Jerry Stenstrom, 89, passed away Wednesday, December 30, 2020 at Baptist South Hospital, Jacksonville, Florida.

Graveside services will be held at 2 PM central time Wednesday, January 20, 2021 at the Iowa Veterans Cemetery, 34024 Veterans Memorial Drive, Adel, IA 50003.

Virtual Funeral Services will be held via Zoom at 1 PM central time Saturday, February 20, 2021.

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A Celebration of the Life of
Jerry Stenstrom

Jerry was born May 14, 1931 to Eleanor (Sterud) and Russell Stenstrom in Des Moines, Iowa. He grew up in Beaverdale in the house his father (an ISU civil engineering graduate) designed at 1918 Fortieth Place. He had many adventures with his older brother Carl. As kids they even built a go kart and Jerry also installed a motor onto his own bicycle. They made many train trips back to Pierre, South Dakota to visit his mother’s family who lived by the State Capital Building. (Jerry’s grandfather Herman Sterud, a Norwegian immigrant, worked in the offices of the Capital for 53 years.) He also spent much time at his grandma Hattie Stenstrom’s home 1247 Pennsylvania Avenue. Every Sunday the family attended the First Lutheran Church on Des Moines Street. After church services both he and his brother with their young friends would go to the very top of the Iowa State Capital outdoor balcony and then played about on the Capitol grounds as well. He also spent time around where his grandfather Carl Stenstrom (a Swedish immigrant) had owned and managed a grocery store on the northeast corner of East 4th Street and East Locust Street downtown Des Moines. His relatives shared with him many stories about his uncle Captain Edward Fleur (who died in WWI and whom Fleur Drive is named after) and his aunt Minnie Fleur (who was Iowa’s first elected female county recorder and was responsible for raising funds for Iowa’s only WWI memorial statue located on University by Lutheran Hospital.) Jerry truly enjoyed his family gatherings and also fishing trips his father took them on to Minnesota.

Jerry attended Perkins Elementary School K-6th. Afterword he attended 7th-12th at Roosevelt High School graduating in 1949.

Jerry started playing trumpet in 10th grade. As a student at Roosevelt, Jerry led an all-city high school dance band in his junior and senior years. He also played with CJC Hall of fame recipient Speck Redd during those formative years.

When he was 16 years old he would sneak out with a friend to play their trumpets at the Morocco Club on Center Street downtown Des Moines. (If you had a horn you were in!)

After graduation Jerry was a regular with the Ralph Zarnow and Keith Killinger Orchestras. He studied music at Drake University in 1949 before joining the Iowa-Nebraska Air National Guard and was called to active duty in April 1951. He worked in the wing adjutant’s office located by the Des Moines Airport. He then was stationed in Bangor, Maine where he organized and led the first orchestra at Dow. Active in many base-community projects he and his orchestra played regularly for the NCO Club, Service and Officers clubs, and participated in “Red, Hot and AF Blue”, the base-sponsored Community Chest show which played in Bangor. He also played taps for funerals. He had a fun memory of helping deliver an airplane full of lobster from Maine down the coast to a party for the U.S. President.

Jerry then left for an assignment with the 702 Air Force Band at Offutt Air Force Base, Omaha, Nebraska where he played and wrote music for the SAC Jazz Band. After the service, Jerry attended Westlake College of Music (the country’s only jazz college of the time) in Hollywood, California in 1953. He also studied music at L.A. City College. He worked regularly in Los Angeles and recorded at Capital Records with the Claude Gordon Band, the “DOWNBEAT Band of the Year” at the time. From 1953 to 1957 he continued to play and record with professional dance orchestras and road bands out of L.A.

Returning to Drake University in Des Moines in 1957, Jerry went on to teach music in the Des Moines public schools for 28 years. He continued to play Iowa ballrooms (such as the Val Air Ballroom, Lake Robbins, and others) with the Everett Boyer Band and Tom Steinkoenig’s “Sentimental Swing.” Jerry was an important part of the Des Moines Big Band since 1972. He played with the Red Sneakers Jazz Band, the West Des Moines Dixieland Band, and others. He was in the BIX Dixieland Festival in 1996. His greatest musical memory is when he had the opportunity to play with the Count Basie Orchestra at the Savory Hotel in 1972.

Jerry has been one of the busiest musicians in Des Moines and truly performed constantly and in a variety of formats ranging from the orchestras and dance bands to Ringling Brothers and Barnum Bailey Circus, sports shows, fundraisers, and jazz festivals etc. etc. since 10th grade. Jerry’s last performance was for the Des Moines City Council.

Jerry Stenstrom was inducted into the Des Moines Jazz Hall of Fame on October 23rd 2005.

After serving the country, when Jerry was honorably discharged on December 31, 1952 in Omaha, to celebrate he purchased a 1952 British MG sports car and drove home to Des Moines, Iowa. Having his share of MG trouble, he could often be found at the workplace of Des Moines’ only foreign car mechanic at that time (a genius, even making his own car parts), Tom Daniels. Tom was a free thinker who was searching the Bible for truth. Together they studied the Bible with a Jehovah’s Witness who had once been the mayor of Lacona, Iowa. Jerry was deeply impressed with how the 10,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Nazi Germany during WWII stood firm and would not support Hitler (John 13:34,35) while other main stream religions in Germany did support him.

Jerry then continued studying the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses two to three times a week for three years in California. He was baptized as a Jehovah’s Witness in Monterey Park, California on October 13, 1956. He was influenced by other musicians who had become Jehovah’s Witnesses such as Claude Gordon and also Stan Stout the lead trumpet player of the “Les Brown and The Band of Renown.” (the #1 Band in the nation for 15 years).

In 1958 Jerry took a trip to the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brooklyn, New York and attended their historic international convention. Jerry played in the orchestra at the Polo grounds.

Back in Des Moines, Iowa Jerry attended the East Unit Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses then located at 1423 Tichenor Street. In 1963 he took one year off from work to find a lot for a new Kingdom Hall to be built. During that year he also designed the new hall, contracted and helped with construction. He did this without pay along with many other Witness volunteers. He designed the Kingdom Hall in the style of the architect Frank Lloyd Wright. It was the original hall that was located at 1418 East Washington Avenue. It had theater seating and a baptism pool. The congregation was named Union Park. (Because of the congregation’s growth, the building was replaced.)

Jerry met Anna Bell Parr at an Assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Nevada, Iowa in 1966. They were married six months later on July 2, 1966 at the Union Park Kingdom Hall. They remained devoted to each other for 49 years. They were blessed with two children and one grandson.

Jerry was an enthusiastic student and minister of the Bible. He gave motivating talks and performed in the orchestra at assemblies of Jehovah’s Witnesses held in Iowa. He volunteered much time to help many people to dedication and baptism. In 1966 he was thrilled to attend Kingdom Ministry School in Ithaca, New York.

Later he was part of the Watrous Terrace and Southern Hills congregations in Des Moines and finally joyfully supporting a congregation in St Augustine, Florida. He was always known for a warm greeting, with a friendly smile on his face and a strong handshake.

Jerry showed a deep interest in people. He loved spending time with his family and friends. He enjoyed listening to and participating in talk radio shows. He said that if he hadn’t become a musician he would’ve liked to have become a car designer. He loved vintage cars and had owned several of them, when they weren’t considered vintage yet! In the 1950s he lived with an organic farmer in California and became interested in trying to stay fit. He spent much time reading about the topic and frequenting health food stores. Both he and his brother (who had been a Kansas City architect that designed and built his own home) shared a love for and were influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright architecture. Jerry loved taking his family on trips to visit his brother’s family in Kansas City. He also enjoyed many picnics and gatherings with his wife’s family. Always attending the Iowa State Fair and usually performing at it as well. Jerry’s favorite trumpet player was Harry James. His favorite band was Les Brown and the Band of Renown. In 1983 he invented, manufactured and sold lip training devices for trumpeters by mail order. Jerry enjoyed traveling. In his youth driving several times to the West Coast and of course traveling all over the U.S. with the road bands. During retirement he had some memorable trips to Washington State, Canada, Florida, California, and Mexico. He went on road trips to Minnesota, Arkansas, South Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Illinois, and to the East Coast especially appreciating a visit to the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC where the story of Jehovah’s Witnesses absolute refusal to support Hitler in Nazi Germany is commemorated.

In the early months of 2020 he went on a road trip from St Augustine, Florida all the way to Key West, including an enjoyable boat ride in the Florida Everglades. He was also able to fly back to Des Moines, Iowa for one last visit with his family.

This year during the COVID-19 pandemic he attended all of the meetings virtually with his congregation through Zoom. He spent much time visiting his favorite website and being upbuilt and encouraged by watching JW Broadcast. He listened to the Bible daily and participated to the best of his limited ability in sharing the good news of the Kingdom with others. (Matthew 24:14) He also spent a lot of time listening to his favorite big band jazz music and watching documentaries about vintage cars and Frank Lloyd Wright.

Jerry was genetically prone to stokes and had suffered from eight major strokes, recovering from them (with acupuncture and etc.) enough, however, that at 89 he could still climb a full flight of stairs. One of his doctors declared him a walking miracle.

Due to several health complications in the end, he passed away peacefully with his family at his side. Jerry had resided in St. Augustine, Florida since 2017. He had been a lifelong resident of Des Moines up until that point.

Like all Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jerry had a deep interest in Bible prophecy and believed that God’s Kingdom ruling from heaven will soon solve all of mankind’s problems on earth. (Matthew 6:10; Psalm 37:29; Matthew 5:5; Revelation 21:3,4)

He looked forward to the resurrection hope and plans on playing the trumpet at the resurrection parties yet to come. John 5:28,29 “Do not be amazed at this for the hour is coming in which all those in the Memorial tombs will hear his voice and come out.”

Jerry is survived by his son, Daniel Stenstrom of Des Moines; daughter, Deborah (Aaron) Natera of St. Augustine, FL; grandson, Kevin Stenstrom of Des Moines; as well as three nieces, six nephews, seven great nieces, two great nephews, one great great niece and one great great nephew.

He was preceded in death by his wife, Anna Bell (Parr) in 2015, his parents, his brother, Carl Stenstrom, and two nieces.

Service Details

Wednesday, January 20, 2021
2:00 pm
Graveside Services
Iowa Veterans Cemetery
34024 Veterans Memorial Drive
Adel, IA 50003
Hamilton's Funeral Home
605 Lyon Street
Des Moines, Iowa 50309
(515) 243-5221

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