David Achio Mendez '13 talks to Paula Nesbeth '13 and other guests at the Multicultural Reception.
David Achio Mendez '13 talks to Paula Nesbeth '13 and other guests at the Multicultural Reception.


Reunion 2023 brings together alumni for weekend of reuniting

June 7, 2023 — Alumni Council member Scott Shepherd ’82 joked during Alumni Assembly that he had been hearing a sound throughout Reunion 2023, but he couldn’t figure out what it was until that moment. 

“It’s the sound of 988 Grinnell College alums in their happy place,” Shepherd said, drawing laughter and applause.

As evidenced by the countless number of smiles, laughs, hugs, handshakes, and meaningful conversations, alumni from 54 different classes were indeed happy to be back in Grinnell spending time with their friends while making new ones along the way.

Koffi Amegble ’23 and Betsy Clarke ’69
Koffi Amegble ’23, center, and Betsy Clarke ’69, right, converse with a group of alums in front of a Grinnell College backdrop.

“It’s great that Reunion brings together all different classes and people,” said Phoebe Souza ’08, a Portland oncology social worker who was attending her first Reunion. “It’s been so fun. I’m amazed by the changes in the campus. It’s so beautiful. And we got to experience the full Iowa weather.”

A brief yet spectacular Friday afternoon downpour was all part of the reunion experience for alumni ranging in class year from 1956 to 2023. Held June 1-June 4, the 143rd Alumni Reunion Weekend was attended by 1,400 alumni and guests, making it the second largest alumni gathering in the College’s history. Throughout the weekend, alumni took part in presentations, socialized at events, toured the campus and community, and formed bonds over shared experiences. 

This year’s registered attendees were from all 50 states, Washington D.C., the U.S. Virgin Islands, and 11 international countries: Canada, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Guatemala, Kenya, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Sweden, and Switzerland.

Jim Amberson ’83 had the distinction of traveling the longest distance for Reunion. Amberson lives in Singapore where he is head of general liability Asia-Pacific for Swiss RE, a corporate insurance company. His flight journey from Singapore to San Francisco to Minneapolis (where he’s from originally) took about 25 hours. 

“Grinnell played a huge part in my life,” Amberson said. “The Grinnell-in-London program played a significant role in my career and led to me being able to work internationally.” 

Kristin Layng Szakos ’81 and Ralph Clayman ’69
Kristin Layng Szakos ’81 and Ralph Clayman ’69 share a laugh during Saturday’s Pioneer Bookshop Open House: Featuring Grinnellian Authors. 

Amberson missed his last milestone reunion, so despite the distance, he made sure he would be here for his 40th reunion. A contemporary art fan, he enjoyed visiting the Grinnell College Museum of Art and meeting director Susan Baley during a museum reception Saturday evening.

“It’s lovely being here,” he said. “There are classmates who I haven’t seen for a while. When you see them and reconnect, you think why haven’t we talked to each other more often? Then there are classmates who unfortunately are no longer with us. Coming to this event heightens the loss and those absences.”

For Ross Langill ’67, the Pioneer Bookshop Open House: Featuring Grinnellian Authors on Saturday was an opportunity to share some of the books written by his wife, Ellen Langill ’67. Ellen wrote over 40 books about the history of Wisconsin’s businesses and community service organizations before passing away last year. 

“I’m here mostly to represent her and talk to people about my wife’s work,” Ross said. “I was the lucky one who proofed all of these books.” 

The Pioneer Bookshop was packed for the event as 20 alumni authors enthusiastically talked with Reunion attendees about their books and lives. Five authors from the class of 1973 were among the 60 alums who returned to celebrate their 50th reunion. 

The 2023 Alumni Awards recipients stand for a group shot at Herrick Chapel after being honored during Alumni Assembly.
The 2023 Alumni Awards recipients stand for a group shot at Herrick Chapel after being honored during Alumni Assembly. 

Michelle Conway Plagman ’73 hadn’t been back to Grinnell in 30 years. Her face lit up when viewing how the façade of Alumni Recitation Hall (ARH) was incorporated into the Humanities and Social Studies Center (HSSC). 

“We’re still learning about these new changes to campus,” she said. “What’s interesting is the flavor of the College is still here with the students we’ve met and the other alums.”

Connie Poole ’73 said being back for her 50th reunion led to different conversations than past iterations. 
“Since we are all in our early 70s, the conversations are more reflective about our life and where we are now and what we enjoyed about Grinnell,” she said. 

One of her favorite elements of the weekend was hearing from classmates about what they remember about her as a student. “More often than not I have no memory of what they remember about me,” she said citing their stories about her donut making and biology paper preparations. 

On Saturday, Reunion attendees gathered at Herrick Chapel for Alumni Assembly. The event included an address by President Anne F. Harris, an alumni choir performance, and the Alumni Awards were presented to 14 recipients who have distinguished themselves by their service to their careers, their community, and/or the College. Alumni Council members presented the awards to this year’s recipients: Mary Knuth Otto ’63, Lorie Hill ’68, Susie Kaeser ’69, Bob Eckardt ’73, Irma McClaurin ’73, Rod Sinks ’81, Kristin Layng Szakos ’81, Rick Stuck ’82, Cameo Carlson ’93, Kartik Sheth ’93, Suyog Shrestha ’06, Emily Guenther ’07, Cynthia Dominguez ’12, and Joy Sales ’13

Learn more about the recipients’ achievements and other fun facts about them in a series of online profiles and watch a replay of Alumni Assembly

Karen Rollhauser ’98, left, joined Ben Rodriguez ’98 and Deana Greenfield ’00.
Karen Rollhauser ’98, left, joined Ben Rodriguez ’98 and Deana Greenfield ’00 for drinks and reminiscences Thursday at the 25th Reunion Welcome Event.

A total of 148 Reunion Class Committee volunteers helped plan Reunion 2023. Class agent Ben Rodriguez ’98 was one of those. He said all the planning and meetings leading up to their 25th reunion was worth it. 

“It’s inspiring and comforting to see all my friends and classmates enjoying being back on campus,” he said. “I’ve been to 10 reunions, and they all have been a lot of fun. My favorite part is reconnecting with people. We can talk about different struggles we are having and life hurdles. Often times there are people that can relate or are going through identical things.”

Mike Van Hulle ’07 enjoying being back at the College because he can have conversations here that he doesn’t get to have in the “real world.” 

“When I’m in Grinnell I feel relaxed, calm, and back at home,” he said.

— by Jeremy Shapiro

For your information:

The 144th Annual Alumni Reunion will take place May 30-June 2, 2024. Classes celebrating milestone reunions are the following: 1954, 1959-60 (cluster), 1974, 1978-80 (cluster), 1999, 2003-05 (cluster), 2014, and 2017-19 (cluster).

To read more alumni news, check out our news archive and like the Alumni & Friends Facebook page.