Scholarship endowment from Joe Fell ’58 honors his father

Joseph (Joe) Fell '58
   Joseph (Joe) Fell ’58

March 24, 2022 — Joseph (Joe) W. Fell ’58 was connected to Grinnell from the day he was born. His father was Robert B. Fell 1925, and Joe was named after Robert’s roommate, Joe Rosenfield 1925

Joe Fell, a retired Oriental rug dealer and investor, passed away in February 2021. Through an endowment that honors his father, he will continue the family’s connection to the College for years to come.

The Robert B. Fell 1925 Endowed Scholarship was created by Joe through his estate to serve students with financial needs. An initial gift of $1.6 million has been received by the College, and future estate distributions may bump up the gift total to more than $2 million.

“The only way Joe was able to go to Grinnell was because he had a scholarship,” explains his nephew, Todd Henry, who has been coordinating with the College on behalf of the family. “He had the ‘pay it forward’ philosophy. And he wanted to honor his father.” 

Roberta Fell ’55, Joe’s sister, says another reason her brother was inspired to create the estate gift was because of Rosenfield’s generosity to the College. 

Joe and Roberta were on campus at the same time, though they had different interests. “I was involved with dancers and actors, and he hung out with a different group,” Roberta says. “Joe was interested in English courses, and he spent a lot of time actively writing a novel.” 

According to Roberta, Joe left Grinnell after two years. He moved to San Francisco where he married Judi Reget ’56. They had initially met at Grinnell and re-connected during a chance meeting in San Francisco, Todd says. Joe later worked for a publishing company and was a photojournalist in New York before settling in Chicago.

Joe’s interest in rugs and textiles began in the 1960s. “He was at an estate sale and saw a beautiful rug wrapped around a refrigerator. He asked how much it was and was told it wasn’t for sale,” recounts Roberta. “He bought the fridge and ended up becoming an authority on village and nomadic rugs.”

Joe launched an antique rug gallery in Chicago during the 1960s. Later, he became well-known in his field. 

“Joe was a fascinating guy,” Todd says. “He was a pilot who flew his own plane. He was a serious wine connoisseur, to the point where he and Judi would fly to France and tour wineries to add to their extensive collection. He also had a series of exotic cars in his younger days.

“He always supported Grinnell College, and he decided that he wanted his estate to go to Grinnell, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Textile Museum at George Washington University, where he served on the board,” Todd added. 

Roberta also married a Grinnellian, the late Ronald P. “R.P.” Henry, Jr. ’57. They had five children. 

Robert Fell 1925
   Robert B. Fell 1925

The family’s Grinnell legacy started with Robert Fell, who was born and raised in the tiny town of Fremont, Iowa. Roberta and Joe grew up there and from the time she was young, “I knew I’d go to Grinnell,” Roberta says. 

Though none of her children attended the College, her granddaughter, Katherine Henry ’06, continued the family legacy. Robert Fell’s nephew and his wife, Gordon B. Mulder ’53 and Mary Ellen Steen Mulder ’53, also are Grinnellians. 

Robert Fell was a devoted alumnus who developed the class agent system. He served as the general class agent who oversaw the entire class agent system, in addition to representing his own class of 1925. He also was a member of the Alumni Advisory Council. The original building housing the alumni office was named Fell House in his honor. Fell House also housed the registrar, off-campus study center, and other offices until it was torn down in 2001 to make room for the John Chrystal Center. 

Today the Fell Atrium, located in the Chrystal Center, honors Robert Fell, whose dedication to the early development of the College’s volunteer and alumni relations programs gave generations of Grinnellians access to the spirit and fellowship of the Grinnell College community. His son’s gift is now doing the same.    

— by Anne Stein ’84

For your information:

To learn more about estate or other planned gifts, contact Buddy Boulton, Grinnell College director of planned giving, at or 641-269-3248.

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