Jerry Conley Obituary

Jerry  Conley
Jerry Conley
Jerry Conley

June 25, 1931 - December 17, 2020
Born in Fort Dodge, Iowa
Resided in Des Moines, Iowa
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Des Moines - Did you hear about the funeral home hairstylist? He had a real brush with death.

Longtime Des Moines educator, volunteer, and insufferable punster, Dr. Gerald (Jerry) Leo Conley graduated from earth suddenly, peacefully, and grinning from ear-to-ear on December 17, 2020. He was 89.

Jerry will be formally conferred with his cosmic degree starting Thursday, August 26, 5-7 p.m., when family will greet friends at Iles Funeral Home-Westover Chapel. Conferral will resume at 10:30 a.m. Friday, August 27 in Bucksbaum Auditorium at Caspe Terrace (33158 Ute Avenue, Waukee) where family will host a meal at 11 a.m. Those attending are encouraged to wear Drake University, Tech or Roosevelt High School colors and jeans ‒ no suits, ties, or black. The service will be livestreamed on the Iles website. Go to at 10:15 am Friday and scroll to the bottom of Jerry's obituary to join in the service.

An Irish twin and the second son of Leo B. and Loretta C. (Rieman) Conley, Jerry was born June 25, 1931 in Fort Dodge. Known during his life as Jer, Ike, and J.C., he spent his childhood in Waverly learning the importance of living within one’s means, giving back, and simply appreciating each day. Favorite pastimes included summers on his grandparents’ farm near Alta, soap box derbies, swimming, golf, Dalmatians, and of course, talking. Said of him at the time ‒ “Jerry is a humorous lad with plenty to say ‒ he likes to talk and does it all day.”

Do you know a sailor who likes to tell puns? Yes, but I try not to anchor-age him.

Upon graduating from Waverly High School, Jerry longed to see the world and enlisted in the U.S. Navy ‒ days before the start of the Korean Conflict. Shortly before he was to be deployed, Jerry was spied by naval brass practicing his jump shot and soon found himself “drafted” to play basketball. First based in Honolulu and later in Villefranche-sur-mer (France), Jerry cruised the Pacific, Caribbean, and Mediterranean for several years, playing exhibition games at military hospitals and for local audiences, including two (losing) matchups with the famed Harlem Globetrotters.

While on a brief break from the Navy, Jerry met and quickly grew accustomed to the face of Mary Katherine (Mary Kay) Cunningham, a pretty, auburn-haired Drake coed. The two had an instant rapport, sharing interests in American history, literature, Broadway musicals, crosswords, dogs, and of course, travel. After a whirlwind courtship, they married on January 5, 1957.

What can principals say to comfort their school’s grammar teachers? There, their, they’re.

Following his discharge from the Navy, Jerry enrolled at Drake, eventually earning four degrees there. In the fall of 1963, he was hired by the Des Moines Public Schools, where he served as a teacher (1963- 1968) and vice principal (1968-1970) at Tech High; principal (1970-1976) at Irving Junior High; principal (1976-1980) at Hoyt Middle School; and principal (1980-1994) at Roosevelt High School.

Steadfastly dedicated to the field of education, its practitioners, and students, Jerry received numerous honors throughout his career. However, his proudest moments were welcoming primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall at her public lecture at Roosevelt in 1985 and being nicknamed “Guy Smiley” by Roosevelt students who saw his resemblance to the Muppet character. Known for his cheerful and helpful nature and signature, ever-present smile, Jerry delighted in getting to know staff, students, and their families.

He always enjoyed seeing and visiting with former staff and students and had an uncanny knack of remembering names and personal stories decades later.

In his “retirement,” Jerry served as interim principal at several metro schools before taking the role of interim director of Adult & Community Education, a six-week assignment he held for 10 years before finally “retiring” at 80.

A lifelong fitness and well-being enthusiast, Jerry coached several metro basketball teams throughout the 1960s. He later took up meditation, long distance running, and cycling in his 40s, winning numerous road races. In his 60s, he gave up running in favor of long walks and weight-training which he continued up until the day before his death.

I volunteer with an organization that builds homes for large sea creatures ‒ it’s called habitat for huge manatees.

A consummate volunteer, Jerry was an active member of Golden K Kiwanis and chaired their annual pancake breakfast for several years. He logged hundreds of hours over 20+ years counseling seniors each week on health insurance through SHIIP, receiving two Governor’s Volunteer awards for his service. After retiring from SHIIP, he continued his legacy of giving back as a patient and family escort at Unity Point Methodist Medical Center.

Despite his many solo activities, Jerry’s favorite pursuits were those he shared with Mary Kay for 59 years. Whether solving New York Times crossword puzzles, reading for their book clubs, entertaining, attending plays or lectures, they cherished their time together. They especially enjoyed their extensive travels (often with their son in tow) throughout the U.S., Europe, and South America. Favorite destinations included any U.S. presidential museum, Washington, D.C., Taos, N.M., New Orleans, Hawaii, Ireland, Spain, and Argentina.

Those counting Jerry’s memory as a blessing are his (now departed) brother, David Conley, of Omaha; sister, Monica (John) Klug of Palmetto, FL; son, Mark John (Elias Rincon Aguilar) of Windsor Heights; bonus granddaughter, Luisa Rincon Guerrero of West Des Moines; brother-in-law, John Cunningham of Winterset; sister-in-law, Carol Conley of Texas; and many nieces and nephews. He was preceded in life by his parents; brother Robert; his wife and fellow traveler Mary Kay; sister-in-law Rose Conley; two nieces; several beloved dogs; and one grumpy cat.

Friends may remember Jerry by supporting the Animal Rescue League of Iowa, the Iowa Weimaraner Rescue, or by simply doing something kind and unexpected for someone in need.

At last, Jerry has finally urned his place in heaven.






Memorial Visitation
Iles Westover Chapel
6337 Hickman Road
Des Moines, IA US 50322
Thursday, August 26, 2021
5:00 PM - 7:00 PM
Celebration of Life
Bucksbaum Auditorium at Caspe Terrace
33158 Ute Avenue
Waukee, IA US 50263
Friday, August 27, 2021
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Animal Rescue League Of Iowa
5452 NE 22nd Street
Des Moines, IA 50313
Iowa Weimaraner Rescue
4349 NW Urbandale Drive
Urbandale, Iowa United States 50322