussion.

Every community needs a Carolyn. And perhaps her memory will help to create another.

--Stephen Bowman, Omaha, Nebraska


A light has gone out in Villisca. With the passing away of Carolyn Cole Gage, the communities of Villisca, Stanton and Nodaway have lost their greatest champion.

Carolyn didn't grow up in any of these towns, but she adopted them as her own, praising the strength, resilience and warmth of the people, promoting the best the towns have to offer and providing opportunities for students through hands-on journalism. I was one of the lucky ones to learn from Carolyn.

Carolyn welcomed the work of student cub reporters and offered more responsibility with time, especially to those of us who expressed an interest in the journalism field. Like any good teacher, she let us learn from experience. When I didn't "get the lesson" and kept asking the same question over and over, a slap on the layout table with the pica pole helped me remember (and yes, today I can tell you how to correctly read the reduction wheel, a tool used in the old days to size photos for publication). I also learned to always put film in the camera, after Carolyn sped off to photograph a fire using a camera I neglected to refill with film after using it.

But despite the lessons I had to learn, Carolyn always believed in me and immersed me in all aspects of production. She gave real experience, putting me ahead of many of my peers in journalism school. Most importantly, that foundation gave me the confidence to pursue my dreams.

Carolyn loved the communities she served and gave to them in many ways. The newspaper pages testify to this. But just think of the many unpublished personal stories the rest of us can tell of how she enriched our lives.

--Kristin Enarson Crouse, Iowa City, Iowa


I got to know Carolyn through her writing several years before we met. Her columns were witty, insightful, and I found myself comparing them (favorably) to the work of Erma Bombeck. But in addition to the laughter they brought, she used the columns as a forum for the encouragement of youth and the betterment of her community.

When we did meet I found her to be a role model for the power of positive thinking, and possessed of a mind that seemed to be in perpetual overdrive. Given an idea her thoughts raced like a pinball in fast forward--if she talked fast it was just her voice trying to keep up. I knew her as kind, thoughtful, loving of her family, her community and her newspaper.

She lived a life that made a difference.

--Roy Marshall, Stanton, Iowa


I met Carolyn through working as part of the Villisca documentary crew in 1994.

In the fall of 1997, I started working at the Clarinda Herald-Journal, but I continued to come to Villisca whenever the Rundles were in town. I remember talking with her and either she or someone else jokingly referred to me as "the competition," and, being one who can't keep his foot out of his mouth for long, I said that I didn't really consider her competition. She laughed and said, "Well, thanks, Adam."

I meant we didn't have the same readership, and even though I later realized that she really knew what I had meant too, I noticed she didn't stop me from trying to dig myself out of the hole I'd created.

I always admired her for continuing to own/run the newspaper when so many (almost all) of the small-town newspapers were being bought out by bigger companies. It allowed her to keep the focus on the community, not the almighty dollar.

My last memory of Carolyn was this past June at the Villisca Axe Murders Commemorative Weekend. I saw her at one of the showings of the documentary. She had to leave before it was finished, but I thought it was great that she got to see some of the film. She will be greatly missed.

--Adam Lawrence, Clarinda, Iowa


Carolyn had courage, love, intelligence, energy, determination, a terrific work ethic, deep and abiding core values that were admirable and a marvelous sense of humor that helped  all her other qualities shine, and which made us all love and respect her even more.  We can all strive to be more like her as the best remembrance for this remarkable woman.

--Mary Brubaker, Des Moines


There are those we encounter in life that impact our vision, perception, and direction.  For us, Carolyn Cole Gage was one of those people.  Her charm, wit, and passion for her community was infectious, and we quickly learned that she was the best of people.

We cannot comprehend Villisca without her. And we are the least of her circle of friends--the sense of loss experienced by those she held most dear must certainly be unbearable.

We decided some time ago to dedicate our documentary film, Villisca: Living With a Mystery, to Carolyn.  She was a constant advocate of us and our film project.   Her pride in and devotion to her community was earnest and wholehearted.  Because she was so protective of the town and how its unusual heritage would be handled, she was the person we sought out to review the script before any film was cut.

We are fortunate enough to see Carolyn every day--beautiful, healthy, and strong.   She flickers to life on the movie screen and leaves an indelible impression on our hearts, just as she did the day we first met her in the summer of 1993. 

As she so often said to us during our most challenging moments, "Mother was just watching out for you."  She still is. How much we will miss her.  How grateful we are to have known her.

--Tammy and Kelly Rundle, Los Angeles


Having known Carolyn was an honor and a privilege. Looking back to the Sunday School days at the Presbyterian Church I always remember that she wanted to make it fun and exciting yet informational. Snacks were always a plus then too.

I got to talk to Carolyn on September 1st and we talked about the usual. Volleyball. Out of the ten minutes I was there, she told me that deciding not to continue with volleyball was just fine, because if I didn't want to than I didn't have to. I liked that about her. She liked to give her opinion though somehow it was always in favor of the person that she was telling it to.

The last thing she told me as I stood up from the chair was, "Anna, you do whatever you want to do and whatever makes you happy.... and tell your mom hi for me."

Never had I known someone with such determination in everything that she did. From lining up students correctly in pictures for the newspaper, to her battle with cancer. I will always look up to her and know that she is up there watching down on each and everyone of us with a smile on her face and maybe a few laughs.

--Anna Wainwright, Villisca, Iowa

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