Grace  Ester Eckley
Grace Ester Eckley

November 30, 1932 - May 4, 2024
Born in Alliance, Ohio
Resided in Des Moines, Iowa
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Grace Ester Eckley of Des Moines, Iowa, passed peacefully on May 4, 2024. Grace was a daughter of Clyde L. and Wilma Agnes (Hahn) Williamson. She was born on November 30, 1932, in Alliance, Ohio, and grew up in a truly American-style poor rural household of two parents and five children. She burst those bonds in a big way.

Grace was the first in her family to attend college, graduating in 1955 from Mount Union University, in Alliance, Ohio, with a Bachelor of Arts degree. Mount Union is where she met her lifelong partner and teaching and traveling companion, Wilton (Bill) Eckley (1929-2017). They were married in 1954 and remained happily married until Bill’s death in 2017. She received a Master of Arts degree from Case Western Reserve University in 1964, and a Doctor of Philosophy from Kent State University in 1970.

The family’s early years included stays in Cleveland, Ohio, New Haven, Connecticut, and Hollins College, Virginia. Grace, Bill, and their three sons Doug, Steve, and Tim, moved to Des Moines in 1965, when Bill began teaching at Drake University and Grace began teaching English at Simpson College. Grace soon joined Bill at Drake University and then enjoyed an outstanding career as professor in the English Department from 1968-1984, retiring as Professor Emeritus. Subsequently she did not slow down, working full time on her research and writing until late in life, publishing her last book at age 84.
Grace was an extraordinary academic researcher and became a renowned scholar of the Irish author James Joyce and expert on the amazing life and times of Victorian journalist W.T. Stead (1849-1912). Grace published nine books of literary criticism and history, including:

The Encryption of Finnegans Wake Resolved: W.T. Stead (2017)
Maiden Tribute: A Life of W.T. Stead (2007)
The Steadfast Finnegans Wake: A Textbook (1994)
The Steadfast James Joyce: A Social Context for the Early Joyce (1997)
Children’s Lore in Finnegans Wake (1985)
Finley Peter Dunne (1981)
Narrator and Character in Finnegans Wake (1975)
Edna O’Brien (1974)
Benedict Kiely (1972)

Grace’s groundbreaking link of James Joyce (author) and W.T. Stead (philosopher, journalist, and character inspiration) provided new insights into Joyce’s notoriously difficult writing and provided a comprehensive narrative structure to Finnegans Wake. The linkage was a significant development for Joyce scholars, lifting the veil from some of the issues that have long confounded them. Grace also published the scholarly periodical NewsStead: A Journal of History and Literature from 1992-2004. In addition to her book-length works, she published countless academic articles in journals and magazines covering myriad topics including mythology, spiritualism, science fiction, literary criticism, and many more.

Much of Grace’s academic output occurred while she was teaching full time at the university level and raising three boys. Grace and Bill instilled a love of travel, academia, and sports in their boys and gave them much freedom to flourish in their own chosen ways.

In the early 1980s Grace and Bill moved to Golden, Colorado, when Bill took a position with the Colorado School of Mines. Grace loved the mountains and enjoyed skiing, snowshoeing, and picnics in Genesee Park. She continued teaching as an adjunct Professor at Red Rocks Community College, and spent a year with Bill in Ankara, Turkey, (1991-1992), both teaching at Bilkent University. She was a fellow with the National Endowment for Humanities.
Fond memories of Grace include her love of animals who seemed to gravitate to her, taking the family on picnics in Walnut Woods in Des Moines and later in the mountains of Colorado, and grading students’ papers while attending Drake men’s basketball games with Bill and her sons during the glory years of 1965-1975.

Grace was small in stature but could be very formidable. In her late 50s she took up gymnastics. At age 71, with no training or preparation, she insisted on joining her sons on a camping trip deep into the Amazon jungle in Peru, during which she convinced a native Shaman to let her try Ayahuasca. At age 86 she traveled to Manchester, England, for a conference on psychic energy.

Grace is survived by her three sons: Douglas (married to Fran), Stephen (married to Dawn), and Timothy (married to Erika); her grandchildren: Brian, Nevan, Jennifer (married to Alvaro), David (married to Anna), and Gregory; and her great grandchildren: Everett (son of David and Anna) and Celeste (daughter of Jennifer and Alvaro).

Interment of cremains will be next to Bill in Moultrie Cemetery, near Alliance, Ohio.

The family wishes to extend special thanks to the staff at Calvin Community for their loving care of Grace during the last several years of her life.




Funeral Home
Iles Dunn's Chapel
2121 Grand Ave.
Des Moines, IA US 50312