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The Scarlet & Black

True Grinnelian: Connie Coleman retires after 25 years at Grinnell College

Connie Coleman worked at the JRC information desk for 12 years, until her retirement last week. Contributed photo.
Connie Coleman worked at the JRC information desk for 12 years, until her retirement last week. Contributed photo.

By Montserrat Castro Gomez

Connie Coleman started working at Grinnell College in the year 1993. Shortly before that, she had quit a job at a restaurant she had worked at for 12 years, and when a job opened at the College, she applied.

“Well, I didn’t even apply, I just went and talked to them and they said you’re hired,” said Coleman.

That job was at the bakery, where she worked for 10 years. Afterwards, the tendons on her shoulders detached, so even though she couldn’t work heavy jobs like those in the dining hall, she worked at what then was called “Grab and Go.” It was service for students which provided take-out lunches, which Coleman helped prepare and serve for three years.

“I wouldn’t have been able to keep working in dining, because to swipe the cards, to do a couple of them my arms would ache, so I had to find a new job,” Coleman said.

By that time, she was already extremely well-liked among students. One student put out a petition for the administration to give Coleman a job because they didn’t want her to leave. According to Coleman, this petition received more than 900 signatures. Consequently, she was given the job at the information desk, where she worked from 2006 until the day she retired at the end of January 2019.

She said that her favorite part of working at the College was the students and her interactions with them.

“Some of them would come home with me on Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas with our family, and some of them still write to me on email or Facebook,” Coleman said. She was made an honorary member of the class of 2006 and again 10 years later in 2016, which she stated was a great honor to her.

“There have been several students that, they don’t look at you, they don’t do anything and stare straight ahead and then eventually they’ll say, like ‘Hello, Connie.’ I think it’s just really neat to interact with them,” Coleman said.

Before retiring, many students had the opportunity to write Coleman goodbye and thank-you notes. They were a variation between big hearts, thank-you notes and some with writing on both the front and back. A few days before leaving the College, some of the staff organized a party for Coleman in the Student Affairs office, where they tied the notes up in ribbons to surprise Coleman. Students wrote a total of 530 notes for Coleman to take home after retirement.

“The notes, they just make me cry. I mean, happy cry. I just finally got through them all yesterday,” Coleman said. “I just read a few at a time because I wanted to be happy about retiring, and it was like, I would just start crying every time I read some of them. It makes me sad, sometimes, when I think about not continuing working.”

Coleman expressed her surprise at the number of notes and amount of gratitude she received from students, stating that most of the things they were thankful for she did very naturally.

“I’m really really glad that I made an impact, because I didn’t feel like my job was that much, just sitting there. It wasn’t a demanding job like the ones I had worked all my life,” Coleman said.

Apart from being at the information desk, some of Coleman’s responsibilities were to unlock classrooms in the mornings, set up JRC 101 and do the students’ payroll. She stated that while working there, she wanted to make a lost-and-found system that “actually worked,” since there were a lot of things that nobody ever picked up.

“They need to get someone happy sitting down there. And someone with more skills with the computer,” Coleman said.

Coleman is currently living in Malcom, Iowa, and is happy to have the time to attend and help out in different clubs and activities, like the afterschool kids club, the community food bank for families in Malcom and her grandkids’ basketball games.

Connie Coleman worked at the JRC information desk for 12 years, until her retirement last week. Contributed photo.
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