Letters to the Editor

Summer 2020

I enjoyed the article about Sarah Purcell ’92 being advised by Al Jones to consider becoming a professor (“A Light Switch Went On,” Winter 2019). As a sophomore, I told Professor Jones that I was torn between declaring math or history as a major. He leaned back, probably under a halo of cigarette smoke, paused, and asked if I had considered architecture. If he were I, he would consider the new field of “urban architecture,” and in particular the program at the University of California-Berkeley.

Recently I’ve retired from a 40-year career in architecture and urban design, leaving my Berkeley practice of 50 to younger partners. At some milestone early on, I wrote to Al saying, “Thanks! That worked out. Now what should I do?” The letter didn’t get a response, but I always hoped it would at least prompt one of those sly, crooked smiles.

- David Petta ’70

All of us can remember favorite teachers; we treasure the ways that they have influenced our lives. Now retired, I look back on my 30-plus years as a foreign affairs professional and remember my undergraduate political science professor, James Magee, with fondness.

As a 1972 graduate of Grinnell College, I only had a three-year overlap with him, but during those years, Jim became my mentor and guide into the complexities of international affairs. His sense of history and appreciation for irony inspired me and profoundly influenced my understanding of how the world works. I had the additional good fortune to see our relationship evolve in later years into one between friends and professional colleagues.

When I received an honorary doctorate degree from Grinnell College in 2009, I was honored by his presence at the ceremony. My remarks then provided an opportunity to express in public my personal gratitude for his contributions, knowing that they extended far beyond me and my cohort.

- Greg Thielmann ’72

Ruth Marner ’86 caught my attention in your Spring 2020 issue with her longing to experience Grinnell’s campus at the height of hippiedom. I believe I witnessed the beginning from my office window during New Student Days in the fall of 1960.

As I looked out from my window in ARH, I saw a young man with long hair perched in a tree and strumming a guitar. He turned out to be Terry Bisson ’64, who later transferred from Grinnell. Terry, if anyone, uniquely deserves to be considered “Grinnell’s first hippie.” In a matter of days he was joined (but not in that tree) by a group of like-minded students, including Pete Cohon, Gretchen Geyer [Harris], George Wallace, and Ken Schiff, all class of ’64. Cohon, later known by his professional name, Peter Coyote, became the gifted movie actor and voice of Ken Burns television specials. But Terry Bisson — he and Coyote have remained good friends to this day — has done remarkable work as a writer of science fiction stories. Cohon was the most forceful of that crew, but Bisson was somehow more the key embodiment of the so-called “hippie” phenomenon.

This group, I’m confident, were the first of the “Grinnell hippies.” Their arrival in that fall of 1960 was transformational. From the first, they stood out. They represented change and entered into the trajectory of agitation that distinguished college life through the ’60s and early ’70s.

- James Kissane ’52, Professor Emeritus of English

Spring 2020

I want to thank you for the retrospective on Free the Planet (“Solving Wicked Thorny Problems” [Page 18, Fall 2019]). I was heavily involved with leadership of the Environmental Action Group (EAG) from 1995 to 1997, and I have to admit that when a couple of younger students started a new environmental group on campus, I was a little indignant that they didn't work with us and allowed my hurt feelings to prevent me from finding out what they were about. But while EAG was very much embedded in the “think globally, act locally” strategy of the time and focused in taking concrete and immediate actions on campus, FTP focused on protests and advocacy off campus, which at the time seemed ineffective to me; but as your article makes clear, in hindsight they may have had a greater impact. I am grateful to Rachel Fritts ’14 for writing the article and to all the activists at Grinnell who have had the vision to look beyond the campus at the larger picture.

- Ben Stallings ’98

I am writing to comment on Emily Mize Robare [01]’s Back Talk article “No More Time to Procrastinate” [Page 47, Winter 2019] in the recent issue of The Grinnell Magazine. To add context to her concern about climate change, I am super proud to recall the leadership of Grinnell’s science departments and biology, in particular, in educating all of us about climate change. The message was driven home clearly more than 40 years ago, in the fall of 1972, in the first course in the biology curriculum, when we covered the concepts of greenhouse gases and when we were taken out to the prairie to learn about our native ecosystem. No one who took that course can forget Ken Christiansen’s lectures and the last day of class when he brought in his record player to play Joan Baez singing Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain Is Gonna Fall.”

Grinnell had a fabulous, committed biology department, and the only downside for me was that I took it a bit for granted; I assumed that everyone everywhere already knew and understood the facts about climate change, and I underestimated the difficulties in communicating such knowledge to non-scientists. Now, it is up to the social scientists to help us understand why people resist scientific knowledge and how best to communicate scientific information to people who have difficulty accepting the information. And Grinnell is the perfect place to talk about interdisciplinary challenges, in this case, bringing science to non-scientists and helping motivate actions based on science.

- Tamar Nyman Lasky ’76

Winter 2019

Thanks for the great article and the fun graphic story on Clair Patterson ’43 in the Summer 2019 issue [Page 20]. Clair presented a seminar in 1970, while all four of his children were Grinnell students (think about that tuition bill!). He presented his Pb story, which was hot news during those nascent environmental times. I remember his chart showing the historic Pb in the environment. A long, slow increase hugging the X-axis since the Bronze Age, an inflection of maybe 10x increase in slope with the industrial revolution and another inflection in 1929 with the addition of tetraethyl lead to gasoline. The slope went through the roof. (The current historic plots are more nuanced, noting for instance the pollution from the Roman era. If anyone has a copy of Patterson’s 1970 plot, please share!) Professor Patterson’s speech was a significant event in my increasing awareness of and commitment to environmentalism and a career dominated by environmental chemistry.

The Pb story remains unfinished as we continue to clean up sites, remediate Pb paint, struggle with poisoned water systems, and work toward getting it back to background levels. Of the many good-news stories resulting from Clair’s science and lobbying: “[a]n estimated gain of 5-6 points in mean population IQ score was associated with the decline in mean blood level concentrations …” (World Health Organization, “Childhood Lead Poisoning” 2010, Page 36). Wow! And I mean WOW!

Fast-forward to the 2010s, I use Patterson’s story of the trifecta of aging the earth, developing clean rooms, and removing Pb from the environment in various speeches, including class lectures to Grinnell students. Any one of those accomplishments would be notable, but all three? Again, wow! Not only was he an outstanding analytical chemist (I know formally he was a “geochemist,” but I welcome him to our “analytical chemist” fraternity), but a passionate environmentalist and a tenacious advocate for the “get-the-Pb-out” cause. His story needs to be told more widely; the Regenold and Cannon article was a great contribution!

Grinnell needs a Patterson Environmental Science Building!

- Mitch Erickson ’72

Fall 2019

2019 Summer Grinnell Magazine coverI love Grinnell but I am absolutely awful about spending time reading The Grinnell Magazine. Although I may or may not actually read the magazine, I still want to receive it just to flip through it for familiar faces. I was doing my casual flip through the magazine when I came across the brilliant, hand-drawn graphics and speech bubbles that just screamed, “Look at me, I’m different and fun!” [“Get the Lead Out,” Page 20].

Michele Regenold ’89 and Kevin Cannon ’02 worked together to create a 10-page comic that was aesthetically appealing, informative, and interesting. They graduated 13 years apart from one another. Thirteen years. I know technology has really enabled us to transfer information and connect more easily but seeing a product like this is really exciting.

Hopefully the editors of the magazine continue in publishing collaboration projects and using alternative forms of storytelling!

- Jenny Dong ’17

The Michele Regenold ’89 [and] Kevin Cannon ’02 illustrated story: “Get the Lead Out” [Page 20] in the summer issue of The Grinnell Magazine is brilliant. It tells a lively and vivid story of a great scientist who improved the lives of everyone on our planet — and he was a Grinnellian.

- George Drake ’56, president emeritus

Black and white photo of women dining in Quad dining hall,1944I immediately recognized the inset photo on Page 16 of “Then and Now” in the Winter 2018 issue, historic and contemporary images of the Quad dining hall. My mother, Phyllis Miller Lawrence ’48, has it displayed on her dresser. She’s the one looking right at the photographer, as if the picture is of her alone and everyone else is just background.

She distinctly remembers the occasion. It was Thanksgiving of 1944 [not 1950], and the government had declared that college students were not to travel home for the holiday to keep the trains free for the war effort. She remembers the meal was better than usual and that students were to dress up. She also recalls exactly what she was wearing — a black velveteen jumper that my grandmother had sewn for her and a white crepe blouse.

I was thrilled to see this familiar image in the magazine, as was my mother, but we wanted to correct the date for the archive. I have my own happy memories of the Quad and am glad that it still serves as a venue for special events and more memories. 

- Maggie Lawrence Banning ’82

Cutting from list of veterans of the U.S. Civil War with name and rank as well as date and location of death Regarding the item in the summer edition of The Grinnell Magazine about a memorial honoring our deceased veterans of all wars since the Civil War [Page 5], this is clearly an entirely worthy and important project.

Reading about it, however, raised a question in my mind. Is there ever a thought or recognition of those Grinnell men and women who fought those wars, who were in most cases forced by the draft to leave college, enter service and spend precious and dangerous years in far-off places?

I entered Grinnell in the fall of 1941 as a freshman at the age of 17. Two weeks after I turned 18, Pearl Harbor was attacked. By the end of the following school year, the College was almost emptied of male students and drained also of a significant number of female students.

Most of us in service spent the next three years or so in faraway places, out of touch with families and loved ones, except for censored mail stripped of any mention of our location or activities. At least for those serving in the Pacific theatre, there was virtually no leave, no R and R, and little expectation of going home until the war came to an end, estimated to be years away.

Grinnellians were certainly represented in those remote places. I accidentally ran into three people from Grinnell in those years overseas, one in New Guinea and two in the Philippine Islands. I did not know them well, but running into someone from college was almost like running into one's own brother. Acquainted or not, we had a perfectly wonderful hour or two.

At age 21 or 22, I commanded a 160-ton ship manned by a crew of 14 (ages 19 to 33) and one other officer. What an experience for an Iowa boy who had only seen salt water just once in his life. It was dangerous. We lost one of our crew at Leyte Gulf, a nice young man from Norwalk, Connecticut — the worst day of my life, so far.

However, on the plus side, the experience enabled me to go to law school on the GI Bill, something that would have never been feasible otherwise, mostly for financial reasons. A rewarding career followed — 38 years of law practice and 12 as a judge. A good enough trade-off, as it turned out.

- George McIntosh ’45