Golden Reunion attendees ‘have a blast’ in return to Grinnell

October 5, 2022 — The year was 1950 when Jo Sunnen Sly ’54 became interested in attending Grinnell College, but she enrolled at Ohio Wesleyan University instead.

The reason? Her sister, Esther Sunnen Kreider ’51 was already a Grinnell student at the time. “Instead of being someone’s sister, I wanted to be me, whatever me turned out to be. I was still in the process of figuring that out,” Jo says. 

After Esther graduated, Jo transferred to Grinnell and seven decades later she and her husband, Skip Sly ’54, returned to their alma mater Sept. 29-Oct. 2 for Golden Reunion 2022. They joined 31 other alums from the classes of 1951 and 1954-1958 at the reunion, which was a long time coming for some classes whose get-togethers were postponed by the pandemic.   

Jo Sunnen Sly ’54 and Skip Sly ’54 chat with Associate Professor Monessa Cummins
Jo Sunnen Sly ’54 and Skip Sly ’54 chat with Associate Professor Monessa Cummins before the HSSC Dedication Dinner. 

The Golden Reunion coincided with the dedication of the Humanities and Social Studies Center (HSSC) and several other campus events. Bill Simmons ’58 said a group of music majors from his class wanted to return for the dedication, which too had been delayed. While not everyone could make it, he was elated to visit with Grinnellians from six different classes.

During his career, Simmons practiced law, was director of the California agency limiting smog from vehicles, served as air pollution control officer for San Diego County, and ran a residential real estate REMAX office, amongst other things.

“I’ve always loved Grinnell,” he says. “I appreciate what it did for me. It made me think. Law school made me think in a category of logic. Between those two educations, I’ve been able to do what I’ve wanted to do. I’ve never been driven by money. You have to support a family and have a little to retire on but do something you’re interested in; that’s what is really important. How you get there, you never know.”

His dad, Edward Simmons 1920, is a Grinnell graduate. So is his oldest daughter, Martha Simmons ’87, though she wasn’t interested in Grinnell initially. Bill never pushed attending Grinnell, but he insisted she at least visit. He put her on a flight to Iowa.

“By the time she got back home, she had changed her mind,” Simmons says. “She stayed here over a weekend in the dorm and felt the atmosphere was the kind of thing she wanted.”

For many years, Simmons served as an admission volunteer where he represented Grinnell at college nights in California high schools. “My advice to parents was to send your child to the school and don’t go with them because having a parent there changes things.”

While Martha’s daughters didn’t attend Grinnell, Simmons says, “I still have one daughter left that has young kids, so I still have hope there will be a fourth generation.”

Joan Baker ’51, left, and Bobbie Segrest Froeberg ’58
Joan Baker ’51, left, and Bobbie Segrest Froeberg ’58 catch up Friday at the HSSC Dedication Dinner. 

The Sly family also has deep Grinnell connections. Skip Sly said the reason he went to Grinnell was because of his father, Nelson Sly 1918. “He had such a great experience that he felt it would be a good fit for me,” Sly says. “I came here sight unseen. I was very fortunate to have gone here. My four years here were remarkable.”

Similarly, Marilyn Clarke Sippy ’57 says her parents directly influenced her ending up at Grinnell.

“Grinnell changed my life gloriously,” she says. “I had gone to a different school, and it was dreadful in some ways. My mom went to visit three other schools. She called me from Grinnell and told me she found a place for me.”

Along with Jo and Skip Sly, Sippy was among those alums that took part in a private tour Friday at the Grinnell College Museum of Art. Reunion attendees also had the opportunity to attend two gallery talks and receptions at the museum.  

A physic major, Skip Sly had previously been back on campus for the Robert N. Noyce’49 Science Center dedication. 

“There’s a classroom in there named the Sly Introduction to Physics,” Skip jokes (as the official name is the Sly Physics Laboratory). “It’s something we were happy to do. My favorite professor was Grant Gale. Like Marilyn said, how many more opportunities are we going to have to get back here? We’re not getting any younger and travel takes a lot of effort and energy. But we made it, and we’re happy we did.” 

A guided tour of the HSSC Saturday led by Erik Simpson.
Golden Reunion attendees joined other Grinnellians for a guided tour of the HSSC Saturday led by Erik Simpson, co-chair of the HSSC Planning Committee and the Marie-Louise Rosenthal Professor of Humanities.

Don McInnes ’51 was also delighted to be back in Grinnell. McInnes retired three years ago after a long career as a private practice attorney. “I was only 90, but I retired anyway,” he says while grinning. “I have very strong connection to Grinnell. I enjoyed my studies as a student and have enjoyed a close relationship with the College as an alumnus. I’m the class fund director and class agent for our class.”

Don and his wife, Jeannette McInnes, took a guided tour of the HSSC during an open house Saturday. They also visited an HSSC classroom the day before, sitting in during a Religion and the Middle East class taught by senior lecturer Elias Saba.  

“The HSSC is very impressive,” Don McInnes said. “We thought highly of it. It was interesting see the technology at work during the class.”

While the newer buildings received good reviews from the 1950s alums, they also were glad to see some familiar facilities from their student days. Alums took a golf cart tour of campus on Friday morning and some explored campus on their own. Simmons and McInnes noted how different it was back then with men and women living in separate residence halls. This was an era of housemothers, curfews, and men’s and women’s dining rooms. 

As a student, McInnes was the head waiter of the women’s dining room. “It’s the best job I’ve ever had,” he says while laughing. “It’s been all downhill since then.” 

— by Jeremy Shapiro

For your information:

Reunion 2023 will be the next large-scale reunion gathering on campus. See which classes will be celebrating milestone reunions on June 1-4, 2023.  

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