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True Grinnellian: Marianne Ronan

Students know Marianne Ronan for her facts of the day and her frequent attendance at College events. Photo by Isabel Torrence.

By Anneliese Stattelman

Students at Grinnell have come to known Marianne Ronan as the Cheery Checker who never fails to make their days cheerier with her fact of the day.

Ronan has enjoyed many successful careers in her life. After graduating with degrees in English and education, Ronan became an English teacher for a year and a half before starting her favorite job to date: parenting.

After her children grew up, Ronan got her masters’ degree in public administration and went to work in the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, where she eventually became Chief of the Bureau of Cancer Control.

“I’m not a medical person, but I was administering a lot of grants, particularly for the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention,” said Ronan. When she retired from the state, Ronan moved to Kansas City Chronic Disease Coalition, again managing grants, this time with the centers for heart disease and diabetes.

In 2017, Ronan’s daughter, Alicia Stanley became the Director of Off-Campus Study and Ronan started making frequent visits to Grinnell.

“I loved Grinnell, I loved the town, I loved the people, I found a nice house to rent, and I just applied for dining services as a Cheery Checker, and they hired me. I’m 76 years old, I have some physical limitations, but the job of being an outdoor cheery checker is ideal for me,” she.

The opportunity to talk to so many students from around the world is the “icing on top of the cake” for Ronan and her favorite part of the job.

With the goal of getting to know people, Ronan started the tradition she has come to be known for: the “fact of the day.” At first, it started out small.

“I started off just saying to kids as people were leaving, a food fact of the day. ‘It’s chocolate chip cookie day or world-wide Nutella day’ – whatever the food fact attached to that day was.”
Students started to take notice, and soon began to anticipate the daily fact. “I just had a student ask me as I was standing waiting for this interview,” said Ronan.

Ronan went from doing her own facts to making the fact of the day a student contest.

“Somebody would give me a category, I would do the research, and see if I could find something attached to a day of a month. The first one was on science facts of the day, and then it was innovations… I kept doing that and I just continued it for the rest of the year.”

At the start of this semester students encouraged Ronan to continue the fact of the day. Again, she opened up a contest, with the winner being facts about Iowa. The student whose category is chosen receives a small gift. The gift this time? A can of corn, true to the Iowan theme.

The most recent category for facts of the day are facts taken from the book “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!” which Ronan has taken to researching and fact-checking.

Ronan is an avid lover of cooking, football and jazz music. On campus, she’s enjoyed swapping recipes with students, going to games and getting music recommendations from students.

Ronan gets to know students not just through her fact of the day, but through working in the Spencer Grill as well, where her co-workers will often invite her to come to their games, showcases and performances. This Saturday, a student is cooking Ronan a South Korean dish.

“If any student asks me to come see something, I will make every effort to go,” said Ronan. She’s always down for a chat, over the fact of the day or otherwise.

Asked if anything about working in Dining Services has been unexpected, Ronan had only one answer: when students slather butter or cheese on toast and bagels before running them through the toaster, causing small fires.

“That was very unexpected to me … just didn’t seem too intuitive to do that,” said Ronan. She now keeps a close eye on the toaster.

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  • T

    Tim TylerDec 6, 2019 at 9:44 pm

    G’day Anneliese, I read your article with great interest.
    I was a foreign exchange student in Jeff City Mo. In 1982/3, (from Perth, Australia), I stayed with Marianne and her family for that year.
    The Ronan family are wonderful people and I can just imagine Marianne in her current role.
    Marianne was always very engaging and constantly challenged all of us to be the best we could be.
    I think the folks at Grinnell are very lucky to have Marianne.