Grinnell Connection

All Roads Lead Through Norris

I was outside Norris Hall during New Student Orientation last August when I met volunteer greeters Anne Graham Suggs ’74 and Richard Hahn ’65, who asked me how I had heard of Grinnell. I first heard of Grinnell when I met Jeff Taft-Dick ’73, who worked for the United Nations World Food Program. In 1985, I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Mauritania, a former French colony in West Africa, living in Touil, a remote village on the edge of the Sahara Desert, hundreds of miles from electricity, plumbing, or marked roads. When Jeff’s U.N. Land Rover drove in, it was my first contact with the outside world since arriving in my village.

I recently had lunch with Jeff, who confirmed that our conversation in Touil went more or less as follows:

“Etes-vous français?” I asked.

“Non, américain.”

“Oh, good. Me too. We can speak English.”

“Where are you from?” he asked.


“Before my family moved to Vermont, I went to high school for three years in Massachusetts,” he told me.

“What town?” I asked.


“No kidding!” I said. “My father teaches history at Acton-Boxborough Regional High School.”

“What’s his name?”

“Mr. Gifford.”

“Jim? Jim Gifford?” Jeff asked.


“He convinced me to try the pole vault, and I broke my arm!”

I returned from Mauritania, went to law school, and got a job in Manchester, New Hampshire. On Columbus Day weekend in 1994, my best friend from law school flew up from Baltimore to go hiking in the White Mountains. During dinner at the Greenleaf Hut on Mount Lafayette, we met a man from Manchester named Jack.

“You’re single, you live in Manchester, and you like to hike?” he asked me. “Well, I’ve got the woman for you!”

That woman became my wife, Doreen Doyle Gifford ’86. Jack said I could repay him by giving him our firstborn son. We have one daughter, Maeve ’23, who is a first-year student at Grinnell. She lives in Norris, where Jeff and Doreen lived in their first years.

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You Can’t Escape

I turned 40. It was escape time. I took my daughter, then 12 (what was I thinking?!), to Montserrat, a 35-square-mile island in the Caribbean (since obliterated by the volcanic eruption of the Soufriere). In 1982, all was perfect. 

One day, early in our stay, I was trudging up the hill from downtown, and a battered truck lurched to a stop. The driver asked if I wanted a ride. Yes! 

It turned out, after some conversation, that the driver, Gayle Baumgardner, who was also the sewing machine repair/ice/egg lady, had graduated from Grinnell in 1958. Not only that, she said there was a gentleman in the class of ’58 who sold furniture in downtown Plymouth. [The late] Wyndam Hunt, his partner, and I became fast friends for the year that I was there and they helped me develop a marketing strategy for downtown Plymouth.  

We called ourselves the smallest Grinnell Alum Association in the world.

Apples to apples

In the fall of 2018, Toby Cain ’12 mailed packages of rare apples to alumni across the United States for only the cost of shipping. She sent 21 different varieties, and everyone received 10 apples. The apples came from the organic orchard at Seed Savers Exchange near Decorah, Iowa, which has a collection of more than 1,100 different apples. Freeda Brook ‘07 helped Cain pick the 500-plus apples.

Cain connected with her fellow apple geeks on Plans, a sort of minimalist message board that predates Facebook. “I didn’t expect 50 people to geek out about the same things I geek out about!” she says. 

Mairead Ernst Saleh ’06 alerted The Grinnell Magazine to this mini story because, she writes, “I think this is such a great whimsical example of alumni connection post-Grinnell and also such an inspiring example of other ways we can support and give, teaching each other about our work and interests at the same time.”

In the Wild

Ali Wade Benjamin ’92 writes, “Wore my Grinnell T-shirt for a hike up Koko Head on Oahu, Hawaii, on Nov. 16. As I put it on, I wondered if I’d meet any Grinnellians. Sure enough, when I got to the top, Brian Ross ’82 recognized the shirt. He was hiking with his son, Samuel Ross ’16. The world always seems smaller and friendlier when I’ve got my Grinnell T-shirt on.”