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Mary Odell

Mary Odell Obituary
Mary Jane Odell was born in Algona, Iowa on July 28, 1923. She graduated from Algona High School in 1941 and from the University of Iowa in 1945 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in speech and radio. She was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and served as president of her senior class. In 1946 she married Gerald Chinn, a lawyer, with whom she had two children, Bradley and Cristen.
From 1955 to 1967, Mary Jane hosted a variety of radio and television shows for KRNT in Des Moines. Among the "Mary Jane Chinn" show formats was a weekly morning television show and a Friday night talk show. In 1966, Gerald Chinn died.
After marrying John Odell, a marketing consultant, in 1967, Mary Jane moved to Chicago. In 1969 she joined the staff of WSNS-TV as a newscaster. From 1969 until 1975, Mary Jane hosted "The Big Story", a nightly television show on Channel 44. On Channel 32, Mary Jane hosted a weekly program, "Point of View" and on WTTW she hosted public affairs specials for "Prime Time Chicago." Mary Jane was honored for her achievements with two Emmy Awards, one for "The Big Story" in 1972, and the other in 1975 for her interview with Watergate prosecutor Leon Jaworski. She also taught graduate classes in communications at Roosevelt University in Chicago. Mary Jane served on the board of the Chicago Journalism Review and was elected Vice President of the Chicago Television Academy.
In 1975, Mary Jane moved back to Des Moines where she joined the staff of IPBN with a nightly interview show and "Assignment Iowa", a weekly documentary filmed on location throughout the state. Her "Assignment Iowa" segment on Easter Seals Camp Sunnnyside won the National Broadcaster's Award and the National Easter Seal Society Award for "outstanding public service" in 1979.
During her television career, Mary Jane interviewed prominent political figures, actors, musicians and authors, including seven United States presidents, Mrs. Nikita Kruschchev, Dave Brubeck, Eleanor Roosevelt and Louis Armstrong.
In November, 1980, Gov. Robert Ray appointed Mary Jane as Iowa's Secretary of State, only the second woman in Iowa's history to serve on the Executive Council. She was elected in November, 1982 to a four-year term and was widowed for the second time when John Odell died in April, 1984. Mary Jane served as Secretary of State until January, 1987.
In November, 1987, Mary Jane married Ralph Siegler, a marketing consultant. He died in September, 2001.
Mary Jane has been widely recognized for her contributions to broadcasting, television, politics and the community. In 1973 she received the Communicator of the Year Award from the University of Oklahoma, the Hancher-Finkbine Leadership Award from the University of Iowa in 1976, and the George Washington Carver Meritorious Service Award for Community Race Relations from Simpson College, from which she also received an honorary Doctorate in Humanities in 1982. In 1979, Mary Jane was elected to the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame, and in 1988 she received the H.R. Gross Award for Lifetime Contributions to Broadcasting and Public Service. She was president and founder of the Iowa chapter, and national vice-president, of American Women in Radio and Television. Mary Jane served on the executive board of the Iowa Peace Institute, the Rhodes Scholar Committee, was Iowa State Easter Seal Chairman, the Iowa ERA Committee and taught in Drake University's Women's Continuing Education Program.
Mary Jane is survived by her son Bradley of Spokane, Washington, her daughter Cris Douglass (Richard); brother Lewis Neville (Kathleen) of San Antonio, Texas, brother Daniel Neville (Marilyn) of Ankeny, Iowa, and step children Jay Odell of Playa del Rey, California; Maggie Odell of Santa Fe, New Mexico and Laurie Odell of Chicago.
A celebration of Mary Jane's life is planned at the First Unitarian Church, 1800 Bell Avenue in Des Moines, on Wednesday, December 22 at 11 a.m. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to Easter Seal Camp Sunnyside.

Published in Des Moines Register from Dec. 17 to Dec. 19, 2010
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