Special Campus Memo: Erickson Endowed Chemistry Professorship Established

September 09, 2019

Team Effort Establishes Luther and Jenny Erickson Endowed Professorship of Chemistry

An outpouring of support from former students of Luther Erickson, professor emeritus of chemistry, and Jenny Erickson, retired Forum director, has led to the creation of a new professorship.

The Luther and Jenny Erickson Endowed Professor of Chemistry will play an important, strategic role in the academic life of Grinnell College, serving to both recruit and retain future faculty members who embody the characteristics so well-known and generously shared by the Ericksons.

The inaugural professorship will be awarded to chemistry professor Leslie Lyons, whom the Ericksons have known for decades. The Ericksons and Lyons at one point lived next door to each other on College Park Road. Lyons will be formally installed in the new professorship during a public ceremony in 2020.

“I am honored to be named the Luther and Jenny Erickson Professor of Chemistry,” Lyons says. “I look forward to continuing the Ericksons’ proud tradition of serving Grinnell students in teaching and research.”

The Ericksons came to Grinnell in 1962 when Luther began teaching in the chemistry department, and where he served as a professor for 41 years, retiring in 2003. Jenny was director of the Forum for 20 years before retiring in 1997. Together they taught, encouraged, mentored, and supported thousands of students while also serving as pillars of the Grinnell community.

Among those students was Grinnell College Trustee Edward Senn ’79 who worked for Jenny as a Forum desk attendant and took a first-year course of Luther’s. While most professorships are set up by an individual donor or couple, Senn reached out to Kenneth ’65 and Mary Sue Coleman’65, and Joe Oxman ’79, with a novel way of approaching the professorship — crowdsourcing.

More than 35 alumni have since joined together to honor the Ericksons by making gifts and commitments to establish the Luther and Jenny Erickson Endowed Professorship of Chemistry.

“Luther and Jenny had a tremendous impact on generations of Grinnellians,” Senn says. “Their relationships with students are lifelong. It didn’t end with the coursework or when the job was over at the Forum. That was just the beginning of a lifelong friendship and mentorship. It was heartwarming and reaffirming to know that the Ericksons are beloved by generations of the Grinnell alumni community.

As word spread about the professorship, Luther and Jenny’s phone and doorbell began to ring more often than usual.

“Having this professorship in our names is an honor, and we do appreciate it,” Luther says. “We’ve been here for 57 years, so we’ve been fortunate to get to see our former students periodically. Many of them have become good friends. This effort put us in touch with even more of our former students.”

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