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True Grinnellian: Joe Bagnoli

Joe Bagnoli and his four children are all very involved in the Grinnell community. Contributed photo.

Six months after Joe Bagnoli’s daughter, Lilianna Bagnoli ’15, enrolled at Grinnell College, she wrote back to her father, “At Grinnell, you can be who you are without being judged.” Thus, when he was offered the position of the College’s vice president for enrollment and dean of admission and financial aid, he didn’t think twice before accepting it.

Since then Grinnell has been home to the Bagnoli family, who have become an integral part of the city’s community. Bagnoli admits that he was a bit nervous about how his children would adapt to a new setting, but those fears were allayed within a week of their arrival.

Bagnoli noted that the people of Grinnell have been remarkably generous to his family, who have been consistently awestruck by the range of opportunities available in the local school system and the people of Grinnell’s commitment to the youth.

“We have terrific neighbors and have enjoyed getting to know the Iowa landscape, lakes, trails and eateries. We frequent various restaurants in Grinnell and always enjoy grilling at Rube’s in Montour,” Bagnoli wrote in an email to The S&B.

Besides his positon in the college’s administration, Bagnoli is well known for spreading joy through pancakes. This started simply as a way to help his children forge friendships with students at their schools by inviting them over for pancakes after a home football game. Not knowing how Twitter functioned at the time, he suggested to his son that he invite as many people as he wanted. By the time he got home from the game, there was a line of kids out the front door! That began a multi-year tradition of serving pancakes to high school students after home football games.

“Last Friday was the first home football game of the year and we had around 80 students and made about 175 pancakes. My kids insist that students show up because they like the pancakes (we make them from scratch) but I suspect they’re looking for a fun way to spend time with friends outside of school and that’s what I hope we offer.”

Even his neighbors have played a role in the pancake gathering, many helping with ingredients and serving over the years. They’ve also been understanding of the crowd, the parked cars up and down the street and the tunes that reverberate into the night air when the door opens and closes to accommodate pancake eaters.

Outside of pancakes and in spite of his busy schedule, Bagnoli tries to make it to every one of his children’s athletic and extracurricular events. His youngest, Cecelia, was a sixth grader when they arrived and is currently a senior at Grinnell High School. She actively volunteers for efforts related to cancer research, youth mentoring and even politics, working to raise awareness and support in the school community regarding diversity and appreciation of differences in the student body. Philip, a junior at Luther College, is currently in Rochester, MN for a year of classes and clinicals at the Mayo Clinic. He is following the footsteps of his sister Mariana, a recent graduate from Beloit College, who is currently pursuing a master’s in nursing at Marquette University. Meanwhile, Lilianna is serving as a field manager for Dimagi, a Boston-based software company, in New Delhi, where she trains frontline community healthcare workers to use technology to assist with diagnosis and treatment of illness in remote parts of India and Myanmar.

“I must be the luckiest father on earth and I am profoundly grateful for every school, college, person and resource that has ever contributed to the young adults my children have become,” Bagnoli wrote.

Until recently, much of Bagnoli’s free time went to completing a Ph.D., which he finished last year. Now he tries to play some golf from every so often, spend time with his kids — whenever they’re home — and his best friend, Julie. He also enjoys photography and music.

In terms of his work at the College, Bagnoli finds the mission and work of Grinnell compelling and deeply satisfying, often being reminded of his own undergraduate experience as a student at Berea College in Kentucky.

“I can’t think of three commitments that more closely align with my professional aspirations than those espoused by Grinnell College — academic excellence, diversity and social responsibility,” he wrote.

Bagnoli believes that the trustees, faculty, staff, administration and students are co-conspirators in a significant educational enterprise that inspires one and all to open themselves to the world they encounter and make it a better, more socially just place.

“Although every school has something valuable to offer, I have never encountered any place like Grinnell College,” Bagnoli wrote. “What this College has made available to generations of Grinnellians and what they have contributed to the world is astounding. I feel lucky to come to work every day with people who want to have this kind of impact on the world.”

“Nothing excites me more than meeting prospective students and their families,” Bagnoli wrote of his favorite part of his job. “Introducing them to the life-changing possibilities inherent in a Grinnell education never gets old.”

Many years ago, the late Dr. William Parker, vice chancellor emeritus of minority affairs at the University of Kentucky advised Bagnoli to “be good for nothing,” as in, do good in the world without expecting a payoff.

“The more I consider his counsel, the more convinced I become that it represents a certain path to social justice. So, that’s my pledge to the Grinnell community and my advice to Grinnellians everywhere — let’s be good for nothing!”

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    Bill LarameeSep 8, 2017 at 4:33 pm


    I am writing from northern Vermont, following a long-time career at Berea College. I was so pleased to see the article about Joe Bagnoli and his wonderful and talented children’s Joe is all that the writer shared, and more. A man of incredible integrity and compassion. His commitment to social justice has been made evident time and again, and is greatly influenced by his faith. In these times of negative national narratives, it is great to see reporting on people like Joe. Grinnell has clearly enriched his life, and I’m sure that Grinnell is a better place because of what given–including pancakes, which I hope are served with Vermont maple syrup–“liquid gold,”! as we Vermonters say.