Prompted

Spring 2019

Prompt: Extracurriculars

For spring 1960 track/field intramurals, I entered the softball throw as a Dibble freshman. My principal opponent was a rangy, sophomore, 6-foot-5-inch Iowa farm boy. All his throws were perfect liners, rarely 10 feet off the ground. His best was 293 feet.

We had a big tail wind north of Darby Gym. I remembered high school physics — the best distance is achieved with a 45-degree angle. With that science and the tail wind, 310 feet won.

The next year, we were both back to compete. He threw the same 293 feet with no wind for Rawson. My second-best for West Norris was 290. I always wished I had been able to throw like him when I wanted to.

On a whim (and a compelling green Mac field), I joined Grinnell women’s Ultimate Frisbee team, the Sticky Tongue Frogs. Joining Ultimate — a self-refereeing spirit of the game played by people who occasionally dress in costumes to play a sport — was, in a way, entering the culture of Grinnell. Indeed, my Ultimate community is composed of some of the strangest, most caring, eclectic, athletic people I’ve ever known — including my now spouse, Caleb Leedy ’16.

For four years, we drove across the country for tournaments, played in frostbite-inducing weather and on the beach in warm-to-us March weather. Along the way, I learned to bid, handle, heckle, and cut. We qualified for Division III Nationals three years, and while playing, I dislocated my shoulder an equal number. Today, I’m reminded of the weird goodness of meeting and befriending humans whom I likely would never have otherwise met, but can’t imagine life without.

Winter 2018

Prompt: Winters in Iowa can be brutal.

As a native Iowan, nothing really phases me, but there was one night in the winter of 1991–92 that was particularly memorable. That night, the aurora borealis was clearly visible from Mac Field — gorgeous glowing green and white lights dancing across the sky. I ran out to see as soon as someone shouted down the Langan Pit hallway and completely forgot to put on my shoes. Yes, I ran out into the snow of Mac Field barefoot AND stood out there to watch the lights for about 10 minutes before I realized what I’d done. I ended up having to wear double layers of socks for weeks and not being able to feel my feet for the next four days — minor frostbite. Whoops.
– Stephany Schmidt Hall ’9

In the winter of ’82, I lived in a four-room triple on Haines 2nd. When the steam radiator behind our couch was cranked open, the central room became insufferably hot and stifling, so we always opened the windows. Standard protocol when approaching the dorm was to try to lob a snowball through a window. Surprise and laughter were guaranteed for a successful toss, and bonus points were awarded for actually hitting someone.

Winter 1978–79, B.B. King’s in Iowa City: We borrow a car, and I sensibly suggest checking the oil first. Everyone else insists there isn’t time. Car burns out partway there. On snowy roadside, we solemnly contemplate our mistake until a nice patrolman drives us to town, saying car will be towed to “Barney’s Standard.”
Post-concert, no one we ask has ever heard of Barney’s Standard. We’ve broken someone’s car, then lost it entirely. Eventually discover garage’s new name, escape Twilight Zone, somehow get home.
Only I return with destroyed car’s owner, who hitches it to another car, then I — the least guilty party — must steer it without heat or lights on the highway at night with a large truck bearing down and the driver’s window stuck halfway open, freezing. Exiting highway, we land in snowdrift. Borrowed shovel breaks.
Replacement engine: $350, split several ways.
B.B. King: worth it.

It was 23 degrees below zero ― actual Fahrenheit temperature not that silly wind chill nonsense ― with a foot or so of snow on the ground. Born and reared in Iowa on the banks of the Mississippi River, I simply bundled up and trudged off to my Saturday morning physics class. The only other person who showed up that morning was a young man named Roy [Pengra ’69] who hailed from South Dakota. We waited 15 minutes for Professor Clotfelter (who wisely stayed home) then decided coffee at the Forum beckoned. I will never forget our instant laughter as we opened the doors and found every room bustling and bursting with students who apparently found it too cold to go to class but no problem at all to take the day off to play bridge or pool. Fifty years of married life later, Roy and I still count ‘hot coffee at the Forum on a very cold day’ as our first date.

Having been nurtured on the drifting snows and subzero temperatures of Western Pennsylvania, I scoffed at the warnings about Iowa winters. Little did I realize that a mere couple of molehills stand between the hallowed streets of Grinnell and the maniacal winds of Northern Canada. They streak southward with a cold so intense that you can feel tiny icicles growing on your bones just looking out the window from a snugly heated room. Preparing for the brief walk from South Campus to ARH, we bundled ourselves into coats, mufflers, hats, mittens, and fleece-lined boots. I remember one morning the radio said we should avoid looking directly into the wind because our eyeballs would freeze. My advice to you: Be sure to leave for class five minutes early on those days. It will take you that long to strip off all those layers.

Iowa winters are no joke, and while everyone might tell you to spend time getting the right coat, my biggest piece of advice is to invest in practical footwear with excellent traction! I experienced a classic Grinnell blizzard right before finals, and in my attempt to get to my dorm to grab study materials, I slipped on the ice over the train tracks, breaking my arm instantly. Young, stubborn, and a little stupid, I took Advil, wrapped my arm in a towel, and went to bed. Since the health center wasn’t open until 9 a.m. the next day, I went to my 8 a.m. class before getting my official diagnosis and cast. Once home on winter break, my doctor gave me a very stern talk about my choice in weatherproof footwear.

My daughter included Grinnell in her college road trip only “to please the old man” in late summer 2007. After crossing into Iowa from the south Annie asked, “What’s with the flags on top of the fire hydrants?” “That’s so the firemen can find them in the snow.” Her eyes widened and I heard her think “OH MY GOD!”
People who had never seen snow screamed in Burling Library when the first flakes came down.
In Clark Hall we opened all the windows on the third floor and threw water into the hall so we could skate. There was terror when a freshman skated through the large window at the end of the hall and attempted to swing around on the fire escape pole but only flew into the darkness. A snowbank left him uninjured. Alcohol was involved.

I grew up in Illinois, not many miles further south than Grinnell. But as the winter of 1957–58 arrived my freshman year, it felt like there was nothing between ARH and the North Pole but miles of frozen tundra and biting winds. I finally called my parents to ask for money for a parka and winter cap. They agreed, but were surprised because in high school, I had never worn a cap or anything heavier than a light windbreaker.
Four Grinnell winters, however, turned out to be a kind of “boot camp” — good practice for what came next when, upon graduation, my wife and I moved to Minnesota, the nation's “ice box” state, where we have lived ever since, parkas and all. In short, Iowa winters proved to be just one more example of how Grinnell helped prepare me for life!