Robert Houser Obituary

Robert N. Houser
Robert N. Houser
Robert N. Houser

September 21, 1919 - March 2, 2007
Born in Bloomfield, Iowa
Resided in Des Moines, IA
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Robert “Bob” Norman Houser, 87, passed away on March 2, of natural causes at the Trinity Center of Luther Park in Des Moines. Visitation will be held Monday, March 5, from 5 to 8 p.m. at Olivet Baptist Church in Des Moines. A memorial service is planned for Tuesday, March 6, at 11 a.m. at Union Park Baptist Church in Des Moines.

Bob was born September 21, 1919, in Bloomfield, Iowa to Venna and Charles Bart Houser. He graduated in 1936 from East High School in Des Moines, soon after joining The Bankers Life Company. Bob married his beloved wife Doris (Miller) in 1943. Bob received his B.A. degree in mathematics from the University of Iowa, graduating summa cum laude in 1947.

Bob served his country in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II as a First Lieutenant and was recalled for ten months during the Korean Conflict. As a navigator with the Eighth Air Force in Europe, he flew 35 missions, received the Air Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

He spent his entire professional career at The Banker’s Life Company, today known as the Principal Financial Group. Starting in the mailroom, he worked his way to president (1973-1975), president and CEO (1975-1982), chairman and CEO (1982-1984) and chairman (1984-1989). During Bob’s tenure, the company grew from 300 to 3, 300 employees. His leadership impacted the company, the insurance industry, and the city of Des Moines in ways that are still felt today.

After Bob’s retirement from The Principal in 1984, he continued to serve the community by becoming president of Des Moines Development Corporation. In this role, his only objective was to stimulate the city’s development. His efforts fueled a billion dollar construction boom that included the development of the downtown skywalk system, Polk County Convention Center, the Kaleidoscope, Capitol Square, The Civic Center of Greater Des Moines and Nollen Plaza, the Iowa State Historical Building and the construction of several Principal Financial Group buildings, including 801 Grand.

He was enthusiastically involved in numerous industry and community organizations throughout his life, including serving on the boards of Bethel College & Seminary, Mercy Hospital Medical Center, Drake University, Iowa College Foundation, United Way of Central Iowa, Civic Center of Greater Des Moines, Iowa Venture Capital Fund, Community Focus, Inc., Greater Des Moines Convention & Visitors Bureau, Greater Des Moines Chamber of Commerce Federation, Golden Circle Development Corporation, The United Way Foundation, the Iowa affiliate of the American Heart Association, Des Moines Convention Center, Salisbury House Foundation, the Iowa Historical Museum Foundation and the Des Moines Business & Education Roundtable. An avid racing fan, he served as president for The Greater Des Moines Ruan Grand Prix, which was developed and launched through his leadership.

Bob was a Fellow of the Society of Actuaries, a member of the American Academy of Actuaries and past president of the Actuaries Club of Des Moines. He served on various actuarial and industry boards and committees, including the American Council of Life Insurance and the Health Insurance Association of America. He served as chairman of two state legislative tax study committees. In retirement he served as national treasurer for the 306th Bomb Group Association and as vice-chair guided the efforts to build the World War Two Memorial on the grounds of the state capitol.

In tribute for his work in the insurance industry and the city of Des Moines, Bob received numerous awards and honors. He was twice awarded keys to the city for his work on its behalf, once in 1984 and again in honor of his 80th birthday in 1999. He was awarded both the Distinguished Alumni Award and Iowa Business Leadership Award from his alma mater the University of Iowa. He held an honorary Doctor of Laws from Drake University and the Presidential Distinguished Medal of Honor from Bethel University. In addition, he was named to the Greater Des Moines Committee’s Iowa Business Hall of Fame in 1988 and the Iowa Insurance Hall of Fame. He also received the Alexis de Tocqueville Award from the United Way of Central Iowa, which recognizes “dedication and contributions which advance our knowledge and practice of the principles of individual liberty as the foundation of free, prosperous and humane societies.”

Throughout his successful career, Bob’s family and faith were his top priorities. He was an active member of Union Park Baptist church and served over the years in a number of leadership roles on the local, state, and national level of the Baptist General Conference. He was instrumental in founding and building Pine Lake Christian Camp in Eldora.

Bob never left his home state, becoming a fixture in the Des Moines and Beaverdale communities for more than thirty years. His dedication to the community, family and friends has left a legacy that won’t be soon forgotten. He lived by example, encouraging others to grow and to risk, to make changes, to make the world better, and, more importantly to enjoy life and have fun along the way.

Bob is survived by his wife, Doris; two children Ted (Jan) Houser and Judy Gray (Jules); daughter-in-law Kathy Houser; six grandchildren; and two brothers, Charles Houser of Livermore, California and Bill Houser of Waverly, Iowa. Bob was preceded in death by his son Jim Houser, who passed away in July 2005. Bob is also preceded in death by one sister and one brother.

Memorial contributions may be directed to the Pine Lake Christian Camp Game Cabin fund or the East High Alumni Association.


Click here to view memorial folder




Olivet Baptist Church
2743 - 82nd Place
Urbandale, IA US 50322
Monday, March 5, 2007
5:00 PM - 8:00 PM
Union Park Baptist Church
821 Arthur Avenue
Des Moines, IA US 50316
Tuesday, March 6, 2007
11:00 AM


East High School Alumni Association
815 East 13th Street
Des Moines, IA US 50316