A Colorful History

Mary Greeley’s Community Relations director shares the surprising tale of how long-lost stained glass windows from the Greeley mausoleum were discovered.

By Steve Sullivan

Tim Fass


A history of the stained glass
window can be found on its frame.
Tim Faas of Story City next to
the restored window that
once hung in the Greeley
mausoleum. Faas and his late
father, Donald, played
important roles in the window’s
history. Inside the Greeley mausoleum,
where light is once again streaming
through a colorful window.

Interior of the Greeley Mausoleum

Visit Mary Greeley’s new main lobby and you may notice a stained glass window on display. You might even take a moment to read the brief history of the window that is attached to its frame.

Here’s the thing though: There’s a much bigger story behind all that colorful glass and how it came to be in the lobby. It’s a twist-filled saga involving a century-old mausoleum in the Ames cemetery, a former Story City plumber, and a pile of raccoon poop.

It’s also a story about a hospital honoring the legacy of its founders, and a son’s promise to his dying father.

RESTING PLACE

Capt. Wallace Greeley was a Civil War officer who settled in Ames with his wife, Mary, and became a successful businessman and community leader. After Mary died in 1914, Capt. Greeley was inspired to build a hospital named in her honor and give it to the city of Ames. Mary Greeley Medical Center began treating patients in December 1916.

At the same time the hospital was under construction, Capt. Greeley was having a mausoleum erected in the Ames cemetery. The mausoleum was completed in 1915. Capt. Greeley died in 1917. He and Mary and Mary’s parents are interred in the mausoleum.

Two identical, brightly colored stained glass windows were originally installed in the mausoleum. At some point the windows were damaged and, as decades passed, forgotten. The spaces they once occupied were covered with metal panels.

The Greeleys were originally from New York and had no surviving family in the Ames area. Subsequently, nobody paid much attention to the mausoleum. At least they didn’t until 2013.

CHANCE ENCOUNTER

In early 2013, a Story City plumber named Tim Faas was doing a job at the home of Mike Ness, a since retired administrator at Mary Greeley. Tim asked Mike where he worked and Mike said, “Mary Greeley Medical Center.” Tim’s reply: “I have a window that belongs to you.”

We now need to jump back in time to the late 1970s, when a supervisor at the Ames cemetery gave a badly damaged stained glass window from the Greeley mausoleum to Tim’s dad Donald. Tim remembers the day well.

“We went out to the mausoleum and collected the pieces off the floor,” says Tim, who now teaches at the Des Moines Area Community College. “The frame was folded in two and there was glass everywhere. It had been broken for many years.”

Tim’s dad taught industrial arts for more than three decades at Ames High School, where he also taught an adult education course on stained glass.

“He was a collector and had a lot of artistic skill. He did some incredible things with stained glass,” says Tim fondly. “He even made windows for his hometown church in Millersburg, Iowa.”

Donald was always juggling multiple projects and never got to the Greeley window repair project. In 2009, he was diagnosed with leukemia. He and Tim went through all his projects, eventually coming across the box that contained the pieces of the damaged window. Tim promised his dad he would take care of that window. Donald died in July 2009.

After hearing the story from Mike Ness, I contacted Tim and made tentative plans to pick up the window sometime. Before I had a chance to that, though, Tim turned over the window to Kevin Hershey at Hershey Studio near Fairfield, Iowa. Hershey was an old friend of Donald’s and a talented stained glass window restorer.

He did an artful job bringing the mausoleum window back to life, and estimated that it had been created in the early 1900s. About 50 percent of the window’s original pieces were intact, 25 percent were broken and in need of repair, and 25 percent had to be replaced with replica glass.

ANOTHER DISCOVERY

In late 2014, knowing the hospital would soon celebrate its centennial, I decided the Greeleys’ final resting place could use some tender loving care. The interior walls of the structure were originally covered with large slabs of marble that had fallen off over the
years. Working with cemetery staff, we opted to remove the damaged marble, as well as rebuild a marble bench that was originally in the mausoleum. While visiting the
mausoleum, I noticed a significant pile of animal droppings in one corner and requested that it be cleaned up. Apparently critters had once gotten in there. While they didn’t disturb any remains, they did make a mess.

I visited again a few weeks later. The marble slabs had been cleaned, as had the animal droppings. I glanced at the floor and a flash of green caught my eye. It turned out to be a piece of glass, covered in years of grime. A quick wipe revealed it to be a piece of stained glass. The second mausoleum window had been found. It obviously had fallen from its frame and landed inside the mausoleum, eventually to be covered with raccoon poop.

I carefully salvaged the frame and glass pieces. It was a dirty job but I took comfort in the fact that I worked at a place with a lot of hand sanitizer. After hosing off the window at a local carwash, I contacted Kevin Hershey to let him know we had another job for him.

In April 2016, Mary Greeley opened its brand new main lobby and the first stained glass window was put on display.

“It is beautiful to see hanging there,” says Tim. “I didn’t know if I would ever see it put back together again.”The second window is on permanent loan to the Ames Public Library. It hangs in a second floor meeting room and is visible from the street. It’s a fitting location as the Greeleys donated the land for the original library building at 6th Street and Douglas Avenue.

Simply restoring the old windows wasn’t enough, though. Working with SignPro and Orning Glass in Ames, we created replicas of the original windows which were installed at the Greeley Mausoleum.

Light is once again streaming into the final resting place of Capt. Wallace and Mary Greeley, filtered through a colorful window.