California couple embrace hosting Grinnell parent receptions

July 08, 2022 — When Betty Barker and Dan Fost were invited to join the Grinnell College Parents and Family Leadership Council (PFLC), they readily agreed. “We decided this would be a great way to get involved and stay connected to our son who was going to college far away,” Barker explains.

Betty Barker and Dan Fost, with Harry Barker-Fost '23 behind.
  Betty Barker, left, Harry Barker-Fost ’23,
  and Dan Fost are pictured on a bridge
  during a bike ride. 

Barker and Fost joined the Leadership Council when it was initially formed in 2019 – their son, Harry Barker-Fost ’23, was a second-year student at the time. One of the council’s first undertakings was hosting an on-campus reception for new Grinnell families.

“It was really fun to meet all those folks and try to answer questions as the voice of experience, all one year of it,” Fost says.

Through the Council, Barker and Fost have participated in several Grinnell events in the Bay Area where they reside. They joined other parents attending the College’s Bay Area campaign event in downtown San Francisco in February 2020. They’ve also attended gatherings at Grinnell family homes in the Bay Area and have enjoyed every experience and marveled at the myriad of ways Grinnell connects to families in their area.

“Just before the pandemic, there was a lovely reception at the Fairmont Hotel,” Fost recalls. “Months later, we reflected on all the handshaking and hummus-and-pita-dipping and wondered what were we thinking?!” 

Like everything else, parents and family events went virtual during the pandemic. “It was quite interesting to ‘host’ an Iowa event while sitting outside on our deck in the California sunshine!” Barker says.

One of the best pieces of advice Barker and Fost received from other parents was to attend Family Weekend. “One parent told us to sign up early in order to attend the best classes, and a staff member told us not to miss the tour given by president emeritus George Drake ’56,” Fost says. 

Barker and Fost have sat in on classes led by professors Karla Erickson and Sarah Purcell ’92, among others, and forged deep connections with Grinnell staff. They’ve also enjoyed presentations that various administrators have given to the Leadership Council. While visiting Iowa, they also have made time for other experiences. They’ve toured the Conard Environmental Research Area, the Neal Smith National Wildlife Reserve, explored several bike trails, and stayed at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Historic Park Inn Hotel in Mason City.

Barker-Fost had never been in the Central Time Zone until looking at colleges. Arriving to Grinnell with his parents on a wintry Friday evening, a tour guide greeted them providing a memorable introduction to the campus. The student spoke of the upcoming Iowa caucuses, encouraging Harry to not miss this opportunity to meet presidential candidates.

As a student, Harry heeded this advice, ending up as a precinct captain for Andrew Yang. He sent his parents selfies with various candidates and even appeared on CNN. An economics major with a concentration in statistics, he plays baseball and cello, and explores his outdoor interests cultivated in high school through participation in the Grinnell Outdoor Recreation Program.

Harry’s baseball interest is something he shares with his dad. A veteran journalist and freelance writer, Dan focuses on science, technology, and baseball, authoring books on the latter. Living an hour from the San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s ballparks, he watched his son’s interest grow from a child who often headed to the playground early in the game, to a teen who refused to leave before the final out no matter the score. 

Barker is a public defender and has been in that role for almost 30 years. “A big part of this work is seeing the humanity in people in a world that wants to paint them in black and white,” her husband explains. “This was important for Harry to see when he was growing up.” 

Barker loves what she does. “I’m fortunate to work in a county that cares about civil rights and getting representation for clients.” Barker compares her work to that of an archeologist. “I go down through the layers of generational trauma to really understand the person and the case.” She equates this line of inquiry to how she has gotten to know Grinnell. 

“It’s how my brain works,” she says. “Like my job, I want to know everything about Grinnell to know what makes the institution what it is. And when I pull apart Grinnell, I find that it is made up of brilliant, kind, amazing people who are good in this world.” 

— by Melanie Drake ’92

For your information:

For additional information about the Parents and Families Leadership Council, visit the Council’s web page or contact Tina Popson ’92 at

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