Ervalene Curtis Brown: 1898-2002
A photo of Ervalene taken by Fourth Wall after her 1993 interview for Villisca: Living With a Mystery.
November 4, 2002
Our dear friend Ervalene Curtis Brown died today at 5:00 a.m. At 104, her long rich life began in the 19th century and ended in the 21st. In the nine years since we first met her she has touched our lives deeply. We would like to encourage everyone to keep Ervalene's daughter Marcia, and the rest of her family, in your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.
If you'd like to leave your thoughts and memories at the e.mail address below, we will post them on this page as a memorial.
Kelly and Tammy Rundle--Los Angeles, California
Burial of cremains: Thursday, November 7, 2002.
Memorial Service: Scottish Rite Penthouse. Lunch following.
Ervalene Curtis Brown, 104, of Scottish Rite Park died
there of multiple system failure Monday, November 4, 2002. Her body was cremated, and
memorial services were held on November 7th in the penthouse at Scottish Rite Park.
Private family burial of the cremains were at Glendale Cemetery.
Mrs. Brown was born in Villisca and had lived in Des Moines since 1922. She was a homemaker and a member of Plymouth Congregational Church, Des Moines Women's Club, PEO Chapter GA, Adeline Club, Chauncy DePew Club, Order of the Eastern Star Acanthus Chapter, and Kiwanis Ladies. She was one of the first women to graduate from the University of Iowa and was a former member of Weavers Guild and a former member and judge of Violet Club. She had been a world traveler and enjoyed weaving, gardening and photography. She was also an avid and skilled bridge player.
She is survived by a daughter, Marcia Hostetler, and a son, William, both of Des Moines; five grandchildren; eight great-grandchildren; and six great-great-grandchildren. She was preceded in death by her husband, Leo R.
Memorial contributions may be made to her church, Scottish Rite Park or Animal Rescue League of Iowa Inc. Dunn's Funeral Home handled the arrangements.
A brief article about her appeared in the Villisca Review a few years ago and is still available on the Villisca Historic Commission's website for some time at:
A pictorial feature on the development of artwork to depict a search of Curtis Family barn appears on this website at:
You can find a more recent photo of Ervalene on this page:
My mother would be so pleased with your honoring her with this web page. She dearly loved you and was so proud of the documentary. After her 1993 interview she became able to discuss openly the events of June 1912 and the impact on her parents, sister, friends, and self. Never before had she been able to verbalize the real horror and fear they felt. She met life and each new event with joy, enthusiasm, and generosity. She met the inevitable adversities with patience and dignity.
Marcia Hostetler (Ervalene's daughter)--Des Moines, Iowa
What a wonderful woman she was. Without even knowing her, I just loved the picture of her as a little girl in the Villisca Review. I think often of the last time I saw her in Villisca. (I forget what year, but I think she was over 100) We were at the D&D eating lunch and she and Marcia came in. We stood inside and talked with her for 15-20 minutes and then stood outside for another 10-15 minutes. She was so bright and intelligent....we enjoyed her reminicences, she was a contemporary of Tom's aunts, Sylvia and Verna. We marveled at how she could stand and talk for so long. She was also pleased about how beautiful the hanging flower baskets along the streets looked and I remember that we stood by one for a picture. I am pleased that I had the opportunity to spend time with this remarkable woman.
Susie Enarson--Villisca, Iowa
There are certain people we are priviledged to meet that significantly impact and influence us--in fact, they make us better. You were both [Kelly and Tammy] the fortunate recipients of Ervalene's insightfulness and wisdom. And because you recognized and respected her genuineness, you were able to capture on film the sparkling passion she had for life. Including Ervalene in your film is a tribute to her, but it's perhaps even more of a gift to your viewers.
Rita Weighill--Parkville, Missouri
We received an email tonight, and in the subject line was one word: ERVALENE. We knew before opening the message that 104-year-old Ervalene Curtis Brown had passed away. "She had a good week last week," her daughter wrote, and felt well enough to enjoy an afternoon drive on Des Moines' thoroughfares to take in the yellows and reds of autumn.
Autumn: one of the things we miss most, since moving to Los
Angeles from the Midwest. It conjures up cool crisp air, images of streets
strewn with acorns, and amber leaves pressed with a warm iron between sheets of waxed
paper. It was a brisk October day in 1993 when we first met Ervalene. We
couldn't know then, the impact she would have on our lives, and that her memories and
photographs would crystallize Villisca's story for us.
At that time we were in the beginning stages of developing our documentary, Villisca: Living with a Mystery. We visited Villisca, Iowa for the first time during that summer. We met the town's leadership, did a preliminary interview with historian Dr. Edgar Epperly, and began poring over his research materials and newspaper accounts of the 1912 axe murders of the six-member Moore family and their house guests, Lena and Ina Stillinger.
We found ourselves in Ervalene's apartment on a brilliant autumn day of that year. She was 95, slender in stature, poised in a periwinkle blue dress, her snow-white hair combed perfectly in place, and ready for her close-up. We fiddled with the placement of lights, arranged a lamp just so, and carefully positioned a small framed photograph of her parents. Far from being impatient, our fussing over details was consistent with the way she had pursued her own photography hobby. Her grandfather was a professional and she was initially inspired by his studio technique and heirloom results.
As she sat patiently underneath the hot lights, hands resting in her lap, the camera finally began to roll. She closed her eyes and began, "It was a cloudy, humid day. If it sprinkled, it didn't rain I know." Ervalene's memories of her native Villisca, her family's friendship with the Josiah Moore family, and the effects of their murders on her parents, her father's business, and the town in which she spent much of her childhood began to unfold, reluctantly at first. Through her eyes and vivid reminiscences, turn-of-the-century Villisca came to life. And what occurred in June 1912, and the events that followed, became more clear and tragic.
We grew to know Ervalene as a refreshingly candid and brilliant woman; a surrogate grandmother; a link to the past and what can be learned from it.
We last saw her in June of this year in a small theater at the Scottish Rite Park-Health Care Center in Des Moines. Along with 50 of her family, friends, and acquaintances we viewed the fine-cut of the documentary in which she shared her personal reflections, sharp wit, and memorable photographs from her family's collection. Those who have seen the various screenings of Villisca throughout the country these past few months have been touched by her, and their comments confirm that her memories brought a 90-year-old event to life--just as they did for us nine years ago. She reminds us that tragedy should not be taken lightly. It is a real event, even if it happened many years ago and those who were lost should be remembered honorably and respectfully.
Autumn: red maple trees, glowing pumpkins, Indian corn, and lovely Ervalene in periwinkle blue.
Kelly and Tammy Rundle--Los Angeles, California
Ervalene seated on her mother's knee.
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