Ties that Last

A new endowed chair honors a professor’s legacy and a former student’s memory.

Commemorating a decades-long friendship, the Grinnell College Department of Biology is preparing to instate the new Waldo S. Walker Endowed Chair in Biology. Peg Martin Stiffler ’63 gifted the chair in her estate, a tribute to Waldo Walker, professor emeritus of biology. The announcement, made at the 2013 Reunion, came just a few days before Stiffler died on June 6 at the age of 71. 

A biology major herself, Stiffler was a student assistant and one of Walker’s advisees. “Peg had a little table behind my desk, and we would carry on conversations about everything,” Walker recalls. “It’s an honor — and I can’t say very much about it, because I’ll cry,” he adds.

The gift highlights the powerful mentoring relationship between students and faculty, relationships that often extend well beyond four years on campus. Walker and Stiffler became close personal friends — and remained so for many years — when she took a job in the Grinnell admissions office with then-husband Joe Stiffler ’64

“Long before it became a reality, Peg told me of her desire to endow a chair in honor of Wally Walker,” says David Evans ’64, the Stifflers’ friend since their Grinnell days. “She clearly never forgot the impact he and Grinnell had on her life.” 

Chair recipients will be chosen “to enhance the teaching and research capabilities of the Department of Biology (or any academic division subsequently incorporating this field of study),” with preference given to candidates who specialize in whole plant biology or ecology. Beth Halloran, vice-president for development and alumni relations, who worked closely with Stiffler in setting up the gift, adds, “I’ve worked in the field for a long time, and Peg was one of the most remarkable benefactors I’ve worked with.”

“Peg was a bright and caring person who held strong positions that she would not yield without a terrific battle,” Evans recalls. “She told me that she would have liked to have lived a longer life, but was fortunate to have enjoyed the life she had.”

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