For the past few weeks on days when the weather is nice, Stilwell Junior High social studies teacher Sherri Bogue eats her lunch in the school’s courtyard. It was her father’s favorite place to be while he served as principal for over 20 years.

“He would tell us stories about the courtyard and the family of ducks that were there,” Bogue remembered of a memory when she was younger. “The mom had baby ducks, and he liked relaying how the ducks were doing to us. He was proud of the courtyard. He loved having kids there and having green space.”

Earlier this year, Leslie (Les) Aasheim passed away in March. He was 82 years old, and his death was unrelated to COVID-19, Bogue said.

And today, thanks to the support of current and former Stilwell staff, a new dedication display—two benches and a peace pole—have since been placed in his memory.

“It's just nice to be somewhere where I know my dad was invested in and proud of,” a tearful Bogue said. “It's special to sit on those benches and eat my lunch, to have some quiet time. But in some ways, it’s also time with him.”

‘A Master At Gathering People Together’

Stilwell Principal Les Aasheim in 1977.

Aasheim served as Stilwell’s principal from 1977 until his retirement in 1999. Bob Woodard was the assistant principal during the final 13 years of Aasheim’s Stilwell tenure.

“He and I, we hit it off immediately,” Woodard said of Aasheim. “It didn’t take us very long for me to know where he was going—his train of thought—and him the same with me. That became a very valuable tool for the two of us.”

He added that even in moments of disagreement, it never impacted their relationship in and out of the school setting.

“He was always an extremely supportive person,” Woodard said. “He expected all staff members to do what they were supposed to and do as well as they could do it. There might be a few people who think Les was abrasive, but he had a huge heart. Les was that kind of person.

“He was the kind of person that I guess I would say I'd like to have as a father or brother.”

Julie Powell-Mohr was an English language arts teacher when Aasheim was principal. She called him “a master at gathering people together, at opening doors and building bridges across differences” simply because he valued each person's story.

“I will forever imagine him gathering all of us on the benches,” Powell-Mohr said. “All of us together telling stories, laughing together, comforting each other, sharing ideas, and holding a space for peace.”

Bruce Blecken, another former Stilwell employee, was a school counselor when he and Aasheim worked together. Blecken complimented Aasheim with the characteristics he possessed as a person, mentor, and leader.

"He had high expectations of staff and students and the desire to build a school environment where all students and staff were comfortable so they could learn and work to the best of their ability," Blecken said of Aasheim. "The respect he had for parents, students and staff as individuals and as groups was reflected in the learning environment that he led at Stilwell. And he earned the respect of those individuals and groups through getting and using their input when making decisions needed to create the best possible learning and working environment."

Bogue echoed similar sentiments about her dad: How organized he was and how he wasn’t concerned with what people thought of him. But she noted how much joy Aasheim had working with middle school students. He loved being part of their academic, athletic, and art journeys, and even brought Bogue and her siblings to many Stilwell events over the years.

“He really liked seeing them excel,” she said. “He was excited when kids grew up and they succeeded.”

With Les, You Get More

Following his retirement, Aasheim was elected as the City of Clive’s mayor in 2001 and held this post until 2009. He also was a city councilman from 1986-97 and again in 2000-01. Aasheim was part of the board of directors for the Des Moines Convention and Visitors Bureau and was involved with the Des Moines Metro Transit Authority, Iowa Development Association, Metro Planning Organization, and Iowa Civil Service Commission. He also volunteered with the Clive Lions Club, the Clive Historical Society, and Windsor Heights Lutheran Church.

In 2007, Aasheim was the recipient of the Matt Parrott Integrity Award, and was recognized as Clive Citizen of the Year in 1994 as well as in 2010. Additionally, he is the namesake of the Aasheim Plaza in Clive, nestled along University Boulevard and Northwest 86h Street.

"He was very passionate about serving as a city council member and mayor, but was active in just about everything you can think of that involved the betterment of Clive and the greater Des Moines metro," Clive Mayor Scott Cirksena said in a statement following Aasheim’s death.

Woodard recalled Aasheim’s campaign slogan: “With Les, You Get More.”

“That was an extremely true statement on his part—in education especially,” Woodard explained. “It didn’t matter if it was a student issue or academic decision, or involvement with parents, Les always gave more. He was always there to take care of it.”

The Stilwell Junior High yearbook in 1999 included a photo collage that recognized Les Aasheim's 22 years as the principal of Stilwell Junior High.

Bogue giggles today when she hears that phrase.

“When he ran for mayor, I don’t know if I was even aware that that was his slogan until later,” she said laughing. “He inherited the idea of community service from his father, at least that's what he would say. The idea of helping others and serving in his community—that’s what he felt pushed to do.

“When you do that, you’re automatically working in a group and bridging differences. He had a lifetime of doing that.”

A Fitting Tribute

Shortly after Aasheim’s death, the conversation of a memorial was presented at a monthly breakfast involving Stilwell retirees, which Blecken said Aasheim had first organized. Spearheaded by current Stilwell language arts teacher Kay Woods, Woodard said the project took off from there, fully funded by Aasheim hires and retirees.

There, two benches read:

In Loving Memory of Les Aasheim

Stilwell Principal 1977-1999

A peace pole stands to the left of the benches, displayed with vibrant colors and intricate drawings of birds and flowers. The phrase “Together we have it all” is etched on one side, and “Friends are our chosen family” on the other.

Due to heightened safety measures at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, attendance at Aasheim’s visitation and funeral was limited. A livestream was available, but Bogue said the challenge was not being able to meet people close to her father and hear their stories about him.

“We still hope to have a memorial in the future,” Bogue said. “We’ve had a lot of support and received hundreds of cards and donations. We certainly appreciate everything from the greater community and friends.”

From left: Bob Woodard, former assistant principal of Stilwell Junior High, and Kay Woods, current Stilwell language arts teacher.

A choked up Woodard said Aasheim “has a wonderful family.”

“For them to have Les pass away at a time that he did—when COVID was such a stopper for so many things—I really look forward to the time when his life can be celebrated,” Woodard explained. “I probably have a thousand different kinds of personal stories when we dealt with situations.”

And on the days Bogue walks through Stlwell’s courtyard, sits on one of the memorial benches and reflects, that’s what she imagines: Her father’s stories … and not letting facts get in the way of a good story.

“For the retirees to memorialize him this way would mean a lot to him, that he would feel validated or recognized” Bogue said. “I think he would feel honored and would feel blessed that they chose to do that.”

Sherri Bogue, Les Aasheim's daughter and current Stilwell Junior High social studies teacher.
Created By
Aaron Young | WDMCS School/Community Relations