Letters to the Editor

Fall 2023

Sheila McCarthy at blackboardThe remembrance letter from Paul Marthers ’82 marking the passing of Professor Sheila McCarthy (Spring 2023) triggered memories that have stayed with me for almost 40 years.

I started Intensive Basic Russian terrified of foreign languages due to inadequate junior and high school effort and circumstances on my part. I am sure I was planning to drop the five-credit load at the first sign of trouble. I still recall with amazement the way that Professor McCarthy spoke to us for a full 90 minutes that first August class in ARH. Only Russian, not a word of English, communicating thru hand gestures and pictures tied to each very foreign-sounding word. Somehow, we all understood. Professor McCarthy taught Russian as performance art.

Professor McCarthy’s greatest kindness to me came that spring when I was wallowing in complete rejection from graduate schools. Her compassionate soul easily penetrated the false front that I was trying to maintain. She asked me to stay after class. Her advice, so simple at the time and so powerful looking back, put me on a path to where I am today.

Paul’s letter and the memories it triggered led me this spring to finally read Tolstoy’s War & Peace. I am finishing up Anna Karenina. Perhaps some Dostoevsky next. I can imagine Professor McCarthy smiling with each turn of the page.

I am sorry to have learned of Professor McCarthy’s death, and of her husband, Cliff Reid, just before. I write to pay tribute to her by sharing these memories. Both were part of what made the college Grinnell back then. They are missed.

- Pete Biesada ’84

Summer 2023

Craig HendersonI was delighted to read of honors given to our 1963 classmates, Mary Knuth Otto and Craig Henderson. Mary continues as our class agent, as she has for many years. Her letters are filled with class news, and the Alumni Award is well deserved.

Craig was my freshman year roommate and came across somewhat nerdy. Your tribute to him covered many facets of his extraordinary life and his contributions as alumnus and trustee. One thing most do not know is that this somewhat pudgy musician and scholar went out for varsity wrestling his sophomore year. He stayed the season, ending remarkably more fit and confident.

- Steve Aldrich ’63

The Grinnell Magazine reached a new high with the Spring 2023 issue by generously featuring the careers of George Drake ’56 and national cancer authority Craig Henderson ’63. A “bonus” was the story about Black student “pioneer” Edith Renfrow Smith ’37. Who’d have thought it?

- Alan Goldfarb ’52

Collage of photos of George Drake and familyThank you for Melanie Drake’s personal memoir of her father’s (and my classmate’s) lifelong connection to Grinnell, its ideals, and its students. I remember George as a young man of obvious seriousness and promise, and I only regret that I wasn’t a witness to his later years as teacher, mentor, and leader. Clearly, he grew into a man of immense talents, energy, erudition, and humanity — an inspiration for the many people whose lives he touched. In my mind he stands as an exemplary human being whose youthful promise was richly fulfilled. I’m honored to have known him.

- George Paterson ’56

I was a student at Grinnell, a few years behind George Drake, but certainly knew of him and admired him. He was a smart, handsome, outgoing man, full of ideas and kindness, a man who left a lasting impression.

- Liane Ellison Norman ’59

In my final semester at Grinnell, I was mysteriously summoned to meet with the new president, George Drake. My previous encounters with authority figures had often been negative, so it was a relief when he quickly gave me the good news that I was receiving the President’s Medal. He then surprised me, as we’d never met before, by asking a series of searching questions about computers, artificial intelligence, and my post-Grinnell plans. I felt instantly seen and understood, and somewhat awed at the way he combined intellect, empathy, and social grace.

Over the years I came to see George as a man interested in almost everything, but often nothing quite so much as whatever most interested the person he was talking with. Although many years sometimes passed between our encounters, each time I returned to Grinnell and saw him again, we picked up right where we’d left off. Having otherwise watched him mostly from afar, I know that I am only one of hundreds whose lives he touched, and who will remember him as one of Grinnell’s finest.

- Nathaniel Borenstein ’80

Reading Melanie Drake’s article brought back fond reminiscences of my friendship with George. I met George when he first assumed his Grinnell presidency. I became SGA president the same year, 1979–80. I had a weekly “chat” with him regarding students, the campus, and whatever was on our minds. As Melanie expressed, George was always interested and present.

Melanie also mentioned the great sense of humor George had. I can attest to that, too. When I first met George, I was a bit nervous and unsure how to address him. After I had referred to him at least a half a dozen times as “President Drake,” he looked at me with his friendly smile and said in his easygoing voice, “Well President Kramer, you can call me George. And if it’s okay with you, I’ll call you David.” The tension immediately disappeared, and we had plenty of laughs after that.

George was a great man who lived life to its fullest, while giving so much back. Most of us could never fill his shoes, but at least we had the opportunity to meet and attempt to emulate a man who shined as a humane, intelligent, hardworking, service-oriented human being affecting so many people in so many positive ways.

Thank you, Melanie, for reminding us of what a great man your father was. Thank you, George. May you rest in peace.

- David Kramer ’80

Thanks to Melanie Drake for the beautiful celebration of her father. I didn’t interact much with President Drake while at Grinnell but am pleased to say that Ms. Drake’s piece helped me “know” him through some of our mutual experiences with Grinnell. I was touched by the descriptions of his intellect and skill in relationships. I was especially moved by his humility.

It’s so clear to me that George Drake personified the best of Grinnell: academic excellence for sure, but also the caring and supportive relationships that have helped many Grinnellians grow in so many ways for so many years.

- Robert Krause ’83

Spring 2023

It was with great sadness that I read of the passing of Robert Haveman, emeritus professor of economics. In the eight years (1962–1970) that Professor Haveman taught at Grinnell, he was an amazing teacher and scholar who challenged students to think creatively about economics, markets, and the social institutions we create to alleviate poverty. During the 1960s, he was a core member of a strong department that sent many graduates to pursue graduate degrees in economics. 

As a 20-year-old student from a small town in Iowa, I was so stimulated by my first Haveman class that I was determined to pursue the study of economics. Indeed, I followed Professor Haveman’s path to Vanderbilt, and it led to a 45-year career in academia. 

It was because of Robert Haveman and other great teachers at Grinnell that I was so thrilled to have my grandson, Charles Peppers, graduate from Grinnell in 2022. 

- Larry Peppers ’66

That Professor Sheila McCarthy conducted a 36-student class in the fall semester of 1980 as an engaging, affirming, and challenging discussion still stands out — over a lifetime of working and studying at colleges — as the ideal way to teach college students. Modern Russian Literature had so many students that fall because Sheila was a popular and caring professor who would rather adjust her teaching style to 36 students than cap the class at a smaller, more Grinnell-like number. 

I started the course with a passion for Dostoevsky and left it transformed by the unforgettable ways McCarthy brought us into the literary world of Russia in the 19th century. I still remember her telling us the significance of Ivan Karamazov’s devil speaking in French and how Turgenev was derided by his literary peers as more European than Russian. I also remember being very sad when the class came to an end, the way that you are sad when you know you have experienced something special that may never happen again. 

It is hard to imagine a college professor anywhere who was better than McCarthy at conveying passion for her subject, at pacing and communicating its complex material in clear and vivid ways, and at showing a genuine interest in each of her students. 

I was sorry to learn of her passing and wanted to pay tribute to her life by sharing these memories that have lived on for more than 40 years. 


- Paul Marthers ’82