Inspiring Grinnell experiences over 60 years ago leads to $5 million gift

Feb. 15, 2024 — In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Katherine Howell Weingart ’61 and her brother, Steve Howell ’63, would venture to downtown Grinnell to frequent the drug store soda fountain or get a haircut.

It wasn’t until Howell spent a summer in Grinnell living off campus, that he grew to enjoy the community and saw it as something beyond a place to get services.

That intersection of campus and community is a cornerstone of Renfrow Hall, which is rising rapidly on the southwest corner of Broad Street and Sixth Avenue. A significant construction milestone – the topping off ceremony – was held Jan. 30. Named in honor of Edith Renfrow Smith ’37, the first Black female graduate of Grinnell College and the oldest living alumna, Renfrow Hall will provide a distinctive model for student residential living, education, and civic engagement when it opens in August.

A December drone photo of Renfrow Hall from the south shows the construction progress.
A December drone photo of Renfrow Hall from the south shows the construction progress. The Katherine “Kathie” Howell Weingart ’61 Civic Innovation Pavilion will be in the southeast portion of the building, seen here on the lower right.

When it came time for Howell to designate a gift to Grinnell on behalf of Weingart, the Civic Innovation Pavilion inside Renfrow Hall was an ideal choice for several reasons.

“I thought my sister would be interested in the pavilion because she had done a lot of community work where she lives in Walla Walla, Washington,” Howell says. “I also felt the concept was great. It will be good for the community. They will have programs there that will be of interest to both students and community members.”

Along with the residential spaces, a key feature of the project is a public pavilion on the first floor of the south tower dedicated to civic innovation, providing space for dialogue, exchange, problem solving and collaborative brainstorming with the community. This space will be called the Katherine “Kathie” Howell Weingart ’61 Civic Innovation Pavilion.

Kathie and her late husband, Walt, wrote a will many years ago that included the intention of giving to Grinnell College. Kathie suffers from Alzheimer’s and today lives in a care facility in Walla Walla.

Walt Weingart and Kathie Howell Weingart ’61
Katherine Howell Weingart ’61 (right) is pictured with her husband Walt Weingart at a 2006 family reunion.

While organizing his sister’s affairs, Howell began talking with Grinnell development staff about how to designate the Weingart family gifts. The result was a $3 million gift to name the Civic Innovation Pavilion, as well as planned gifts for a scholarship fund and to the Academic Dean’s Discretionary Fund. In total, the gift exceeds $5 million.

“I thought it was appropriate to name the Renfrow Hall space after my sister since she was a loyal alum, a residence hall president, and she made many good friends at Grinnell,” Howell says. “She felt very privileged to be able to go to Grinnell.”

Weingart and Howell grew up in Ames where their father was a professor at Iowa State University. There were administration assistants in their father’s workplace, and he thought that would be a good job for Weingart. “He envisioned more of a traditional role in that time period for Kathie,” Howell says. “She had other ideas. She wanted to go on and get a liberal arts education.”

Weingart thrived at Grinnell. She majored in sociology and anthropology and became president of James Hall.  

Steve Howell ’63 and Katherine Howell Weingart ’61
Kathie’s positive experience at Grinnell was influential on her brother’s college selection. Steve Howell, left, is a 1963 Grinnell graduate.

“She talked about how the professors were really wonderful,” Howell says. “Joseph Wall was one in particular. Life there was good academically, and she made a lot of lifelong friends.”

Did Weingart’s rave reviews of Grinnell convince Howell to attend a couple years later? “I hate to admit it, but she talked me into it. I had a great time at Grinnell, too.” 

After graduation both siblings stayed in academia for the most part. Weingart was a teacher before becoming an associate dean of women at Northwestern University. She later worked on national college accreditation teams where she traveled around the country to visit and accredit various colleges. 

Kathie met Walt at Northwestern and the couple got married in 1967. After they moved to Washington, Kathie was a psychology instructor at Walla Walla Community College for 30 years while Walt taught history at Whitman College. In 2022, Howell facilitated a $10 million gift to Whitman College for the J. Walter and Katherine Weingart Opportunity Scholarship that went to students from the state of Washington.

Katherine Howell Weingart ’61
Katherine Howell Weingart ’61 majored in sociology and anthropology at Grinnell and was president of James Hall. She later was a psychology instructor at Walla Walla Community College for 30 years.

Similarly, Kathie had expressed an interest in helping female students from Iowa like her, which led to a planned gift for the Katherine “Kathie” Howell Weingart ’61 Scholarship Fund at Grinnell College. 

“This scholarship reflects her gratitude for the opportunities Grinnell provided her and represents her desire to help other deserving Iowa young women to attend Grinnell,” Howell says.

Steve Howell ’63 and Anne F. Harris in Washington D.C.
    Howell and Anne F. Harris
    in Washington D.C.

On Feb. 6, Grinnellians in the D.C. area gathered at DACOR Bacon House for a dessert reception to celebrate the naming of the Katherine “Kathie” Howell Weingart ’61 Civic Innovation Pavilion. President Anne F. Harris attended the event and thanked Weingart and Howell for their generosity. 

“Naming the Civic Innovation Pavilion in Renfrow Hall for Kathie reflects her career in higher education, her love of Grinnell, and her Iowa roots,” Harris said. “Both Kathie and Steve spent their careers as educators. Education is a fundamental manifestation and commitment of civic trust.”

“Grinnell students come to us with the trust that they will graduate with the knowledge and skills required to serve the common good. This gift will help us provide more of those opportunities for Grinnellians like Kathie and Steve. We are so tremendously grateful for your thoughtful and impactful support,” she added. 

Howell says the addition of Renfrow Hall and the idea behind the Civic Innovation Pavilion demonstrates the uniqueness of the leadership of Grinnell. 

“I’m pleased with Anne Harris and think she’s doing a wonderful job,” he says. “It’s a great time to invest in the College.”

— by  Jeremy Shapiro

For your information

Learn more about the plans for Renfrow Hall and save the date Sept. 27-28 for the building’s dedication. Visit the livestream for a current construction photo and video.

For more information about supporting civic engagement at Renfrow Hall, contact Susan Kriegel, at or 641-269-4955.

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