Pinned, then Dunked!

If you saw a group of women looking down from an open window of a South Campus dorm, as the sounds of "Honey, honey bless your heart" drifted up from the lawn below, you would be witnessing the result of a pinning at Grinnell College. Some lucky coed had snagged a man or visa versa.

It's the '50s and attaining a Younkers, Cowles, or any men's dorm pin was akin to wearing your high school beau's class ring on a chain circling your neck, although a North Campus pin was taken more seriously. Pinning often led to an engagement ring.

After the serenade, the lucky coed might be carried to a shower and "dunked," clothes and all, to celebrate her new status. That's exactly what has happened in this photo of Marta Martens Kurth '61, who looks happy (though wet) after getting pinned to Jerry Kurth '58.

The "dunking" is just a sample of the many rituals that seemed to abound in the 1950s at Grinnell College. Was I ever pinned at Grinnell College? No, but I was "ringed" with a diamond by a Grinnell grad after college: my lifelong partner, George Drake '56.

- Sue Drake '58
Grinnell, Iowa

… And a Word from the Girl in the Shower!

Marta Martens Kurth '61Sad to learn the "pinning tradition" has been dropped. It was a special event, and the song "Honey" was beautiful in the deep male voices.

That Honor G pinning in Sue's photo led to a Golden 50-year anniversary to be celebrated on May 30, 2009 (formerly Memorial Day until they changed the observation day on us). We thought we would always have a day off on our anniversary!

No one thought I would finish college when I gave up my Grinnell scholarship and left to marry Jerry. But, after attending universities all over the country, I finished with a B.A. in French with Distinction, this time on the Jerry Kurth Scholarship!

We've had an interesting life - 20 years in the Marine Corps living in Morocco and all over the United States. Jerry is now senior vice president-investment officer with Wells Fargo Advisors (formerly Wachovia Securities) and still working. We split our time between Kansas City and Scottsdale, Ariz., where we have been lucky to watch our two grandsons grow up. We have traveled most of the world on vacations and company trips, but are still ready to go at every opportunity.

- Marta Martens Kurth '61
Lees Summit, Mo.

On the Right Track

Kent Halsey '54Portia McNally and I met on a train out of New York City on our way to Grinnell in 1950. We started dating when we arrived at Grinnell, and eventually we went through the "pinning" thing where I gave her my Langan Hall pin and guard to wear. We became engaged when we graduated in 1954 and were married in 1955. We still are married.

- Kent Halsey '54
The Villages, Fla.  

A Happy Ending

James Kissane '52When I fell off the proverbial potato truck and landed in Grinnell as a first-year, many of the peculiarities of a college culture were new to me. One particularly bewildering item was the term "pinning" and the custom to which it referred. Oh, I knew it could not have anything to do with the Middle Western craze for competitive wrestling, but that was all I did know.

When in time I became somewhat more wised up, I concluded - drawing upon some pretty sketchy high school experience - that being pinned was rather like "going steady." But such an assumption was inexact; pinning involved a more substantial commitment. If it did not quite rise to the solemnity of announcements in a local newspaper's "society" column, the bestowal of one's hall pin upon a chosen co-ed did constitute an impecunious undergraduate's equivalent of an engagement ring.

So, at least, it appeared to me in my second year at Grinnell, as Nancy Duke '52 and I were beginning to realize that we were embarked on the big adventure of our lifetimes. We had proceeded from the then-all-but-obligatory "coffee date" to many hall parties and all-college dances. We were spending a lot of time together, studying in the library, but also - since her family lived right across the street from Smith Hall - in the Duke's living room, untroubled by the dour and dreaded sanction known in those benighted days as "women's hours"!

Sometimes Nan's folks drove us up to Marshalltown for Sunday dinner at "Stones" (how's that for encouragement?) and when the weather allowed, we went out into the country on long walks where we glimpsed the possible future. Blissfully ignorant of cell phones, we even wrote little notes to each other. It was the beginning of the dim and docile '50s, and it was all lovely.

My roommates - incredulous at first ("You asked the dean's daughter for a date!") and then amused but always encouraging, if not always tactful - became a personal rooting section of two. They didn't doubt my ardor, but they decided my progress was exasperatingly slow. Of course we were sure this was for real; and Nan would have accepted a ring, though it was no secret to her that I couldn't afford one.

That's why I have good reason to be grateful for the quaint collegiate custom of those days known as pinning. I must shamelessly confess that even a brand new Smith Hall pin was beyond my financial reach; but one of my roommates offered to sell me his, which wasn't at the time doing him much good, at a price I considered steep enough to make the whole undertaking entirely creditable.

Naturally, I'd have paid infinitely more, had that been necessary and even remotely possible. Nan was pleased to wear my pin and never did mind not having a ring, so she has always claimed. This simple story has no "O'Henry-type" ending. No ironic turns, no excruciating pathos; just a happy outcome with no surprises for the reader, but satisfactory in every way to the author and his characters. We were married in Herrick Chapel on Commencement Day.

- James Kissane '52
Athens, Ga.

Originally published as an online extra for The Grinnell Magazine, Spring 2009

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