The Drake community came together in mourning when Curt Cardwell, an associate professor of history here at Drake University, died unexpectedly in his home in Des Moines on Jan. 7, 2021. He was 55 years old.
Cardwell is survived by his wife, Stephanie; daughter, Lenin; parents Lana and Bob Powers; siblings Kim Powers, Kelly Powers, Darren Cardwell, Heather Powers, Heather Priest and Rachel Powers Fernandes; stepmother, Kay Holmes; stepbrother, Lee Mandeville; many nieces and nephews; and the scores of students here at Drake whose lives he shaped.
Cardwell spent his early years in Long Beach, California. He was a veteran who served in the U.S. Army in Germany from 1985-1988. After his service, “he started going to college and never really stopped,” according to his Faculty and Staff page on the Drake website. Cardwell attended undergrad at University of California, Davis, graduate school at California State University, Sacramento, and Rutgers University for his Ph.D. in history. In 2005, he joined Drake’s history department, where he remained until his passing.
Cardwell was an avid student and teacher of history, particularly the Cold War. In 2011, he published NSC 68 and the Political Economy of the Early Cold War with Cambridge University press and has since written multiple historiographical articles. More recently, his research was focused on, “the U.S. Mutual Security Program and its use as a means of spreading capitalism and combating communism across the globe in the 1950s,” according to his Faculty and Staff page.
According to his students, he was always delighted to engage with students and had a genuine excitement for the material he taught that you could hear in his voice during class. Moreover, he had a clear devotion to helping students process and understand the often-revelatory material he gave them, and then apply lessons learned to their lives today. Cardwell’s discussions with his students over historical issues were truly a sight to see: he was utterly respectful of their opinions all while never hesitating to make his own convictions clear. You couldn’t walk out of one of his classes without understanding the American world better than before.
Kieran Williams, an assistant professor of political science at Drake, had the right of it when he tweeted that the corridors of Meredith Hall, “will never be the same without him.”
There is a service being planned for late spring 2021 at the Veterans Cemetery in Adel, Iowa. Members of the Drake community who want to honor Cardwell’s memory are encouraged to make donations to the Drake University History Department, Des Moines Mutual Aid Fund or the charity of their choice.
Drake students wishing to express their sympathies to his family can send cards addressed to the Cardwell Family through Karen MacKinnon, Meredith Hall, 2507 University Avenue, Des Moines, IA 50311, and the history department will ensure they are delivered.
Photo courtesy of Stephanie Cardwell