"Concerned with the General Welfare of the Deaf of Iowa"

Updated  August 3, 2021

Neil & Shirley Mayberry


Neil Dwight Mayberry and Shirley Irene Smith Mayberry passed away in October 2019. Neiland Shirley first met at the Iowa School for the Deaf (ISD). They were married for 71 years and slept in the same bed until the day before Neil passed away. They were devoted to each other and their family throughout their long and productive lives.

Neil was born December 30, 1926 on a farm to Mildred Hunt and Joe Mayberry in Rosalee, Nebraska, the third of four sons. As a young boy, Neil was not allowed to farm with his father and brothers because he was deaf. Instead he worked with his mother tending the vegetable garden that fed the family throughout the year. They communicated by writing notes. Neil often recalled his excitement at seeing other deaf children for the first time when he enrolled in ISD at age six and also sadness at seeing his mother walk away in tears.

Shirley was born August 15, 1926 in Des Moines, Iowa to Golda Coover and Frank Roy Smith, the third child and second daughter of four children. Shirley attended a local oral day school for deaf children until the age of 14 when she enrolled at ISD and met Neil.

After graduating from ISD in 1945, Shirley returned to Des Moines, and Neil moved there too taking a job as an upholsterer, a trade he’d learned in high school. The pay was too small to support a family, so he took a job on the assembly line at the Woods Brothers plant. Neil and Shirley married in 1948. After several years on the assembly line, Neil applied to be a tool anddie maker but was told he didn’t have the math skills, so he took night courses in math at Drake University without an interpreter. His request was denied a second time saying that he was deaf and couldn’t communicate with the machinists. However, the union supported Neil’s argument that he communicated well with his co-workers by writing notes and he became the first Deaf tool and die maker at the Des Moines plant.

To help support their family of three young children, Shirley worked the night shift at an  envelope factory. After teaching herself to type, she got a day job with the US Army as a key     punch operator. When Ford bought and closed the Des Moines plant in 1972, Shirley and Neil moved to Sterling Heights, Michigan where Neil continued to work as a tool and die maker at the Ford plant in Detroit and Shirley continued to work as a data entry operator for the US Army. After retiring, they bought a second small home in Fort Myers, Florida and spent winters there until they moved to Olathe, Kansas to be close to their daughter Claudia.

Neil and Shirley were active members in the Deaf communities of Des Moines and Detroit. Neil served as treasurer for many years for the Lutheran Church for the Deaf and was active in the National Fraternal Society of the Deaf. He was a master craftsman who made all the house and car repairs himself and grew beautiful plants. Shirley participated in the Lutheran Ladies Aid Society and many women’s groups. She was always on the lookout for new recipes in magazines and newspapers to cook for family, friends, and get-togethers. Shirley and Neil were both avid bowlers and golfers and played on numerous teams, routinely traveling to participate in Deaf sporting and social events and visiting their children and grandchildren.

Neil passed away peacefully at the age of 92 from complications of dementia at Cedar Lake Village in Olathe, Kansas. Three weeks later Shirley passed away peacefully at the age of 93 of natural causes. They are survived by Jerry Smith, Shirley’s brother, and their three children, Rachel (Carl Vonderau), Claudia (William Johnson), and Thomas (Barb Bock), seven grandchildren, and five great grandchildren. They will be deeply missed. 

The family thanks the staff of the Memory Care Unit of Cedar Lake Village for their loving care
of Neil and Shirley during their last year of life. A memorial is scheduled for June 15 at the
Masonic Cemetery in Des Moines, Iowa. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be dedicated to the
Iowa Association for the Deaf or the Iowa School for the Deaf Foundation - History Museum.

Thanks to Prof. Rachel Mayberry for the beautiful obituaries.