New biography chronicles Joe Rosenfield’s life, unwavering love for Grinnell College

Joe Rosenfield was a classic out-of-the-box thinker. From his days as a Grinnell student in the early 1920s to serving as the chairman at Younkers to becoming an instrumental figure in Grinnell College history, Rosenfield’s thinking and warm personality made a positive impact on almost everyone he met.

The new biography “Mentor: Life and Legacy of Joe Rosenfield,” released in May, chronicles Rosenfield’s life, wit and steadfast love for Grinnell College.

The biography is separated into four parts, each one dedicated to taking a deep look at the different aspects of what drove Rosenfield. It ends with Rosenfield’s original obituary published in the Des Moines Register following his death in 2000 and an epilogue speaking to Rosenfield’s legacy.

“This is then a story about a college, which inspired love in a man, who inspired affection and respect in others,” said John Price, a retired trustee of Grinnell College and former assistant to President Richard Nixon, in the book’s description. “It is not a universal tale. Rather, it is very much about one Midwestern man and his college and his co-conspirators to make that college able to carry on into the indefinite future, giving the gift to others which he knew had been his to treasure.”

Rosenfield grew up in a Jewish family and attended Grinnell College in the 1920s during some of its golden years. He was there when Grinnell produced a gold-winning Olympic athlete, operated an internationally celebrated men’s glee club and was the center for the Social Gospel Movement. After graduation, Rosenfield went on to become a highly-regarded lawyer, businessman and philanthropist. 

But Rosenfield never forgot about his years at Grinnell College, and his impact on the college is still felt today. He served on the college’s Board of Trustees from 1941 until his death in 2000. His favorite sport, even counting his 5 percent stake in the Chicago Cubs, was making money for Grinnell. His own smarts and close friendship with famous investor Warren Buffett helped grow Grinnell College’s endowment from $78,000 at the beginning of Rosenfield’s board service to just over $1 billion more than a half-century later. 

The author of “Mentor” is George Drake, who graduated from Grinnell College in 1956 and had a close relationship with Rosenfield. After receiving his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, Drake worked as a historian and dean at Colorado College. He also served on Grinnell’s Board of Trustees from 1970 until 1979, when he became president of the college, serving in that capacity until 1991.

“Mentor,” which is more than 330 pages, is available on Amazon in hardcover for $30 and paperback for $20.  

Joe Rosenfield

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