Letters to the Editor

Summer 2018

Kenneth A. Christiansen head shotI was saddened to read in the Spring 2018 issue of Ken Christiansen’s death and his wife’s not long afterwards [“In Memoriam,” Page 46]. I took biology from Mr. Christiansen when I was at Grinnell — I graduated in 1959. The classroom was one of those large rooms with banked seats for students. I loved the class, though I was an English and American lit major. What I remember most vividly was that during one of Mr. Christiansen’s lectures, a small squirrel climbed up out of his pocket, where it apparently spent the day, scrambled up the front of his jacket and onto his shoulder, where it peed. Mr. Christiansen smiled and went on with his lecture. What a man!

 
- Liane Ellison Norman ’59

That's So Grinnellian Winter 2016I find the use of the phrase “That’s so Grinnellian” in your regular photo feature a bit off mark. While my fellow Grinnell friends and I do use this phrase somewhat regularly and I certainly understand trying to tap into that vernacular, using it on a photo simply depicting the Grinnell campus isn’t the proper use of the phrase. The feature as it is currently curated would be more appropriately titled the somewhat less inspired but more accurate: “That’s Grinnell.”

The phrase “That’s so Grinnellian” describes that Grinnellian je ne sais quoi — the charming actions or appearance of a lovable nerd, or maybe in a more serious way, someone who is living out the social justice mission. And it should refer to a person and/or their actions — not a place. A view of the dining hall? That’s Grinnell. Taking the time to write a letter to the editor, nit-picking over the proper use of a colloquialism? That’s so Grinnellian.

 
- Thomas Agran ’09

Tom Rayfiel standing in tunnelWas there a point to “Back Talk” (Spring 2018, by Thomas Rayfiel ’80) [Page 47] besides his dislike for our president?

The article is a collection of his letters to a congressman berating him for not denouncing Donald Trump. Although the targeted congressman is a Grinnell alumnus, there is no real Grinnell angle to the piece.

Is the magazine now for denouncing public figures whose politics we oppose?

I am sure many of your readers support our president and many others oppose him. But I suggest we leave the rank partisanship to CNN and Fox News. Maybe The Grinnell Magazine can focus on Grinnell.

- Daniel Litten ’94

I read with interest the remarks of Emma Kelty-Stephen ’04 about listening to the tape of Martin Luther King Jr. [“Quote Board, Spring 2018,” Page 11]. I heard that actual speech in the old gym at Grinnell on a very early Sunday morning. I lived in Gates so it was a short walk, but I remember thinking what the hell am I doing at this hour? I kept telling myself it was a chance, and sadly as it turned out, the only chance, to see Martin Luther King Jr., an already historic figure. 

The speech (sermon) was incredibly powerful, and I was absolutely blown away. Hearing him set me on a course, or confirmed my course, for the rest of my life. I don’t even remember exactly what he said. But his powerful voice, his humility and dignity moved me deeply. His basic message was “Respect everyone.” You don’t get to pick and choose — you must respect and love everyone. At the time, he was being excoriated by the right for the usual reasons, and the left for being, among other things, nonviolent. Yet he talked and lived this message. 

Although I have often fallen short of his ideal, I have always tried to do as he preached — I breathe deeply and try to make a mental bridge to each person. This has been particularly difficult since the Trump election but is even more necessary now. I wrote about this speech in a long-ago article that appeared in the Arizona Attorney during a time of personal challenge. 

I’m thrilled that someone else was moved by the speech. The sound of a train going by brings it all back and makes it real.

- Bob Van Wyck ’69

The “In Memoriam” section of the Spring 2018 edition has a too-small, too-chilly entry about my cherished friend and Grinnell life trustee and luminary, Fred Little [“In Memoriam, Spring 2018,” Page 46]. “Fritz” was as loving as he was accomplished, and just before he died we spoke wet-eyed about the losses of our classmates of  ’53. He and I were particularly fond of the Oliver Wendell Holmes poem, “The Boys,” written for the poet’s Harvard reunion. In the soft-edged memory of our college classmates, we’ll always be boys.

“HAS there any old fellow got mixed with the boys?

If there has, take him out, without making a noise.

Hang the Almanac’s cheat and the Catalogue’s spite!

Old Time is a liar! We’re twenty to-night!”

 
- Harvey Golden ’53

Fred Little headshotThe “In Memoriam” section of the Spring 2018 edition has a too-small, too-chilly entry about my cherished friend and Grinnell life trustee and luminary, Fred Little [“In Memoriam, Spring 2018,” Page 46]. “Fritz” was as loving as he was accomplished, and just before he died we spoke wet-eyed about the losses of our classmates of  ’53. He and I were particularly fond of the Oliver Wendell Holmes poem, “The Boys,” written for the poet’s Harvard reunion. In the soft-edged memory of our college classmates, we’ll always be boys.

“HAS there any old fellow got mixed with the boys?

If there has, take him out, without making a noise.

Hang the Almanac’s cheat and the Catalogue’s spite!

Old Time is a liar! We’re twenty to-night!”

 
- Harvey Golden ’53

Spring 2018

The “That’s So Grinnellian” photo at the end of the Winter 2017 issue of The Grinnell Magazine brought unexpected tears to my eyes. How could a simple picture of leaves and grass glistening with frost by a quiet campus walkway be “so Grinnellian”? However, the image did indeed transport me back to Grinnell and the glorious and sometimes shocking transition from warm weather to cold. I remember stepping out of my dorm one morning on my way to an early class and being stunned by the suddenly sparkling world that greeted me. The following poem was written that day:

The wave of summer

Holds November

Crested in the sun.

And curls and falls with night —

Crashes; Crystals in the grass. 

- Donna Dewsnap McGurk ’81

Reading your article on Sam Baron brought back memories of my mother Charlotte Pursell, wife of Lyle Pursell, professor of mathematics 1955–1965. My mother was the typist for Professor Baron’s book Plekhanov: The Father of Russian Marxism. She bought an electric typewriter to prepare his manuscript for publication. I remember her spending many hours deciphering his handwritten pages.

- John Pursell ’74

Thank you for Kevin Cannon [’02]’s fold-out spread showing the campus in 1967 and today. It was informative and whimsical.

The train engine in the 1967 view is an amusing anachronism. It is an “American” model, which were in use from about 1850–1900, and could well have run on those tracks. But any model steam engine running in 1967 would have been a recreation, not a daily occurrence. In the 15 years or so after World War II, U.S. railroads retired virtually their entire fleets of steam engines, replacing them with more efficient diesels.

While diesel locomotives have, in my opinion, no charm, they allow rail to move a ton of freight more than 400 miles on a gallon of fuel. Perhaps we will see the day (led by Tesla’s current efforts?) when semi trucks will have the efficiency (and safety) rail freight has provided for over 50 years.

- David Ellin ’87

It was a special treat to “study” the 1967/2017 Grinnell College map! How do you avoid getting lost in the new HSSC? I assume that this new facility will replace the old “heart” of Grinnell, the ARH? I think it’s smart to keep the M&StL tracks as they are, assuming that they are still in place. Certainly, a key landmark for letting you know where you are versus where you should be. There was a side-track beside the old heating plaw occasion would provide “sport” for male students to “reposition” a tank car waiting there.

Again, congratulations on your 50 years presentation of Grinnell!

- Bernie Oakes ’52