Five generations of Grinnell women

September 27, 2021 — Sisters Nancy Welch Barnby ‘61 and Jill Welch ’64 said they never felt under pressure to attend Grinnell College. It was just an expectation that they never questioned.

Lucy Hartley ’25
  When Lucy Hartley ’25 decided to attend Grinnell,
  her great aunt, Nancy Welch Barnby ’61,
  mailed her Nancy’s Honor G sweater.

“When we started thinking about college, there was never a question of where my sister and I would apply,” says Jill Welch ’64. “We slept and ate Grinnell from the time we knew what a college was.” 

Nancy and Jill were part of a third generation of family members to attend Grinnell. With the arrival of Lucy Hartley ’25, Jill’s granddaughter, on campus this fall, there are now five generations of Grinnellians. When her great aunt learned of Lucy’s college choice, she mailed a symbolic gift to her – Nancy’s Honor G sweater.

“When I decided on Grinnell, my grandmother was so excited,” Lucy recalls. “It was the height of the pandemic, so we were on Facetime. I was glad that I got to see the look on her face.” 

At the age of 12, Jill saw Grinnell College for the first time during her mother’s (Janet Wright Welch ’34) 20th reunion. During that reunion, she got a chance to meet several of her mother’s college friends and roommates. 

“My grandparents met there, so we felt very attached to the College,” Nancy explains. “My grandfather always called my grandmother Willie – her name was Hazel Wilson. They were known as quite the pair!” 

Hazel Wilson 1906 married Carl Wright 1905. All four children (Margaret ’32, Janet ’34, Catharine ’38 and Robert) attended Grinnell, although Robert headed off to fight in the war after a brief stint on campus. From this generation, all but one of Jill and Nancy’s aunts and uncles are also Grinnell alumni.

The family lore includes a near-miss to this legacy. As Nancy recounts, “When my grandmother came home for Thanksgiving during her first semester, she told her parents she wasn’t going back to Grinnell. We don’t know the reason why, but her mom insisted Hazel go back so she did. If she hadn’t, we wouldn’t all be here now with this story.”

A 1960 family gathering of the Welch family included 15 past, present, and future Grinnell graduates.
A 1960 family gathering included 15 past, present, and future Grinnell graduates. In the back row are Nancy Welch ’61, left, Laura Gleysteen, Lee Gleysteen ’32; Janet Welch ’34, Janet Gleysteen ‘60; Margaret Gleysteen ’33, Glenore Gleysteen ‘69, Mary Gleysteen ‘69, Rod Gleysteen ’34, Meg Gleysteen, and Jill Welch ’64. Sitting are Wayne Welch, left, Grace Gleysteen, Hazel Wilson 1906, Carl Wright 1905, D. Wright 1910, and Helene Wilson. Rod’s kids are pictured standing: Rod Gleysteen Jr. ’72, left, Dirk Gleysteen ’71, and Lee Gleysteen ‘76.

Upon graduation, Nancy taught at Anatolia College in Greece through the Grinnell Travel Service Scholarship. “Grinnell changed my life in a lot of ways. I had this huge adventure just out of college,” she says. Returning two years later, she got her master’s degree in English and pursued a long career in the education field. Jill broke the English major tradition of the Grinnell women preceding her, pursuing biology instead. 

Jill’s daughter, Nell Barker ’99 added the fourth generation of Grinnell women. Jill and Nell have since enjoyed sharing the experience of being at the same Reunion weekend. 

“I’ve gotten to know Nell’s Grinnell friends and see the lasting bond they have that is similar to what I have with my Grinnell friends,” Jill says. 

Over the years, Jill’s group of college friends have visited one another and, most recently, they organized a biweekly Zoom connection formed during the pandemic. Jill’s college friends also wrote letters to Lucy over the summer, and she responded in kind. “I enjoy writing letters, so I was happy to have a reason to do so.” 

Jill Welch ’64, left, and Lucy Hartley ’25
Jill Welch ’64, left, and Lucy Hartley ’25 pose for a photo during Hartley’s high school graduation.

Now Lucy’s campus job is in the mailroom, where she still receives correspondence from her grandmother, great aunt, and their friends. At work, she often thinks about her great aunt’s stories of snail mail. “Phone calls cost too much, so she wouldn’t talk with her parents very often. They relied on letters to keep in touch.” 

Lucy was unable to visit campus prior to enrolling because of the pandemic. She took a leap of faith inspired by a family tradition that has sustained generations, she says. 

— by Melanie Drake ’92

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