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Evelyn Birkby

July 31, 1919 February 7, 2021
Evelyn Birkby
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Obituary for Evelyn Birkby

Evelyn Mae Corrie Birkby passed away February 7, 2021, at the age of 101. A longtime Sidney resident, she was known throughout Iowa and much of the nation as an author, radio broadcaster, and speaker. Her subject was the richness of life in small towns and on farms as told through stories about her family, neighbors, and community.

She was born in Springfield, Illinois, in 1919, the daughter of Carl and Mae (Dragoo) Corrie. The family moved to Sidney in 1935 where her father served as minister of the Sidney United Methodist Church. Evelyn graduated from Sidney High School in 1936. She followed her sister Ruth to study at Simpson College, then taught grade school for several years before becoming director of youth programs at the First Methodist Church in downtown Chicago. With evening coursework at Central Y College and the University of Chicago, she completed a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

In 1946, Evelyn returned to Iowa and married Sidney native Robert Birkby. The long driveway to their farmhouse lent its name to Up a Country Lane, her weekly newspaper column that appeared without fail for seventy years in The Valley News Today (formerly The Shenandoah Evening Sentinel), arguably the longest running column in journalism history.

A signature of every column was a recipe. Evelyn’s son Craig remembers that when his mother was testing recipes, the family never saw the same dish twice. “If it was good, she put it in her column and moved on,” he said. “If it was a disaster, you could go get a bowl of breakfast food out of the cupboard.”

Her radio career also spanned seven decades, broadcasting with station KMA in Shenandoah and with the Kitchen Klatter program syndicated across the Midwest. Evelyn wrote a dozen books including Neighboring on the Air, documenting the history of Shenandoah’s radio homemakers. Up a Country Lane is her account of life on a family farm in the mid-20th century. Both volumes were published by the University of Iowa Press.

She is survived by three sons and two grandchildren. Bob and his partner Claudeen Lyle live in Seattle, as do Craig, his wife Sharon, and their children, Nick (24) and Amanda (16). Jeff lives in Missoula, Montana. Daughter Dulcie Jean died after a short illness when she was five. Evelyn shared much about her family with readers and listeners, both the joys and the sorrows. Her message was always that of hope, of caring, and the optimistic belief that “Today is going to be a good day!”

Evelyn was deeply involved with the Methodist Church and the Fremont County Historical Society. Governor Ray appointed her to the 1976 Bicentennial Commission and to the state judicial review board. She was a frequent baking judge at the Iowa State Fair, noting that after tasting eighty delicious cookie entries in a row, she just started looking for the best pattern of chocolate chips.

Her popularity and contributions were recognized nationally with a long profile in New Yorker magazine and an appearance on the NBC Today Show. Her story is told in The Iowa Public Television documentary Iowa’s Radio Homemakers: Up a Country Lane. Novelist Fannie Flagg transformed Evelyn into a character named Neighbor Dorothy, a radio homemaker who broadcast daily from a microphone on her kitchen table. Evelyn’s name is etched in a place of honor in the rotunda of the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates in Des Moines.
Due to Covid-19 guidelines, there will be private family graveside services at this time in the Sidney, IA Cemetery. A celebration of Evelyn’s life will be scheduled for this spring or summer when it is safe for people to gather with the day and time to be announced. In lieu of flowers, donations may be directed to the Fremont County Historical Society. The Crawford-Marshall Funeral Chapel in Sidney, IA is in charge of arrangements.

To send flowers or plant a tree in memory of Evelyn Birkby, visit the Tribute Store.

Cemetery Details

Location

Sidney Cemetery Final Resting Place

Foote Street and East Street
Sidney, IA 51652

Foote Street and East Street Sidney 51652 IA
United States

Memorial Contribution

Fremont County Historical Society

609 Cass St.
Sidney, IA 51652
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