Giving

Paying It Forward

From continued friendships to family memories made at Reunions, Grinnell College has remained a central part of the lives of Patrick Palsgrove ’95 and Jenny Matson Palsgrove ’95.

The Illinois couple has fond memories from their student days of hanging out in the loggias, forming community connections, and studying abroad.

“Grinnell College became such a part of our lives and who we have become,” Patrick says. “Over the years I didn’t think twice about giving. I was a financial aid recipient, so I wanted to pay it forward.”

When they separately made $5 gifts a month after graduation in 1995, Patrick and Jenny didn’t realize it would be the start of 27 straight years of annual giving to Grinnell College. The Palsgroves have mainly supported the unrestricted Pioneer Fund but in recent years have also made gifts for scholarships and financial aid.

“As our kids get older and closer to college age, we’re becoming more aware of how much more college costs than when we attended,” Patrick says. “We think being able to give in a small way to help someone go to their dream school or to realize their dream is important.”

Grinnell became a dream school for the Palsgroves even though there was some hesitation at first because of the seemingly remote location. Jenny grew up in Oak Park, Illinois, and was seeking a liberal arts school within driving distance. She was won over after visiting campus. Patrick hailed from Colorado Springs, Colorado, but had family in Iowa, so he had a little familiarity with Grinnell before applying.

Jenny studied psychology and took part in the Grinnell-in-London program while Patrick majored in biology, “although one of my favorite classes was archeology,” he says. He studied abroad in Costa Rica. The two became friends as second-year students but did not date. They remained in touch after graduation. At one point, Patrick’s brother lived a few blocks away from Jenny in the Chicago area. Eventually the relationship grew, and they got married in 2005.

Today, Patrick is a physician assistant of orthopedic surgery at NorthShore University Health System. Jenny works with nonprofit agencies mainly as a fundraiser, including grant writing and event planning. They have two children, Aidan (15) and Zachary (11).

When they can get time off, the Palsgrove family enjoys traveling.

“Our two big trips have been Japan and Costa Rica,” Jenny says. “We’ve also been all over the United States. We do a lot of hiking since Patrick grew up in Colorado, including visiting many national and state parks. We also love going to the beach.”

They return to Grinnell for reunions, to meet friends, or when traveling through Iowa to or from Colorado. Jenny vividly recalls memories of Aidan and Zachary riding scooters on campus.

“Grinnell has remained in the forefront,” Jenny says. “I was wearing a Grinnell College sweatshirt when we went to breakfast the other day. A Grinnellian walked in, saw my shirt, and we did a cheer for Grinnell. It’s fun to have these chance meetings with fellow alums.”

Academics Reach Downtown

Dick Knapp ’76 purposely chose to attend Grinnell for a drastic change from the urban environment of New York City where he grew up.

“The open spaces and rural layout of Grinnell was my salvation, but I still needed to put my feet on streets, and Grinnell’s compact business district was all I needed in those halcyon days half a century ago,” Knapp says.

During his student days, Knapp would bank at the Merchants’ National Bank building, enjoy the genuine soda fountain counter at Cunningham Drug, study at the Romanesque-style Stewart Library, and join classmates at 4 a.m., after finishing their papers, for fresh donuts from the Danish Maid bakery.

Over the past 15 years, Knapp has acquired, renovated, and re-tenanted eight downtown properties that have helped meld Grinnell College with downtown Grinnell. His latest contribution will help lead to the first academic building downtown.

Knapp has made a lead gift commitment to support a film and media center near the northwest corner of Broad Street and Fifth Avenue. The Knapp Film and Media Center will be housed in a 100-year-old former auto garage that was most recently used by St. Mary’s Catholic Church. OPN Architects was chosen for the building’s design work.

“It has ideal dimensions — a 10,000-square-foot rectilinear box with a soaring barrel roof on top,” Knapp says. “The current concept is placing the building’s entrance to the north side, next to a proposed outdoor pavilion for public functions on additional land the College owns.”

So how do media film and media studies fit into Knapp’s portfolio of interests? That answer in part dates to his student days.

“Weekend movies at Alumni Recitation Hall’s auditorium were the cultural heart of the Grinnell experience for my generation,” Knapp says. “Bless Georgia Dentel [former director of performing arts programs at Grinnell College] for her impeccable taste, ranging from Invasion of the Body Snatchers to Battle of Algiers.”

Additionally, Knapp’s two children grew up during the golden age of television. Film, media, and literature shaped their career choices. Both happily live in Los Angeles now; one is a screenwriter who got a master’s at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, and the other is on his way to earning a master’s in writing.

Grinnell College faculty recently approved a new concentration in film and media studies.

“The importance of this building to Grinnell College’s new film and media studies concentration and its students cannot be overstated,” says Nicky Tavares, assistant professor of film and media studies. “The College envisions an interdisciplinary film and media studies program in the fine arts rounded out by the wider liberal arts experience and aims to set itself apart from peer institutions with an emphasis on film and media production, grounded in theory. Creating spaces that support all five phases of moving image production — development, preproduction, production, postproduction, and distribution — is critical to the success of the program.”

Knapp was a history major at Grinnell and has described himself as a “late bloomer in terms of settling into an adult-like career groove.” Real estate became that career as Knapp developed and renovated large apartment communities in metro Washington, D.C., neighborhoods.

“Real estate is multidisciplinary, well-suited to Grinnell liberal arts generalists comfortable with both science and the humanities, humility and conviction, and most of all reading and writing,” he says.

An interest in affordable housing led to Knapp leaving private practice four years ago and founding Indelible Housing, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit engaged in the acquisition, renovation, and preservation of distressed, project-based Section 8 housing occupied by low-income families and the elderly or disabled. Among Indelible Housing’s current projects are renovations to the Center Street Apartments in Grinnell.

While in town for his 30th reunion in 2006, Knapp contracted to purchase the vacant Cunningham’s Drug Store and then he renovated it, refurbishing its iconic, backlit pylon sign and leasing it to the College for its first downtown bookstore.

“I was struck at the time by the contrast between a struggling downtown and thriving College,” Knapp says. “The campus was completing the Joe Rosenfield Center’s elaborate dining facilities, grill, and lounges, as well as an athletic complex with an underground connection to a natatorium. Meanwhile, the adjacent downtown business district — seemingly walled off from the campus — was suffering from numerous storefront vacancies, the result of retail consolidation, declining agricultural income, young people flocking to Des Moines and Iowa City, and the lack of downtown housing.”

Knapp has played a significant role in the College’s development of a “zone of confluence” — a name coined in 2013 to evoke the stronger bridge between the campus and downtown that has increased the social and economic vitality of downtown while encouraging pedestrian traffic in both directions. The Knapp Film and Media Center will extend this bridge and could anchor an emerging arts district on Broad Street.

“Dick Knapp’s financial partnership is helping to strengthen the vital bond between campus and downtown; the presence of the film and media studies program in this space will foster discovery and connection both,” says Jaci A. Thiede, vice president of development and alumni relations. “It is so exciting to think about the many ways this new facility will enhance opportunities and experiences for both the College and town.”

How a treasured friendship turned into a biology professorship

Students in Leslie Gregg-Jolly’s First-Year Tutorial course, What Makes You You?, are exploring identity formation. To demonstrate the role of relationships, Gregg-Jolly is incorporating a real-life example into the tutorial about a friendship formed in the mid-1970s.

John Chambers ’77 and Doug Johnson ’77 got to know each other during swim team practice at Grinnell. Those bonding experiences have stayed with Chambers more than 45 years later and played a role in his decision to endow a biology professorship in honor of Johnson.

Gregg-Jolly was recently named the inaugural Douglas D. Johnson ’77 Professor of Biology.

“The idea that they had such a meaningful friendship — and the impact it had on John’s life even though Doug died so young — is extremely meaningful to me,” Gregg-Jolly says. “I teach good, conscientious students who are great about focusing on learning in my classes. I also want them to pay attention to the people they are with. I think forming relationships is a really critical part of their experience in college. This has been a tool I can emphasize due to John’s generosity.”

Johnson majored in biology at Grinnell and was particularly interested in the fields of human anatomy, physiology, morphology, and molecular biology of animals. Sadly, his career in those areas was cut short. In 1981, while attending graduate school at Wake Forest University, Johnson died in a hiking accident in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

“I think Doug would have been very pleased with Dr. Gregg- Jolly’s appointment because she will carry on the tradition of facilitating learning in cell and molecular biology,” Chambers says. “I’m delighted she will be helping students who — as Doug once did — are attempting to launch their careers in science or in medicine.”

A molecular biologist and geneticist who studies DNA damage and repair in bacterial systems, Gregg-Jolly has taught at Grinnell for the past 28 years and serves as chair of the College’s biological chemistry major. She has mentored nearly 40 Grinnell student research assistants, co-authoring papers with many of them. She says the funding associated with the professorship will help her build community among biological chemistry majors.

Gregg-Jolly was one of six Grinnell College faculty members ( joining Tamara Beauboeuf-Lafontant, John Fennell, Leslie Lyons, Elizabeth Prevost, and Hâle Utar) that were honored at the College’s 2021 Installation Ceremony for Named Chairs and Professorships on Sept. 30 at Herrick Chapel. Chambers attended, as did Johnson’s brother, several friends, and fellow swim team members. A recording of the installation event can be viewed online.

“The ceremony was not only to honor the career of Professor Gregg-Jolly but also to honor the memory of Doug Johnson,” Chambers says. “It was a fine tribute to them both.”

Johnson and Chambers competed on the swim team together under coach Ray Obermiller. Both lettered all four years, and they served as cocaptains during the 1975–76 and 1976–77 seasons.

“We had a very strong team, and it became stronger as our time at Grinnell went on,” Chambers recalls. “Our senior year we won the conference championship. It was the first time in a decade that Grinnell had won the championship, and it was the start of many more conference victories for Coach Obermiller.”

Chambers, who retired as chairman of Standard & Poor’s sovereign rating committee in 2017, returned that year to Grinnell to attend three molecular biology classes and talk with biology faculty members. He saw firsthand how faculty members are encouraging and supporting students interested in health-related careers. This fall, Chambers will speak to Gregg- Jolly’s First-Year Tutorial class. She’s using his visit to demonstrate how liberal arts skills can contribute to successful careers.

“Academics are at the core of what Grinnell is all about,” Gregg-Jolly says. “This was a gift in recognition of the impact that academics and relationships with faculty have on our students. It’s such a lovely thing to create for a friend. It’s an incredible honor to be the recipient.”

John Cambers, Leslie Gregg-Jolly, and Myriam Fernandez De Heredia on campus

 

Leslie Gregg-Jolly, center, the inaugural Douglas Johnson '77 Professor of Biology, celebrates with John Chambers '77 and Myriam Fernandez de Heredia, who established the professorship in memory of John's classmate Doug Johnson '77.

Young alums pledge $50,000 to support entrepreneurship

As students, Ham Serunjogi ’16 (at right in the image above) and Maijid Moujaled ’14 wanted to get as much practical entrepreneurial experience as they could.

That’s one reason the co-founders of the Chipper Cash payment platform were part of the team that launched Pioneer Weekend, an annual student innovation and pitch competition now hosted by the Donald and Winifred Wilson Center for Innovation and Leadership.

Recently, the alumni took their engagement to a new level when they announced a $50,000 pledge to start the Ham Serunjogi and Maijid Moujaled Fund for Entrepreneurship in support of Pioneer Weekend and other Wilson Center entrepreneurial endeavors.

“We know other students have similar dreams of entrepreneurship but might not have as many avenues to pursue those or meet others who have similar goals,” Serunjogi says. “We felt the most Grinnellian thing for us to do is be part of a solution, so the student experience could be more robust. Maijid and I believe entrepreneurship is a means to grow society. It’s socioeconomic development. Creating a gift that was oriented to supporting students in Grinnell who have similar philosophies was near and dear to our hearts.”

Serunjogi is from Uganda. Moujaled comes from Ghana. In 2016, on a road trip through California, they brainstormed how they could leverage technology to make a positive impact in Africa. They launched Chipper Cash two years later. The free application allows users to send money from one country to another and one mobile money service to another, at no charge.

The platform has more than 3 million users and processes about 80,000 transactions per day. Chipper is backed by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and counts Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana as an investor. Among the nearly 200 Chipper staff are some 10 to 20 Grinnellians serving as full-time employees or summer interns.

“It wasn’t our objective to hire Grinnellians; it has happened organically,” Serunjogi says. “It’s a result of knowing smart people we want to work with and who want to join us. That they happen to be Grinnellians makes it that much more special.”

Serunjogi and Moujaled met at Grinnell through the AppDev (Application Development) group Moujaled co-founded. Kevin Charette ’15 came up with the concept for a business pitch competition and asked AppDev members to help organize the event. Moujaled and Serunjogi were eager to assist.

The duo was overjoyed to learn Pioneer Weekend had not only continued after they graduated but evolved and flourished under the Wilson Center’s oversight. “We were incredibly thrilled that experience of entrepreneurship is alive, and we felt an obligation of sorts to support the program,” Serunjogi says. “It was an easy rallying point for us.”

Wilson Center director Monty Roper says the center has worked to further entrepreneurial learning experiences, including the addition of an incubator. While the new Fund for Entrepreneurship will help support those efforts financially, Roper is equally enthused about Serunjogi and Moujaled’s reconnection to the College.

“Their story and success are really powerful,” Roper says. “Their example as social-entrepreneurial ambassadors is really important to our students.”

Serunjogi hopes their pledge may encourage other young alumni to give. “If more people are aware that we, as recent graduates, are engaged in making Grinnell a stronger institution, then maybe it will inspire other young alums to get into the spirit of giving back,” he says. “Not everyone has to give $50,000. What’s more important is the act of giving back, regardless of the amount.”

Family Creates Internship Fund in Memory of Trustee G. Barry Huff ’73

G. Barry Huff ’73 had a decent enough summer job while he was a Grinnell College student. He worked for a company that built swing sets and playground equipment.

“It wasn’t an internship, and it wasn’t career-building,” says Becky Huff, Barry’s widow. “As a theatre major, Barry would have loved nothing more than to go spend the summer doing theatre. But he didn’t have that opportunity because he had to make money.”

Huff died in December 2018 in Minneapolis after a six-year battle with blood cancer. In deciding how to honor his legacy at Grinnell, the Huff family wanted to give current and future students opportunities that he was not able to experience.

The G. Barry Huff ’73 Endowed Internship Fund will award grants to students receiving need-based financial aid who are interning with an arts or nonprofit organization.

“Barry had a mission to give back to community, arts, and theatre organizations,” Becky Huff says. “Most of those organizations have unpaid internships. We know there are students — who are typically underrepresented — that would like the opportunity to either work at a nonprofit or pursue theatre. In some cases, these students may not have as many personal and family connections in the professional world, so gaining internship experience is even more important as they develop the skills and networks necessary for successful careers after Grinnell.”

After teaching high school English and theatre, Barry Huff returned to the College in 1975 to serve as an associate dean in the Office of the Dean of Students and to coach football and track. He had excelled in both sports as a student and was inducted into the Grinnell College Athletic Hall of Fame in 2007.

“The six years he spent working at Grinnell College gave him a chance to teach, coach, and do a bit of everything with students while working with fabulous colleagues,” Becky Huff says. “It helped him find his way and change the trajectory.”

Barry Huff went on to become an executive in the food industry, serving as president of Glory Foods, vice president of Hoopeston Foods, and a marketing manager at Pillsbury. Additionally, he held many leadership positions in a variety of nonprofit organizations such as the Guthrie Theater Foundation and the National Marrow Donor Program.

He also was an active alumni volunteer, serving on the Grinnell College Alumni Council and his class committee and participating in the Alumni in the Classroom program. In 2018, he received an Alumni Award and was elected to the College Board of Trustees.

“He was so honored to be a trustee,” Becky Huff says. “He enjoyed it so much, and it was unfortunate that it was such a short tenure.”

Her husband’s passion for supporting students — especially those with financial need and those who encounter other systematic and societal barriers — will continue through the Huff Internship Fund.

“Barry credited his Grinnell education and other experiences with the College as among the most important in shaping the course of his life, and he was proud to push for and support the College’s ongoing commitments to diversity, social justice, and access,” Becky Huff says.

“We know that there are entire sets of people that are underrepresented in the upper level of business, nonprofits, and generally across the board. 2020 was an example of the awakening in our communities. Barry had been championing the cause for many, many years. We really believe that helping students obtain equal access and get a leg up is part of our family’s mission.”

No Longer Anonymous

After leaving the hospital at the age of 29, Steve Ginzbarg ’76 wanted to be treated like everyone else.

When he was hired as collections manager at the University of Alabama herbarium — a job he still holds today — he did not claim a disability.

“Only my best friends, my supervisor, and my doctors knew that I was living with bipolar disorder,” he says. “Now I feel differently about it. I’d like to share my story of bipolar disorder. I want people to know that there’s hope.”

Likewise, Ginzbarg’s philanthropic pursuits with Grinnell College and other organizations had been kept under wraps. He recently decided to shed the anonymity to share his perspective with students struggling with mental illnesses. Things can and will get better, he says.

“I would like everyone at Grinnell — especially those with bipolar disorder or those who have friends or family living with it — to know that, with the help of friends, family and a caring psychiatrist, I have been able to weather the rough times and go on to lead a happy and productive life.”

A biology major at Grinnell, Ginzbarg took a wide range of courses, such as Spanish, theatre, and music, as well as plant physiology and taxonomy with professors Lenore and LaVerne Durkee. Grinnell’s herbarium in the basement of the Robert N. Noyce ’49 Science Center is named the Durkee Herbarium, thanks to a past gift from Ginzbarg, Robin Chazdon ’78, and Robert Colwell. The herbarium contains a collection of plant species that have been pressed, dried, and glued on heavy paper so they can be handled and studied.

During Ginzbarg’s second year at Grinnell, he had his first manic episode. Marjory K. Daly, assistant dean of students at the time, called his parents. His father flew in from Texas.

“They had to trap me,” Ginzbarg says. “I was admitted to the Iowa City psychiatric hospital.” Ginzbarg says he is grateful to Conney M. Kimbo, then dean of student affairs, for allowing him to return to school. He also credits his roommate, Jerold Stahly ’75, and other friends who lived with him in what was called Random House in the mid-1970s, because it was filled with people with no obvious connection to one another.

“I would never have gotten a job at Alabama if I weren’t allowed back to Grinnell,” Ginzbarg says.

While his 20s were a difficult time with several hospitalizations and an episode following a study abroad trip to Costa Rica, Ginzbarg pressed on, earning a graduate degree in botany at the University of Texas at Austin and eventually landing the job with the herbarium in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

In 1974, Ginzbarg took a one credit session of Introductory Biology taught by professor Kenneth Christiansen. He still remembers visiting Christiansen in his office. “He showed me his Collembolas and told me about soil traps.”

When Grinnell was building outdoor learning spaces as part of the Humanities and Social Studies Center (HSSC) construction, Ginzbarg became interested in making a gift to the cause.

Ginzbarg has made gifts and pledges totaling $700,000 for the Kenneth Christiansen Learning Grove. Prior to the pandemic, classes that normally met inside HSSC and Noyce relocated to the outdoor spaces on nice weather days, and that will continue in the future.

The generosity is another testament to how Ginzbarg has weathered rough times and come through them serving the common good.

“I think that working with your therapist, your friends, in addition to education, is positive,” Ginzbarg says. “What changed in my life, now, is that I have good people to talk with about this. I want other people diagnosed with bipolar disorder to know there is light.”

Supporting Our Students Fund Eases Distance Learning

When Mikayla Kricfalusi ’20’s computer broke at her family’s home in Vista, California, this spring, she had to resort to getting class assignments and discussions via text messages from her classmates.

Kricfalusi, a biochemistry and sociology major, knew that method of distance learning was unsustainable. When she reached out to the College about the problem, Information Technology Services (ITS) quickly shipped her a laptop.

“I wouldn’t have been able to do anything for any of my classes without this laptop,” she says. “It was essential to continue being a student. I am so grateful.”

“To the alumni, thank you for being so generous and responsive. Community shows up in times of crises, and I am lucky to be a part of Grinnell’s.” — Mikayla Kricfalusi ’20

When the College announced March 10 it would switch to distance learning after spring break in an effort to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of students had concerns about not having the technology at home to access online classes.

The Supporting Our Students (SOS) Fund helped resolve the problem. The donor-generated fund supports immediate and ongoing student needs related to the pandemic. Gifts helped students travel home and were used to supply Wi-Fi for students without internet access at home. A total of 57 students received a laptop, mobile hot spot, or both.

As of mid-May, more than $114,000 had been raised from about 500 donors.

“In a time of great need, it’s heartening to see so many step up and provide resources to those at risk,” says Brad Lindberg, assistant vice president for enrollment. “I’m extraordinarily grateful for the generosity displayed.”

Ashton Aveling ’22 lives in California’s rural San Gorgonio Pass, where it’s not sufficiently profitable for internet service providers to extend high-speed internet access, he says. Aveling, who is studying economics with a concentration in global development studies, missed most of the first week of classes after spring break.

“It took about two hours on my home network to download a course overview document my statistics professor had sent,” he said in an April interview. “Now I have a hot spot and have been catching up. This is a brutally difficult time for everyone. Donors definitely made my life a lot easier by helping to give me and others the tools to finish out this semester. I don’t know what I would have done without the hot spot. All the libraries and coffee shops around here are closed.”

Grinnell’s Financial Aid office coordinated with Division of Student Affairs and ITS to broadcast the availability of laptops and mobile hot spots to students with financial need. Some students were able to pick up the laptops or hot spots before they traveled home. The rest of the equipment was sent through the campus mailroom, says Missy Gansen, ITS marketing and communications program manager.

“We provided instructions for students who received hot spots along with information on how to reach us for assistance,” she says. “There were very few requests for assistance, so we believe the devices were intuitive to use. This initiative is a great example of several campus departments coming together to help instructional continuity.”

Kricfalusi says she was surprised and touched by how much the Grinnell community came together to address the varied and urgent needs of students.

“To the alumni, thank you for being so generous and responsive,” she says. “Community shows up in times of crises, and I am lucky to be a part of Grinnell’s.”

To support the SOS Fund, visit Supporting Our Students.

Filling the Gap in Student Mental Health Care

“I had a wonderful experience at Grinnell in academics, socially, and playing varsity sports, and made life-long friends, but I also had occasional bouts of depression,” says Sheryl Walter ’78, a Board of Trustees member. “It has occurred to me in retrospect that I and likely other classmates could have benefited even more from our Grinnell experiences if there had been ready access to a broad range of mental health and wellness services.”

This realization inspired Walter to establish the Strategic Resource Fund for Health and Counseling Programs at Grinnell in 2017 to students on campus.

Encouraged by the success of the fund, Walter recently announced a planned gift of $1.7 million to help provide students even greater access to mental health and wellness services.

Sheryl Walter ’78 (right) and Edward Senn ’79Edward Senn ’79 and Sheryl Walter ’78 in Greece during the 2014 Grinnell Alumni Study Tour. Photo by Amy Henderson ’94

“I established the fund so that I and others can contribute to make resources available to students who might need them now,” she says. “The goal is to normalize perceptions about mental health and make it even more possible for students to reach out and ask for help if they need it, which in turn will help enhance social and academic experiences for them and the Grinnell community as a whole.”

The fund builds upon efforts of the Student Mental Health Task Force established by President Raynard S. Kington in 2016 to help the College address the mental health needs of students through expanded mental health clinical services, tele-psychiatry, and wellness programming. As a result, Student Health and Counseling Services was renamed Student Health and Wellness (SHAW) to better reflect the mission of the office and its staff, and the position of dean for health and wellness was created to lead those efforts.

Although the efforts that resulted from the work of the Student Mental Health Task Force have had a meaningful impact on campus, Walter recognized that students could benefit from additional resources. Based on her own experiences while a student, she understands what a difference such support can mean. “It is personal for me,” she says.

Walter’s gift will provide significant support that will allow the College to address the task force recommendations, which include continued enhancement of counseling and treatment services geared to the needs of the Grinnell student body, outreach and educational programs, addressing environmental and cultural factors when promoting mental health, and continued assessment of student mental health and wellness needs and evaluation of services meant to address them.

“What I hope to do with my gift is encourage others to give to the Strategic Resource Fund for Health and Counseling Programs in support of SHAW services and build on its successes to ensure there is a comprehensive mental health and wellness system in place to serve students now and in the future,” Walter says. “I also hope to help make it even more acceptable for students to get the help they may need. Making this possible will help every student thrive at Grinnell.”

Walter’s gift contributes to the Campaign for Grinnell College.

Kickstart for Class of 1970 Scholarship

In town early for football practices, Roger Roe ’70 first met his future wife, Paula Speltz Roe ’73, outside Burling Library during Paula’s freshman orientation week at Grinnell. As Roger was going into the library, he stopped, introduced himself, and asked Paula to come watch a Pioneers football game.

A half-century later, the couple still value the ideas and ideals the College taught them. They are showing appreciation through a $150,000 pledge to support an endowed scholarship, the class of 1970’s gift for its 50th Reunion celebration in 2020. The need-based scholarship will be awarded to future students.

“Higher education is a significant shared value in our relationship,” Roger says. “We thought by contributing when we did and the amount that we did, it might help kick-start the class’ efforts and motivate individuals within the class.”

Roger is a member of the 50th Reunion planning committee and served in a similar capacity during the class’s 45th Reunion. Part of his role is fundraising to accumulate sufficient funds for the class gift.

“I admire that Roger takes this on, and I really think it’s indicative of his love for Grinnell,” Paula says. “I think it’s rewarding for him because it renews relationships. He’s genuinely interested in his classmates, and this is a way to connect and catch up with what’s happened over the years since graduation.”

Roger is still close with quite a number of classmates and teammates. He lettered three years in baseball and football and was captain of the baseball team his senior year. The history major was president of East Norris Hall during his junior year.

His Grinnell experiences helped him excel in law school at the University of Minnesota and in his legal career. “Being an attorney was a wonderful, rewarding career. Without that educational foundation, it wouldn’t have happened,” he says.

While Roger was a partner at Rider Bennett and other law firms in Minneapolis, Paula served as executive vice president for compensation and benefits first at Target Stores and then at Norwest Bank, which later merged with Wells Fargo, where she oversaw the pay plans and benefit programs of the nearly 200,000 Wells Fargo employees.

A native of a small town in Minnesota, Paula says her perspective was greatly expanded by her exposure to the diversity and intellectual challenge at Grinnell. Her world was further broadened by participating in an Arts of London and Florence program.

Armed with her Grinnell history degree, Paula headed to the Twin Cities during the 1973 economic recession. Eventually she landed a job at an insurance company in Minneapolis as a contract analyst.

“As uninspiring as that first job was, it quickly led to other jobs with much more opportunity and responsibility,” she says. “There’s no doubt the writing and critical thinking skills I gained at Grinnell were immensely helpful then and throughout my career. Once started, my career accelerated as fast as I could handle — especially considering Rog and I were also parents to two active, interesting, and engrossing daughters.”

The now-retired couple lives parts of the year in Minneapolis, California (where their children and grandchildren live), and Naples, Florida, where they attend the annual January reception with Grinnell swimming and diving student-athletes.

“We’ve met a lot of current students, and they are really impressive,” Roger says. “They are thoughtful, committed, socially conscious, and reflect the values of Grinnell.

“Providing an opportunity for another qualified individual to attend Grinnell is rewarding for both Paula and me and, hopefully, an inspiration to all the members of the class of 1970.”

Team Effort

A simple lunchtime conversation over a ham sandwich is one of the many reasons Luther and Jenny Erickson are beloved by numerous Grinnell College alumni.

“Every now and then, we would come across a student that needed a little bolstering or a pat on the back,” Jenny says. “Luther and I would invite the student to our nearby house to have a ham sandwich. Those situations really endeared us to students, and we enjoyed it. Years later, our doorbell would ring, and there would be those same students. That’s the gravy when you get older — seeing your students doing well.”

The Ericksons came to Grinnell in 1962 when Luther began teaching in the chemistry department; he served as a professor for 41 years, retiring in 2003. Jenny was director of the Forum for 20 years before retiring in 1997. Together they taught, encouraged, mentored, and supported thousands of students while also serving as pillars of the Grinnell community.

A group of more than 35 alumni have joined together to honor the Ericksons by making gifts and commitments to establish the Luther and Jenny Erickson Endowed Professorship of Chemistry. The professorship will play an important, strategic role in the academic life of Grinnell College, serving to both recruit and retain generations of future faculty members who embody the characteristics so well-known and generously shared by the Ericksons.

Leslie Lyons and Luther and Jenny EricksonThe initial professorship will be awarded to chemistry professor Leslie Lyons, whom the Ericksons have known for decades. In fact, the Ericksons and Lyons were next-door neighbors when both lived on College Park Road. Lyons and her husband Lee Sharpe, associate professor of chemistry, even share the same alma mater as the Ericksons — the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Lyons will be formally installed as the Luther and Jenny Erickson Endowed Professor of Chemistry during a public ceremony in 2020.

Grinnell College trustee Edward Senn ’79 — who rang the Ericksons’ doorbell quite a few times — struck up a friendship when he worked for Jenny as a Forum desk attendant. He also had Luther as a professor. Senn sat with them at Herrick Chapel during the College’s last professorship installation. And it got him thinking.

“Luther and Jenny had a tremendous impact on generations of Grinnellians from the very beginning,” Senn says. “It hit me that naming a professorship would be a terrific way to honor them and help the College at the same time.”

Senn was not alone in that sentiment. While most professorships are set up by an individual donor or couple, Senn reached out to Kenneth ’65 and Mary Sue Wilson Coleman ’65 and Joe Oxman ’79 with a novel way of approaching the professorship — crowdsourcing. Oxman introduced the project to a broader audience of chemistry majors from the 1970s and 1980s.

“The chemistry professors there at the time — Luther, Gene Wubbels, and Roger Gurira — had an immense influence on many of us,” Oxman says. “The respect for them is still evident to this day, and there was enthusiasm about what this professorship could do for the chemistry department and student research. Luther and Jenny were inspirations to us. They were semi-parental for many.”

Mary Sue Coleman, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, was one of the countless students who benefited from advice and guidance of the Ericksons early in her career. She says it’s uplifting to know their legacy will carry on for future generations of Grinnellians through the professorship.

“So many people were positively touched by their lives,” she says.

As word spread about the professorship, Luther and Jenny’s phone and doorbell began to ring even more.

“Having this professorship in our names is an honor, and we do appreciate it,” Luther says. “It has put us in touch with more of our former students.”

“And it has put them back in touch with each other,” Jenny adds.