Alumna cherishes relationships formed during 41 years as a class agent

June 20, 2018 — When Hester Newton ’49 began composing class letters in 1977, her method of writing was a typewriter using carbon copies.

“It was such a pain in the neck,” she says. “I had a lot of typing to do. Eventually, I tried writing on a computer. But the first time I did so I didn’t think about saving the letter. So I ended up closing the letter and having to retype it. Those are the things you learn. But it was all worth it because I really loved staying in contact with wonderful people.”

Few Grinnell College graduates have connected their classmates so well for so long. Newton, 90, is in her 41st year serving as a class agent for the Class of 1949. She took over the role in 1977, the same year her son, Carter Newton, graduated from Grinnell.

On June 2, Carter became the third member of the family to win an Alumni Award. Hester received the honor in 2013 and Hester’s mother, Helen Carter Pitts 1907, won an Alumni Award in 1957.

Hester said it’s wonderful that three generations have received recognition. She originally told Carter she wasn’t going to attend Reunion 2018 because she thought she was going to be the only one attending from her class. While that turned out to be the case, Newton was happy she went anyway. She could tell it meant a lot to her son.

When Alumni Council member Claudia Beckwith ’77 read the citations for Carter at Alumni Assembly, she invited Hester on stage to co-present the award.

“It was a very nice experience,” Newton says.

Hester Newton '49 (left) and Claudia Beckwith '77 present Carter Newton '77 with an alumni award at Reunion 2018.
Hester Newton '49 (left) and Claudia Beckwith '77 (right) present Carter Newton '77 with an Alumni Award at Reunion 2018.

Hester and Carter are part of a long line of Grinnellians. A total of 14 family members have attended Grinnell, spanning four generations. The latest graduate is Hester’s grandson, Vincent Newton ’12.

“I was happy Vincent chose Grinnell,” she says. “He didn’t discuss it with any of us. He made the decision on his own.”

Newton earned a history degree from Grinnell and later obtained a master’s degree in elementary education from Michigan State. She taught at Muskegon Heights Elementary School in Muskegon, Michigan, for several decades. She still resides in Muskegon.

Newton was first asked to write a letter in the summer of 1977 as part of the build up to that year’s Reunion. She attended Reunion for the first time that year, getting reacquainted with several of her classmates in the process. She has returned for several reunions in subsequent years.

Newton said her favorite thing about being a class agent is all the friendships she made and maintained over the years. Many classmates took the time to write Newton letters the past four decades about their lives.

“I have a wonderful class who like to write, which was fortunate because it made being a class agent much more fun,” Newton says.

Newton even enjoyed living vicariously through some of her classmates’ trips.

“Through their eyes and ears, I got to experience some exciting travel stories,” she says. “We were still working at the time so some nights the most excitement we had was staring at our fish tank. It was fun hearing about how my classmates were seeing the world.”

Newton has received many honors as class agent over the years including Best News Gatherer Award and Best Campus Reporter Award. She wrote up to three letters a year at one point, even though her time was limited by teaching and taking care of her family. While some class agents send letters online, Newton still sends letters to the Class of 1949 by mail.

After her retirement, Newton got more involved with community volunteering. As a member of the First Presbyterian Church Mission Council, she has helped take on numerous local projects, including building Habitat for Humanities houses.

Newton also has completed several projects to help low-income and homeless people. The council supports several local agencies, such as sacred suds where people can wash their clothes at no cost. She’s worked with the United Way, a clothing closet, and a supper house, as well as being part of a crop walk every fall.

“The philosophies of Grinnell seep through a lot of us as time goes by,” Newton said about the College’s commitment to social responsibility. “Through my adult years, I’ve always wished to be involved with a variety of kinds of people. I consider Grinnell a very valuable part of the way I live my life.”

— by Jeremy Shapiro

For your information:

Class agents play a significant role for each class in promoting and sustaining relationships between classmates and Grinnell College. Learn more about the class agent program.