New Jersey priest enjoying planning his classes’ 35th reunion

April 12, 2022 — When class agent Jen Sultz ’88 wrote a newsletter appeal for volunteers to join the 2022 Reunion Committee, Edmund “Ed” Zelley ’88 stepped up. 

“I like to plan a party!” he says. “I’m working with people who were not in my circle of friends, but our paths still crossed. Whatever the Grinnell experience is, it’s a universal one. If you love the College, you know why you still support it.” 

The first Reunion Zelley attended was his 5-year, which he admits was quite a different vibe from his subsequent experiences of the 25th and 30th. “We hadn’t fully left the college life yet,” he says of the 1993 Reunion. 

Ed Zeller '88 enjoys a class breakfast during Reunion 2017.
Ed Zelley '88 (center) enjoys a class breakfast during Reunion 2017.

This time around Reunion planning meetings have all occurred online, which worked out well for Zelley, a rector for St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Metuchen, New Jersey. “If we had to meet on campus, it would have been difficult for me due to limited vacation time,” he explains. He appreciates the online meeting flow as well as the varying opinions around specific events. “There’s always a balance between having structured experiences and just hanging out.” 

Reunion Committees subdivide to cover all of the tasks necessary to create a meaningful experience. Zelley is helping in several areas from event planning to outreach. He assists co-Class Fund Directors Mark Schumann ’88 and Jeff Skelton ’88 by writing thank you notes to classmates. He’s also reaching out to individuals not yet registered for Reunion.

Particularly meaningful to Zelley is working on the Memorial Subcommittee. 

“People have many ideas of how to honor classmates who have died,” he says, referring to past events that have included photo bulletin boards and story-sharing time. “With my background as a clergy person, I have relevant knowledge in this role,” Zelley adds. The subcommittee adopted Zelley’s suggestion to use a solid bell as names are read, pausing between each name and ding of the bell, to create a uniform reflection time for each deceased classmate. “I’ve seen this done at memorial services,” he explains. “It’s rather effective.” 

Originally from New Jersey, Zelley was eager to get far away from his hometown, and Grinnell fit the bill. He majored in history, sang in the choir, and played soccer and rugby. “I was a North Campus person and worked at Cowles Dining Hall,” he says. A favorite experience was his own KDIC show featuring heavy metal music, a passion of his that remains to this day.

Ed Zeller '88 (right) poses for a picture during the Saturday celebration  a class breakfast at Reunion 2017.
Ed Zelley '88 (right) poses for a picture during the Saturday celebration at Reunion 2017.

While at Grinnell, Zelley attended St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, conveniently located across the street from campus. “That community was a big part of my Grinnell experience. It kept my spiritual life afloat,” he explains. “We were closing bars Saturday night, and I was still at church on Sunday.” In all four years, he only missed church once – the Sunday after his 21st birthday. 

In 2015, after almost 20 years as the rector of an Episcopal church in Wenonah, New Jersey, Zelley was appointed as the priest of St. Luke’s, the church once led by his father. He and his family moved back into the rectory and community where he had grown up and from which he had initially distanced himself. 

“Coming back here is like coming back to a Grinnell Reunion,” he says. “Some people are stuck in nostalgia and there are others who are ready to move on. Hopefully we’ve all changed for the better.” 

These days, Zelley is creating his own niche mainly through volunteering, including serving on the Borough of Metuchen Human Relations Committee, working on issues of bias and promoting inclusivity. “What I value about my faith was nurtured at Grinnell,” Zelley says.

To Zelley, a Grinnell visit is not complete without the requisite trip to Rube’s, the grill-your-own steakhouse in the nearby town of Montour. “I always went once a year when I was a student and later brought my sons there while passing through on a Midwest baseball tour,” he explains. “I’m working on an informal road trip there on Thursday of Reunion for those interested.”

— by Melanie Drake ’92

For your information:

Reunion 2022 registration is open. Check out a preliminary schedule of Reunion events and see what alums have signed up to attend.

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