Longtime class agent relishes connecting classmates

July 13, 2021 — When David Gassaway ’91 became a class agent in 1996, he didn’t anticipate that one day he would be planning a virtual reunion.

Yet when the pandemic hit and a virtual setting became the only option for classmates to reunite,
Gassaway – along with many other volunteers – rose to the challenge. More than 800 alumni took part in Virtual Reunion 20/21 from June 3-10.

“While an online reunion could not replicate the experience of physically being in Grinnell, the virtual platform added an element of accessibility for all classmates,” he says. “We had alums attend who normally have difficulty making it to campus.”

Having devoted over two decades to the role of class agent, Gassaway is well-connected to classmates. In 2010, Irene Faass ’91 came aboard as co-class agent and the two have shared duties since.

“Over the past 12 years I’ve really enjoyed collaborating with Irene Faass as my co-class agent,” Gassaway says. “We’ve had fun planning reunions and trading off editing the class letters. Irene’s engaging writing style has greatly enhanced the quality of the letters.”

Co-class agents Irene Faass ’91, left, and David Gassaway ’91 stand in front of an oversized Scrabble board at Hotel Grinnell.
Co-class agents Irene Faass ’91, left, and David Gassaway ’91 stand in front of an oversized Scrabble board at Hotel Grinnell.

Gassaway says the biggest change over the years regarding being a class agent has been the rise in social media usage. Since the advent of the alumni Facebook groups, ECN (Everyday Class Notes), and Grinnell Class of ’91, contributions to their class letters have waned, he says.

“With social media, you can post an update about your life and then have a more instantaneous basis for conversation,” he says. The class letters Gassaway and Faass produce are now shorter and less frequent, although he still sees value in this format for classmates who do not have a social media presence.

As a high school student in Portland, Oregon, Gassaway heard of Grinnell College from the college rankings lists he enthusiastically followed. After a trip to visit to East Coast schools, he flew to Iowa to see Grinnell and, even though snow blanketed the campus, Gassaway found the reception much warmer compared to his experience out east. “Grinnell was my number one choice, and I was ecstatic to get in,” he recalls.

A political science major, Gassaway was involved in GORP (Grinnell Outdoor Recreational Program), and upon taking a diving class from legendary swimming and diving Coach Ray Obermiller, he asked to join the diving team. “Obie rolled his eyes,” he recalls. “I probably should have stuck with running. I was far too tall to dive, but I had a great time.”

David met his future wife, Jennifer Jones Gassaway ’93 the year they both lived in Clark Pit. Years later they reconnected at a Portland alumni reception. Jennifer’s father and aunt are also Grinnell alumni (Paul Jones ’59 and Phyllis Jones Mainwaring ’61).

After Grinnell, Gassaway moved back to Portland and started volunteering for the Red Cross where his interest in disaster relief began. His volunteering led to a paid position and ultimately, he became the emergency services director with the Red Cross, working on natural and other large disaster relief.

“I got to see some interesting places but would have to leave right away and be gone for long periods of time,” he explains. Eventually he wanted to focus more on his family – he and Jennifer have a 15-year-old daughter. Consequently, Gassaway now does regional disaster planning work in the Portland area with the Washington County Office of Consolidated Emergency Management.

The class of 1991 Reunion Committee took a group photo when they were in Grinnell in 2019 to start planning for their 30th reunion.
The class of 1991 Reunion Committee took a group photo when they were in Grinnell in 2019 to start planning for their 30th reunion.

Gassaway has volunteered in other roles for the College. He and Jennifer have hosted Grinnell summer picnics in Portland. He was a volunteer for GRASP (Grinnell Regional Admission Support Program) during its tenure and enjoyed interviewing prospective students. He continues to love the role of class agent most of all.

“The College does a great job leading us through the recruitment process that helps us put together a reunion committee,” he says. “The planning weekend at the College serves as a mini-Reunion where you get to reconnect with a group of your classmates ahead of the main event.”

In fact, the classes of 1989-1991 cluster reunion committee met on campus in 2019, fully expecting an in-person event.

“We had fun activities lined up including a craft session using parts of the old student mailboxes,” he says. Gassaway also recalled an ax-throwing session was in the works, mentioning how open the College has been to some out-of-the-box ideas.

While Gassaway says Virtual Reunion could not replace the spontaneity of meeting other alumni on campus, he did think the Alumni Assembly video broadcast was a hit.

“The College did a great job with that event,” he says. “I especially liked the video segments in which Alumni Award recipients gave acceptance speeches. It was nice to know about their journeys and why they were receiving the award.”

— by Melanie Drake ’92

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