By Brooklyn Draisey
Dottie Ray was a humanitarian, trailblazer, radio-show host, and the first female editor-in-chief of The Daily Iowan, and this week is dedicated to appreciating her life and accomplishments.
Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity, the DI, and the University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication hosted “She Built the Future: Dottie Ray Appreciation Week” to honor Ray and how she contributed to the community.
Stay Tuned: The Dottie Ray Story, a documentary of Ray’s life, was shown with a panel discussion on Tuesday. The panel included former DI Publisher Bill Casey, Roy Justis, who used to open for Ray’s radio show, and Amy Kanellis, Dottie’s daughter.
“The Dottie Ray Show” ran for 55 years, had more than 20,000 guests, and captivated thousands of people for 15 minutes, five days a week. She conducted the show from her own home, and treated interviewees like normal house-guests, Kanellis said. If there was someone on the show multiple times, Ray would remember the smallest details, because she really cared about what they had to talk about.
“She would remember your story and pick up where you left off,” Kanellis said.
Ray would always have coffee to share, and really facilitated an atmosphere that made every person feel like what they had to say was important, she said. The literal hominess made the show feel less like an interview, and more like two friends catching up.
“She had a way of just being able to make you talk,” Casey said.
He and Ray used to meet with the editors of the DI, Casey said, and the students were always inspired by her life and accomplishments, especially the girls. Ray became the editor-in-chief of the DI in 1942 and also led the first all-female staff.
She was also deeply involved in nonprofit work, and her and a group of women worked to establish organizations such as Goodwill and the Ronald McDonald House here in Iowa City. The documentary talked about how her first daughter, Jennifer Louise Ray, and her needs for special care due to her illness revealed to Ray what the community was lacking along those terms.
Habitat for Humanity is also hosting a Woman’s Build to honor Ray, on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Ray is the first honoree at this build, that the organization is hoping to make annual.
“It’s just really neat how we’re all so bonded as a community … Dottie helped us realize that, how we’re all so connected,” Habitat for Humanity volunteer coordinator Cherie Cool-Rudd said.
The house is located on Pinto Lane and is the 34th to be rehabilitated or built in this neighborhood. Some 250 hours of labor, or “sweat equity,” is required to qualify for a home, and Samantha Jo Kinden, the person receiving the home, has logged over 400, while working a full-time job and taking care of two children.
Ray left a legacy that will never be forgotten, Justis said, and she taught and still teaches him how to listen and really care about other people.
“She was the one that taught me to bring out the positive in other people,” he said.