1993 Grinnell alumnus planning ahead in support of class scholarship fund

Feb. 19, 2021 — Whether it’s annual giving, retirement planning, or other facets of life, John Brentnall ’93 has learned that it’s important that habits start early.

John Brentnall ’93
    John Brentnall ’93

“When college graduates enter the workforce, they might have student debt and could be paying rent and other bills for the first time,” Brentnall says. “Start with a small annual gift – even if it’s a $10 monthly debit, and as time goes on and situations change, they may be able to adjust figures upward. Working in retirement planning almost my whole career, I see many parallels between charitable giving and retirement planning. Start out early by forming a habit and then it could blossom later.”

Brentnall has given annually to Grinnell College’s Pioneer Fund and has contributed to the Class of 1993 Endowed Scholarship Fund in recent years. In 2020, he named the scholarship fund as a beneficiary of two retirement assets so that the gifts will benefit future generations of students.

The Class of 1993 Scholarship was established in 2012 by Michael G. Ison ’93. Scholarship recipients are Grinnell College students with financial need and good academic standing.

“I hope that the 1993 scholarship fund will help those who traditionally have not had access to four-year schooling,” Brentnall says. “It will blaze that path just as my path was blazed through the scholarships Grinnell provided.”

Brentnall grew up in Creston, Iowa. He was aware of Grinnell but didn’t put much thought into attending the College until seeing how well Grinnell was regarded in the U.S. News & World Report. It came down to a decision between Northwestern and Grinnell. “I could play tennis at Grinnell, so that clinched it,” he said. “Plus, growing up in a small Iowa town, I don’t think I was ready to move into a metropolitan area at the time.”

A political science major, the amount of writing that had to be done at Grinnell helped Brentnall with the ability to express himself in logical ways.

“Liberal arts is all about using primary sources and observation to make conclusions,” he says. “Being able to help peers and managers with writing has added value to the companies where I have worked. Writing, editing, and data analysis learned at Grinnell translated seamlessly into the business world, even for a B- student.”

Grinnell also changed his view on societal topics. Brentnall’s mother has lived with a severe mental illnesses most of her adult life. In a small town in the 1980s, there was a lot of stigma amount mental illnesses.

“We didn’t talk about it. That’s how it was,” Brentnall recalls. “When I went to Grinnell, I didn’t realize that it was wrong or different. My time at Grinnell helped me with coming to terms with how our family’s setup was different than others and how to be the best caregiver I could be to my mom, while at the same time maintaining my own well-being and mental health. I provide my mom with love and support as best as I’m able to, and if I’m not perfect, I’ve learned to offer myself grace. I don’t know that I would have been able to mature and understand that had I not gone to Grinnell. It’s a very special place.”

After living in Des Moines for a few years after graduation, Brentnall moved to the Twin Cities in 1997 and has lived there ever since. The 2016 election results got him thinking more about Iowa.

“I have been removed from conversations that take place in small town cafes and communities that at one time in history Grinnell grads used to live in before it became more common to move out of state,” he says. “I wondered how I should re-inject myself and my fellow Grinnellians into the conversations for Iowa.”

One answer for the time being is through current use and planned gifts to the Class of 1993 Scholarship Fund.

“Unfortunately, the class of 1993 has lost about 10 classmates over the years,” Brentnall says. “Life is very precious, and none of us know when we are going to expire. Taking the time to think about where you want your funds to go, and how you want your loved ones to be protected, creates a lot of peace of mind.”

Brentnall says he put off setting up a will for five to ten years because it felt really daunting. An article he read convinced him it was time to stop putting it off. The article suggested to think about what people would like to do should they pass away in the next three to five years.

“When you think about that way, it eliminates the Grinnellian need to overthink,” he says. “It places guardrails on how you approach setting up a will. Then when your situation changes, you can revisit it. You won’t have to redo everything. You’ll likely have only a couple of changes.”

Brentnall says Grinnell was generous in granting him financial aid as a student. Now, he’s returning the favor.

“It is my personal goal that what I contribute while I’m alive and kicking will be as much as I received when I was a student,” he says. “And my bequest will more than cover the amount.”

—by Jeremy Shapiro

For your information:

To learn more about planned gifts, contact Buddy Boulton, Grinnell College director of planned giving, at boultonb@grinnell.edu or 641-269-3248.

To read more alumni news, check out our news archive.