Dee Jepsen served as a special assistant to President Reagan as a liaison to all types of women’s organizations. President Regan praised her term of service and her commitment to justice, fair dealings, and equal opportunity under the U.S. system of law. For several years in her home state of Iowa, Mrs. Jepsen wrote a column for newspapers entitled ‘The Heart of Washington’. It looked behind-the-scenes at events in and around Capitol Hill. In 1983, Religious Heritage of America selected Mrs. Jepsen to receive the business and professional award for her dedication in affirming and strengthening Christian principles in American life. Here now is Mrs. Dee Jepsen:
I’m delighted to have the opportunity to be here today with you and look around and see so many attractive, energetic faces. I’m excited about women and what I believe is on God’s agenda for women in these days. I’d like to first of all tell you a little bit about myself and how I have traveled in my life’s journey and what my spiritual journey was like and the strength and the direction that it has given in my later years.
I was born and reared on a small farm in the Midwestern part of the United States. We were poor in those days. Those were depression, post-depression days and everyone was poor, so I didn’t realize how poor we were. I had a happy home life as a young girl and then, when I was 13-years old, my mother died. I had one brother, younger than I by 3 years. I did what I could to help raise him but the death of my mother really threw my life in a tailspin for a while. Very difficult to lose your mother as a young girl. My father was deeply grieved. He was one of those non-verbal males. I don’t know if you know any of those. Lot of them around. Mine’s getting a little better but… anyway, I didn’t understand his grief because he was not demonstrative during her life but he was deeply grieved. That caused some problems in his personal life and our relationship was not very good.
I went through a period as a teenager of rebellion. By today’s standards it was mild, but it was rebellion in my heart. I wanted to do what I wanted to do. So, more than anything else to get away from home, I entered into an early marriage at the age of 18. Knew very quickly that I was in trouble, did not believe in divorce, did not know what to do, did not know where to turn. I can never remember a time as a young girl when I did not believe in God. And I used to pray a lot but I thought that He was so far away that I wasn’t sure if He ever heard me. So, in those days, when I was going through my struggles I prayed some but it wasn’t a very living, vibrant prayer life that I had.
I eventually had a child and then I was concerned for the welfare of the two of us. Sought help, didn’t find it, didn’t know where to look very extensively frankly. And finally, thinking I had no alternative, I went through a divorce and thought I had entirely wrecked my life. But I didn’t have too much time to think about it because I had to get busy working several jobs to support the two of us. And I did that.
Eventually met the man that I would end up marrying, who had four children who I raised as my own. We’ll be married this year 34 years and those children have been a blessing to me. Several years after we were married, I had another child. At one time, I had six children, five of whom were 6-years old or under. So if any of you have noisy children at home and all those things, I understand. I understand washing machines that run practically around the clock and dryers that eat one sock out of every pair. I still don’t know where they go. But, you know, I absolutely loved those days. They were very fulfilling to me and women’s lives come in seasons. I’m in a new season in my life in the last 10, 15 years. It wouldn’t have been good for me when I was 25; I wasn’t ready for it. And now I’m not ready to go back the other way. But those were wonderful and fulfilling days to me.
I can recall times, however, when I used to awaken in the night and I would lie there and I would think, “I wonder what would happen to me if I didn’t wake up in the morning.” And then I’d quickly push that thought out of my mind and I would go on to think about all the busy things I was involved in.
My husband and I got involved in the local community activities and the political process and he was elected to a local office, eventually was elected to the State Senate in our state, and then he was elected Lieutenant Governor of our state for two terms. And it was during that time that I saw something happening that scared me to death because, you see, I was finding my entire identity in my husband and my family. And as important as that relationship with your spouse is—and its number one only after your relationship with God—that’s not where you find your complete identity because he could be gone tomorrow for any one of a number reasons, death being the most prominent. But I didn’t understand that at that time. And so, as I saw him starting to be distracted by the things and the demands of public life, I got very scared because I didn’t know who Dee was by herself. And I had low self-esteem before I entered into marriage with him because I felt I had nearly ruined my life by that earlier mistake.
So, I started to seek whatever it was that would be fulfilling to me and give my life some independent meaning. I read books. God brought people into my path, books before me, things that came together precisely the right way, which I know now was totally by his design, out of his mercy. And I remember kneeling down next to our bed one day when my husband was out of town—which was most of the time in those days—and saying, “God, I don’t understand all this but I know I can’t handle my life alone.” And I asked Jesus Christ to come into my heart and come into my life. And I can remember saying “I give you my life. I will go any place you want me to go. I will do anything you want me to do but I want everything you have for me.” I did not understand at the time the significance of those words but God takes us at our word because I meant it.
I would like to tell you that my circumstances started to get better but they did not. Because of my husband’s involvement in all the demands of life—and he got caught up in it he would tell you if he were here today—our relationship suffered because of that. But when I would go to the Lord and ask him to start working on this long litany of things that I thought were wrong with my husband, he would very gently but very clearly focus on the things in my life that were not pleasing to Him. And so I started to change. I’m not finished yet. I’m still in process; we all are.
But God started to do some things in my life and my husband could see that something was happening, something was different. And so he went out of public life in 1973 and I was so grateful. I can remember saying, “God, I am so glad. I never want to see politics or public office again.” Well, little did I know. God’s ways are higher than our ways and he works in mysterious ways.
Anyway, my husband was out of public life for 5 years and in private business again and was miserable. He could see that I had a stability that was a new thing for me and something that he wanted. He was, ironically, the one who was the, what I would call, “cultural Christian.” He was the one who taught Sunday school and did a lot of the right things, not necessarily for the right reasons. So, in 1977, his world came crashing in on him. Things weren’t going right. He came to the point of saying, “I can’t handle my life alone either” and made a commitment and asked Jesus Christ to take over. And then I thought, “Oh, isn’t this wonderful.”
Now, you know, I thought God would send us to Africa or someplace. To be honest about it, I would rather have gone to Africa then to Washington, D.C. It’s true. You know, I’d seen all the pictures, read all the stories and so forth and I didn’t want any part of it. But my husband came to me late in ’77, early in ’78 and started talking to me about his desire to run for the United States senate. And when he first mentioned it to me, all I could do was cry. Not very strong and very womanly, I guess, but that’s ok and I did a good job of it. He said the tears jumped out of my eyes. Because I thought it threatened everything I cared the most about, my family, my marriage, the simple things in life, and I was dead wrong.