William Robert Underhill
June 10, 1920 - February 10, 2023

William  Robert Underhill

William Robert Underhill
Jun 10, 1920 - Feb 10, 2023

William  Robert Underhill
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William Robert Underhill, beloved husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather -- as well as distinguished scholar, professor, and author -- passed away on Friday, February 10, 2023, at 4:10 AM. He was 102.
A veteran of World War II and the Korean conflict, Robert earned the Distinguished Flying Cross for his service and went on to become a noted professor at Iowa State University, where he taught for over forty years. Underhill wrote numerous scholarly articles on public addresses, the Cold War, and presidential communication, as well as the highly regarded historical studies The Truman Persuasions (1981), The Bully Pulpit (1988), FDR and Harry (1996), and Alone Among Friends (1999). He retired from Iowa State in 1986 as Emeritus Professor of English and Speech.
Born on June 10, 1920, in Van Buren, Indiana, to Marie Anderson and Tonie Underhill, Robert Underhill grew up in central Indiana with his three brothers, Richard, Edwin, and David. Underhill wrote fondly of his and his brothers' love of baseball, fishing, and the outdoors, and "Bob," as he was known to friends and family, always spoke proudly of his older brother Dick's time with the St. Louis Cardinals organization.
Underhill received his Bachelor's Degree in English from Manchester College, and, after a brief stint as a salesman, joined the army in July of 1941. Underhill became an instructor at bombardier and navigation schools in the Southwest, then was deployed overseas in early 1944. As a radar and aerial bombardment specialist, Underhill flew fifty combat missions with the 15th Air Force, including campaigns over Rome, the North Apennines, Southern France, and the Balkans. During what was to be his 50th and final bombing mission, Underhill's B-17 was shot down over western Germany. A local Polish family, the Bandolacs, sheltered Underhill and his fellow airmen from the Nazi forces in the area before the crew eventually escaped to Russia. Underhill wrote about the experience in the novel I'll See You Again, published in 2002.
After returning home, Underhill married Margaret Phelps, a "Chicago Girl" whom he had met while on leave. In 1945, the newlyweds moved to Phelps' home in Chicago, and, from there, Underhill commuted to Northwestern University in Evanston where he earned his M.S. and Ph.D. After a short time teaching at Northwestern, Underhill accepted a position at Iowa State University in 1947, where he remained for the next forty years. The Underhill's had two daughters, Susan and Sandra, in 1948 and 1951, respectively, who both carried forward the Underhill legacy of teaching and writing in their careers. In addition to his scholarly articles, Underhill wrote twenty books, including six biographies, three novels, a collection of essays on recent American presidents, and an informal history of 1941-1945. His book FDR and Harry compared Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman, noting the irony that the wealthy Roosevelt became best known for his social programs and that Truman, who came from modest circumstances in the Middle West, achieved his greatest success in foreign affairs.

Underhill's affiliation with the university fostered a lifelong devotion to Cyclone athletics, and he was a regular at both football and basketball games for over seventy years in Ames. Underhill was preceded in death by his wife of fifty-eight years, Margaret, and his younger daughter Sandra Lee Kruger. He is survived by his daughter Susan and his son-in-law Kenneth, as well as his grandchildren Joss, Travis, and Caity, and his great-grandchildren Willa, Malcolm, Justina, Sylvie, and Decca.
Bob's family would like to thank the staff of Green Hills Health Care unit for the loving care they provided for our father and grandfather.
A visitation will be held on Wednesday, February 15th, from 4-6:00 P.M. at the Grandon Funeral Home, 414 Lincoln Way, in Ames. Funeral service will be held on Thursday, February 16th, at 10:30 A.M. at the First United Methodist Church, 516 Kellogg St., Ames. The service will be followed by burial with military honors in the ISU cemetery, 2637 Pammel Drive.
Memorial contributions may be directed to the ISU Theatre Excellence Fund in care of the Iowa State University Foundation, 2505 University Boulevard, Ames, IA 50010.
Online condolences may be directed to,

Donald Good on Feb 16, 2023

Dear Susan and family, I have many fond memories of our Roosevelt School neighborhood and the friendship of Travis and Brian remains close to this day. I had many great conversations with Bob at AG&CC and they resurfaced at his regular dental checkup appointments with Lori Grant and me. Special patients and friends are always a welcome bright spot in a busy schedule. On behalf of Brian and the rest of my family we send our sincere condolences.
Donald L. Good DDS. (Don)

Linda Vogtlin on Feb 15, 2023

So many fond memories of times from years ago. God bless you as you go through this difficult time.
Linda Fiscus Vogtlin

Mary Ingvoldstad on Feb 15, 2023

What a magnificent life! Susan, your dad was so brilliant and so beloved and respected. He will be missed, of course, but he certainly made the world a better place during his time here. Thinking of you... Mary Ingvoldstad

Leslie Johnson on Feb 13, 2023

Dear Susan, I am sorry to hear this. What an interesting and long life he lived! I loved his writing. I am hopeful your wonderful memories will bring you peace. Sincere condolences, Leslie Orr Boylan Johnson



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Grandon Funeral and Cremation Care
414 Lincoln Way
Ames, IA 50010
4:00 PM - 6:00 PM


First United Methodist Church
516 Kellogg Ave
Ames, Iowa 50010
10:30 AM

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