A life transformed

Jan. 31, 2020 — From the moment Betsy Clarke ’69 visited Grinnell College while in high school, she knew there was something special about the campus.

Betsy Clarke '69
   Betsy Clarke ’69

She had first visited the College at age 10 with her mother, Polly Clarke ’32, but Betsy planned on venturing farther from the family’s home near Des Moines for her education. However, during her first independent visit as a high school junior “I saw Grinnell through new eyes and began to see everything that Grinnell had to offer.”

As it turned out, her four years at Grinnell during the late 1960s were vital to who she became. “The campus was alive with engaged students and activism. At one point, central campus was set as a graveyard with crosses to protest the Vietnam War,” says Clarke, who majored in sociology.

“Grinnell turned me into a very different person,” she adds. “The importance of critical thinking really flipped my high school education on its head. I went in thinking learning was about absorbing information, and came out thinking education is about learning to think critically, weighing evidence, and an intellectual freedom that prepares students to make a difference.”

The co-class fund director continues to contribute and volunteer because her college years were so life-changing. She played an instrumental role in fundraising for the class of 1969 Martin Luther King Jr. Endowed Scholarship during their 50th Reunion last year.

And she has supported that scholarship with a Qualified Charitable Distribution from her IRA. “I have a traditional IRA and when you turn 72 there are Required Minimum Distributions, which are then taxable,” explains Clarke.

A Qualified Charitable Deduction (QCD) is a direct transfer of funds from the IRA custodian to a qualified charity like Grinnell College. QCDs count toward the Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) for those over age 72 and are excluded from taxable income.

“It’s a way for me to give back for the life changing educational experience I had at Grinnell,” she says.

Clarke attended Dr. King’s 1967 speech at Grinnell in October along with her whole family. “Dr. King articulated such an amazing redemptive message of what the United States could be,” says Clarke. “I was thrilled that my family got to hear him.”

After earning a master’s degree in educational psychology from California State University – East Bay, Clarke embarked on a 40-year career with the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), eventually becoming state director in Oregon and then in Minnesota. She is now retired and splits her time between Portland and Minneapolis.

The Grinnell tradition has carried on to her family’s next generation: Clarke’s daughter Alexis Jaggers ’97 as well as Alexis’ husband, Matthew Nelson ’97, both attended Grinnell, then Alexis finished her degree at the University of Washington in 1997. The couple have two boys, ages 8 and 11, and Clarke spends most of her time in Portland to be near her grandsons.

“I could almost say that all I ever needed to know in my life I learned at Grinnell,” Clarke says. “It changed me into someone who had confidence in my ability to analyze, to shape policy, to advocate and to help create a better world for my grandchildren.” 

—by Anne Stein '84

For your information:

To learn more about options for planned gifts, contact Buddy Boulton, Grinnell College director of planned giving, at boultonb@grinnell.edu or 641-269-3248.

To read more alumni news, check out our news archive.