Tribute planned for Dr. Deborah Turner

CATEGORIES: March 2024, Voices

Head-and-shoulders photo of Dr. Deborah Turner
Dr. Deborah Turner
Fundraising is underway for a new Legacy of Heroines scholarship to honor the late Dr. Deborah Turner—20th president of the League of Women Voters of the United States, 2024 Mary Louise Smith Chair in Women and Politics, and Iowa State University alumna.

Turner was scheduled to present the 2024 Mary Louise Smith Chair lecture at Iowa State on Feb. 13, “Visionary Activism: How To Get From Here to There,” but passed away unexpectedly on Jan 28.

“We were deeply saddened to learn of Dr. Turner’s untimely death. She is an inspiration to all who knew her,” said Karen M. Kedrowski, director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women in Politics, which hosts the annual event.

Dianne Bystrom, director emerita of the Catt Center, is spearheading the campaign to create the scholarship, which will be named for Turner. The scholarship will be part of the center’s Legacy of Heroines program, which provides scholarships to Iowa State students who seek involvement in and knowledge about gender and politics, the political process, public service and women’s leadership.

Legacy of Heroines scholarship recipients participate in mentoring and leadership development programs through the Catt Center. In addition to presenting the Mary Louise Smith lecture in spring 2024, Turner was scheduled to meet with the current group of Legacy of Heroines scholars.

“Dr. Turner loved Iowa State University. She was married at the Alumni Center in August 2022 and the family held her visitation and celebration of life in the Memorial Union in February 2024,” Bystrom said. “In attending those events, I—and others—were inspired to create a scholarship in her honor at her alma mater and through a center named for the founder of the national League of Women Voters.”

If you would like to contribute to the Dr. Deborah Turner Legacy of Heroines Scholarship fund, please email the Catt Center at with your pledge amount by June 30. Once sufficient pledges are received, donors will be able to contribute directly to the ISU Foundation.

In consultation with the family, Bystrom said the Turner scholarship will include preferences for an undergraduate student majoring in political science or pre-medicine with a demonstrated financial need.

A fearless advocate for voting rights and women’s rights, Turner devoted her life’s work to influencing meaningful changes in the lives of voters across the nation. As the 20th president of the 104-year-old voting rights organization, she played a pivotal role in fighting for a more fair and representative union while uplifting racial equity in the League’s mission work.

Turner first joined the LWV of Metro Des Moines in 2010 and became its president in 2011. She also served on the LWV of Iowa board as the state vice president from 2011 to 2015, becoming co-president in 2015. Turner was elected to the League’s national board of directors in 2016, served on its finance and governance committees, and chaired its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee.

In 2016, Turner became a member of the LWV of Greater Omaha when she moved to Omaha to serve as associate medical director for Planned Parenthood North Central States. While a member of LWVGO, she was elected national president of the LWVUS in 2020 and re-elected in 2022. Turner moved back to Des Moines in 2022 after retiring from her position with Planned Parenthood.

Bystrom, who retired from ISU in August 2018, has been a friend and colleague of Turner since 2012 through their mutual ties with ISU and the League of Women Voters in Iowa and Nebraska.