The Grinnell Connection

“Grinnell was such a big part of my life that I don’t want my connection with the school to end,” says Ishan Bhadkamkar ’13. Today, Bhadkamkar remains connected to the College through his work as a volunteer — one of the class of 2013’s class fund directors — and through his giving. The economics major has directed his contributions to the new Humanities and Social Studies Complex, merit-based aid, and the economics department. 
The Department of Economics is based in Alumni Recitation Hall (ARH), which was designed with early 20th-century pedagogy in mind. Pedagogy, not to mention economics and technology, has advanced considerably since then. That’s why ARH and Carnegie Hall are being transformed to become part of the new Humanities and Social Studies Complex. 
“I always compare ARH to the Noyce Science Center, and I always thought what was great about Noyce was that there would be common spaces for students to meet,” says Bhadkamkar, who had several economics classes in Noyce. 
These common areas are a crucial aspect of the new complex’s design, which will also provide more flexible classroom options. 
“Having the right space makes a big difference for your learning experience,” says Bhadkamkar. “It allows people to be more engaged and more connected, and I think [that’s important] especially in a liberal arts setting where classes are smaller and you’re trying to get more people to be engaged.”
Bhadkamkar was fortunate enough at Grinnell to receive merit-based aid, which freed him up to pursue passions and hobbies such as tennis and improv. He played varsity tennis all four years, and the tennis team won the Midwest Conference championship each of those years. Bhadkamkar also interned with the College’s investment office — an opportunity that helped him get his current position with Hall Capital Partners in San Francisco. He has chosen to give back to merit aid to allow other students similar opportunities. 
Bhadkamkar has a number of funding priorities, and even though he wishes he could give more, he acknowledges the significance of every gift. “The main thing I try to remember is that just because I don’t have a million dollars doesn’t mean I can’t make a meaningful contribution,” he says. “In some ways I think that it’s not the dollar amount that matters, it’s the gesture of support.”  

Building a Legacy

The class of 1966’s 50th Reunion gift of $3.6 million is the largest such gift in the history of the College, $1.2 million more than the previous record set by the class of 1963. More than $1 million of the gift will go to the Class of 1966 Endowed Scholarship Fund and eventually fund one student’s entire Grinnell experience; it’s one of only two such scholarships established by an individual class. So far more than $70,000 of the reunion gift has been designated for a named space in the planned Humanities and Social Studies Complex (for its 25th Reunion, the class of 1966 designated funds for the Writing Lab in Alumni Recitation Hall). There are further designations for financial aid, the Pioneer Fund, and a number of personal passions of individual class members. The total encompasses outright gifts, pledges, and planned gifts.

Jim Holbrook, class fund co-director, attributes the success of his class’s giving to a combination of the right people and the right circumstances. Holbrook and Laurie Houdek Hill, co-director, worked with Ruth Koehler Bergerson, class agent, and the fundraising team of David Maxwell, Anne Campbell Spence, and Ed Atkins. Although Holbrook emphasizes each person’s specialty and the significance of their contributions to the class’s efforts, he singled out Bergerson for her long-term commitment. “Ruth is the golden thread on whom we have strung all our beads of memory,” Holbrook says. He also speaks of her as a maternal figure to the whole class. “She holds us together,” he says, “And she shares information about all of our far-flung siblings.”

Holbrook’s own contribution is not to be ignored. He made a substantial planned gift that served as the lead gift for the class. What really “blew the doors off,” he says, was an anonymous seven-figure gift.

The class of 1966 aimed to break both the total giving record and the class participation record. They have comfortably broken the former but have not yet surpassed the latter. The class set the bar high with a goal of 66 percent participation. As of June 1, they had exceeded 56 percent, but it remains to be seen whether they’ll set that second challenge for subsequent classes to try to beat.

Holbrook attributes the class’s fundraising success to a healthy level of competition with the class of 1965 and work on the class’s memory book. But more than anything else, it was the forces that shaped the class of 1966 while they were students in the early- to mid-1960s. In October of their first year, they witnessed the Cuban Missile Crisis. The following year John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The Gulf of Tonkin incident colored 1964, and 1965 saw a massive increase in troops being sent to Vietnam. Each summer a number of students would travel to the South and participate in the civil rights movement. And when students weren’t directly involved in world-shaping events, they followed them closely on television. The seismic shifts happening across the United States and the world resonated with these students and shaped their views and politics — and it also drew them together.

The class is collectively considering its legacy. Its members want to contribute to the well-being of the world, and they choose to do that by providing access and resources to future Grinnellians.

Chance Encounter

It started with strangers on a train — very seldom does one get to say that anymore. The year was 1964, and it was this chance encounter that led to Wilfried Prewo ’70’s Grinnell experience, which changed his life and made his recent and future gifts to the College possible.

Bill and Jean Cramer — a couple from Overland Park, Kan., with no real connection to Grinnell — found themselves on the wrong train after visiting a friend in Germany. Prewo, a teenager then, helped them find their way to a train that would take them to Paris, their intended destination. They exchanged contact information, but it seemed unlikely their paths would cross again.

In the next few years, Prewo completed high school and his compulsory military service in Germany and began studying economics at the University of Frankfurt. He daily found himself in lecture halls filled with as many as 800 students. A small class had 300.

In the summer of 1969, Prewo was in the United States and because he had corresponded with the Cramers since they first met, he decided to take them up on their invitation. While visiting he told them about his university experience, his dissatisfaction with the school’s student-faculty ratio of 100:1, and the lack of access to professors.

He also told them about his interest in Grinnell, which he had first learned about through an economics textbook by then-Grinnell professor Robert Haveman. Jean immediately suggested they visit the campus, and they soon made the four-hour drive, where Prewo was given a full tuition scholarship and allowed to enter as a senior.

As excited as he was at the prospect of coming to Grinnell, Prewo didn’t have the $1,000 he needed for room and board for the 1969–70 academic year. The Cramers, even though they had five children of their own, offered Prewo the money as a gift. He hadn’t even asked.

Prewo’s experience at Grinnell was a profound one. The culture was vastly different from that of his university in Germany. “I never knew an academic experience like Grinnell existed,” he says. “It was like the garden of Eden and nirvana.” Before coming to Grinnell, he had never seen an open-stack library. At his former university, “you could sit there and listen, but the learning was limited because there was no back and forth,” he says. At Grinnell, he says, “I could learn so easily.” After one year at Grinnell, he graduated and pursued a Ph.D. in economics from Johns Hopkins University.

In the years since he received his doctorate, Prewo taught at the University of Texas at Austin and then returned to Germany. In 1985 he became chief executive of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce in Hannover. He held that position until he retired in 2012.

Prewo could teach a master class on ways to give. Ever the economist, he chose the three modes that made the most sense for his financial situation: a bequest from an existing family trust, a gift of stock to establish a charitable remainder unitrust managed by Grinnell College, and a cash gift. The bequest and the cash gift will establish a pair of scholarships, one honoring the Cramers and the other honoring his parents. He chose to honor his parents because of the importance they placed on education. He honors the Cramers because they recognized the value of the education he was offered and generously removed the financial obstacle that stood in his way.