Trio of 1972 alumnae explain inspirations to name spaces in HSSC

Barb Smith ’72
  Barb Smith ’72

September 2, 2022 — Tucson resident Barb Smith ’72 was passing through Iowa last summer when she decided to make a stop at Grinnell College to see the commons area that she and her husband, Craig Gordon ’71, had named in the new Humanities and Social Studies Center (HSSC).

“I had to sort of talk my way into the building because it was locked,” Smith recalls. She flagged down a nearby student who turned out to have friends coincidentally working on a summer project in the Gordon Smith Commons. One of the students came down to let her in and that was her first time seeing the area the couple had named through a gift to the College. 

A chemistry major, Smith said each student in the department in that era were assigned long lab desks that had space to do experiments. 

“Most of the time we didn’t use it for that; it served as a place we could study, store books, and socialize,” she says. “When I heard [president emeritus] Raynard Kington talk about the HSSC, it was presented as a space where students could collaborate and be together while working on projects. The social sciences figured out what the chemistry department knew 50 years ago – that those kinds of spaces are really important for students.” 

The Gordon Smith Commons in the HSSC South Pavilion
The Gordon Smith Commons in the HSSC South Pavilion has ample room for students to gather to study together. 

Smith, Barb Leslie Putney ’72, and Linnet C. Harlan ’72 all named spaces in the HSSC. While their motivations for giving differed, they all utilized qualified charitable distributions from their IRAs as the vehicle for giving to the College. 

The trio of friends returned to Grinnell in June for the 50th reunion of the class of 1972. Harlan accompanied Putney, Smith, and Alan Cohen ’72 when they went to look at the respective rooms they had named in the HSSC. 

Linnet C. Harlan ’72
  Linnet C. Harlan ’72

“That was fun and interesting,” Harlan says. “But one of the things that irritates me is if you walk around campus, you could easily be forgiven for thinking that Grinnell only admits men because almost all the buildings are named after men. For whatever reason, women don’t tend to donate [to named spaces] and have things named after themselves. And I would really like to see that changed.”

Harlan had previously served in many volunteer capacities at Grinnell including class fund director and class agent. In recent years, she disagreed with the College on several issues, so she lost interest in supporting Grinnell. That changed following conversations with Putney and Smith at Reunion 2022.

This summer, Harlan and her husband, Duane Edgington, named a team room in the HSSC. The Harlan Collaboration Team Room is in the North Pavilion of the building. 

“Some people will tell you that you should always donate anonymously, and that is a good point on some level – your donation should be about the gift, not about your own ego,” Harlan says. “I also think there’s a point to be made by letting your name be on it. It just clicked with me; stop complaining that there’s not stuff named after women and get something named after yourself. You can also show some leadership, and I think that’s what the two Barbs did for me. Especially now, Grinnell women are an important part of how the College makes its imprint on the world, and I think we need to find a way to recognize that.”

The Harlan Collaboration Team Room in the HSSC North Pavilion.
The Harlan Collaboration Team Room in the North Pavilion provides space for students, faculty, and staff to collaborate. 

All three 1972 grads kept in touch with professors over the years. Smith frequently visits Luther and Jenny Erickson. Harlan recalls visiting Al Jones ’50 during her 25th reunion, and the longtime history professor still remembered details of a paper Harlan had written as a student. Putney says biology professor Ken Christiansen became sort of a father figure to her, suggesting next steps for her in the science world. 

When it came time to name a space in the HSSC, Putney decided on the Professor Waldo Walker Commons. As a biology professor, Walker helped bring the first transmission electron microscope to the College. He later became dean of administration where he helped Putney through a rough patch as a student. 

Barb Leslie Putney ’72
  Barb Leslie Putney ’72

Putney assisted Grinnell’s admission office while living in three different states. “I really enjoyed it at a lot because my enthusiasm for the College really showed through that,” she says. When her daughter didn’t get admitted to Grinnell, the enthusiasm waned. 

“But eventually I made up with Grinnell because I still enjoy going back,” she says. “And like Linnet always says, you have to come to the next reunion because you don’t know if that’s going to be the last time you see somebody or not. So, I reevaluated how I felt about my life and my experience there. I don’t think I could have gotten through college if it hadn’t been for Dean Walker. And so that’s why I decided in the end to donate something in his name.”

Smith says when she is talking with friends who graduated from larger universities, they are amazed about Grinnellians having personal, long-lasting relationship with their professors.

“I think especially of the winters when Barber Plaza was frozen,” she says. “We would take a break and go skate on the plaza. And a lot of times professors came with us. And then we would go to the Forum and have a hot chocolate or a coffee; then we all treaded back to study some more. Also, I remember how professors would sometimes wander through at night or the weekends to see what was happening and sort of engage with you more casually. It was really important to have those kinds of mentors.”

The Professor Waldo Walker Commons in the South Pavilion of the HSSC.
The Professor Waldo Walker Commons in the South Pavilion of the HSSC is often used by sociology students.

People who are over the age of 70 ½ can give up to a maximum of $100,000 per year from their IRA directly to a qualified charity such as Grinnell College without having to pay income taxes on the money. Otherwise, the distribution is taxed. This gift often is referred to as a qualified charitable distribution, or QCD for short. 

Smith says the QCD was an easy approach to give a portion of their IRA accumulations to the College. Harlan agrees, saying once Buddy Boulton, director of planned giving, talked her through giving opportunities, the QCD route made a lot of sense. 

“If you’ve decided you’re going to donate to Grinnell and this process is available to you, why would you not donate through this process?” Harlan says. “It's very easy to do, and it’s a win-win.”

— by Jeremy Shapiro

For your information:

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

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