New Biology Chair Created

Alumnus honors father, evokes Grinnell upbringing
Jeremy Shapiro

Guillermo Mendoza served as a pre-med adviser to hundreds of future physicians during his distinguished 34-year teaching career at Grinnell College. 

A gift from his son, Dr. Carlos Mendoza ’72, celebrates Guillermo’s legacy as professor, adviser, and researcher. This planned gift of $4.25 million will create the Dr. Guillermo Mendoza Endowed Chair. The new position in the biology department will be awarded in the future to a faculty member with exceptional academic, scholarly, and teaching achievements. 

Carlos himself was a pre-med/biology major at Grinnell. He recalls vividly his father’s recommendation to take advantage of the wide curriculum choices offered at Grinnell and diversify his intellectual interests. He took that advice, minoring in art history and studying abroad in Florence and London, providing him with flexibility in all pursuits.

“I thought Dad nailed it when he said get the heck out of the science building and educate yourself in different areas so you are not intellectually too focused in your career,” Mendoza says. “He was absolutely right. I think that trend continues 50 years later as Grinnell continues to produce pre-med graduates that are diversified in their education and interests. That advice is as good now as it was back then.”

Born in Mexico City in 1909, Guillermo Mendoza moved with his family to California in 1914 during the Mexican Revolution. He went on to earn undergraduate and graduate degrees at Northwestern University while working part time for University of Chicago professor Samuel Stevens. It was during this time that he married Olivia Coronado.

Guillermo started teaching zoology at Northwestern in 1940, the same year Stevens became president of Grinnell College. Three years later, Stevens recruited Mendoza to join the faculty.

A zoologist specializing in the study of a variety of freshwater fish unique to central Mexico, Mendoza’s long academic career included research and teaching biology, comparative anatomy, embryology, genetics, histology, and electron microscopy. He published numerous research papers, held offices in professional societies, and served as chairman of the department of biology and the division of natural sciences at Grinnell College. He held the position of Stone Professor of Biology from 1961 until he retired in 1977. 

Carlos attended medical school at the University of California San Diego, which his older brother, Dr. Guillermo R. Mendoza ’68, had also attended. After completing his training, Carlos voluntarily enlisted and served in the Army for three years as a staff cardiologist. Then followed 30 years in private practice. In 2012, he retired from medicine to his 200-acre farm north of Denver, where he remained busy with successful hay and llama-breeding businesses. 

Mendoza made his gift to Grinnell by contributing his farm to a charitable remainder unitrust, which provides him immediate tax benefits as well as lifetime retirement income following the farm’s sale. The remaining value of the trust will eventually establish the Mendoza Endowed Chair.

As long as Carlos can remember, Grinnell College was an important part of his family’s life. 

“We lived on the edge of campus,” he says. “We talked about the College at the family dinner table and attended Grinnell functions. Because the College was a huge part of my life as a kid and a young adult, the decision to give to Grinnell is a logical way to pay back and acknowledge the pivotal role the College played in our lives as a family.” 

If you would like to learn more about supporting Grinnell College with a life income gift, please contact Buddy Boulton, director of planned giving, boultonb[at]grinnell[dot]edu, 641-269-3248.

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