IAGenWeb.org Iowa in the Great War


Hon. Ralph Powers


HON. RALPH POWERS, judge of the Municipal Court of Des Moines, has the distinction of being the youngest man to sit in this court, and as its judge he is proving his ability and his knowledge of the law, and at the same time administrating justice impartially to all classes. He was born at Chariton, Iowa, March 20, 1894, a son of Fred and Zora (Holmes) Powers, both of whom were born at Chariton. They are now residents of Des Moines, and highly regarded by their fellow citizens.

For many years the father worked as an iron smelter. He and his wife had eight children born to them, of whom Judge Powers is the eldest. The parents are active members of the Church of Christ, and he is an honored brother in the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. As a Republican he is a well known figure in politics. The Powers family is a pioneer one in Iowa, in which state the grandparents, W. C. and Emily (Blair) Powers, came before it was admitted to the Union, from Ohio where both had been born. They had a strange experience on their trip to their new home. While crossing the Mississippi River on a ferry boat the wagon fell off the ferry, but the horses swam to shore, dragging the wagon behind them, so that the loss was small one.

It is a difficult matter for the present generation to understand the dangers and hardships of the pioneer period, because all of those conditions have passed with the progress along all lines and the settlement of the country. Where once there were but a few huts, today are either large commercial communities or well cultivated farms, and in view of this extraordinary progress one cannot but admire the intelligence, zeal and perseverance of the ones who blazed the way for succeeding generations. Existence on what was the frontier when the grandparents of Judge Powers came to Iowa was full of the tragedy of Indian warfare, but this has been softened by peace and religion. In that struggle of the pioneers, when man pitted himself against primeval forest and aboriginal inhabitant, the strongest types of manhood and womanhood were evolved. W. C. Powers and his wife settled at Eddyville, Iowa, and there for a number of years he managed a lumber company, and in spite of his hard work and tireless energy, lived to be eighty-four years of age, and the grandmother lived to reach the same venerable age. The maternal grandparents of Judge Powers, W. S. and Eliza (Shutt) Holmes, natives of Southern Ohio, moved to Iowa at a very early day and settled at Chariton, where he engaged in farming. His death occurred from cancer when he was seventy-seven years old. Of the twelve children born to him and his wife eleven are living.

Judge Powers attended the public schools of Ottumwa, Iowa, and was graduated from Drake University in 1917, with the degree of Bachelor of Laws, and immediately thereafter entered upon the practice of his profession at Des Moines, and his success is all the more remarkable from the fact that he has made his own way in life, having worked his way through both high school and the university.

On August 27, 1917, Judge Powers enlisted for service in the World war, and went to the Officers Training Camp at Fort Snelling, where he remained for ninety days, after which he was assigned to the Fortieth Infantry at Fort Sheridan, Illinois, where he continued until in February, 1918, at which time he was transferred to the Camp Stanley, Texas. In August of that same year he was sent to Camp Perry, Ohio, where he remained for thirty days, after which he was transferred to Camp Travis, Texas, and placed in the Fifty-third Field Artillery and kept at that point until early in November, when he entered the School of Fire, Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where he remained for ninety days, after which he was sent back to Camp Travis. Through all of these changes he held the rank of a second lieutenant. In February, 1919, he was honorably discharged, and returned to his law practice at Des Moines in April, 1920. From 1923 to 1925 he was captain of the local company of the Iowa National Guard, and he has taken an active part in the American Legion. Under Vernon R. Seeberger he served as assistant state's attorney for four years, and then, March 26, 1928, he was elected judge of the Municipal Court of Des Moines, which office he is still holding.

On January 18, 1924, Judge Powers married Miss Helen Sheely, who was born at Des Moines and educated in its high school. She is a daughter of Jesse and Josephine E. (Wheeler) Sheely, members of pioneer families of Iowa. Mr. Sheely served as a soldier in the Civil war, and by occupation was a bridge builder, having constructed some of the first bridges in Iowa and Nebraska. Judge and Mrs. Powers are both active members of the Christian Church. He is a Scottish-Rite Mason in fraternal connections, and a Republican politically. His associates recognize the fact that Judge Powers possesses a brilliant intellectuality, is clear and cool in judgment, and has a fine discriminating ability, which admirable qualities result in giving to his official life a direction that is wise and beneficial along many lines of usefulness.

~ source: A Narrative History of The People of Iowa, Edgar Rubey Harlan, LL. B., A. M., Chicago and New York, 1931

~ transcribed and contributed by:  Debbie  Clough Gerischer, Iowa History Project