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Grinnell traditions I despise: The Noyce/Cooper Cookout

Grinnell, like most small colleges, reveres its past. It seems like you can’t go anywhere without hearing about the Iowa Band [1] or seeing a remnant of them. We name our buildings and places after beloved and influential alumni or members of the campus: Robert Noyce ’49, co-inventor of the integrated circuit and co-founder of Intel; Hallie Flanagan 1911, American theatre pioneer; Harry Hopkins 1912, architect of the New Deal; Joe Rosenfield ’25, Boy Scouting legend; and more.

As you might expect, Grinnell students develop traditions that relate to these alums. For example, they hold an annual Mary B. James dance to honor the many high-school dances and other social events in our community that James chaperoned or arranged.

Two of the stranger and more troublesome traditions at Grinnell stem from activities of some successful, but irresponsible, alumni. Every biography of Robert N. Noyce ’49 mentions the legendary pig roast, in which he stole a pig from a local farmer. In his speech at the dedication of the Noyce Science Center, Grant Gale spoke of his efforts to make sure that Noyce was not expelled. And, of course, Gary Cooper ’26 made the regrettable decision to walk a stolen horse to the top of Gates tower [6]. Cooper did not have his own Grant Gale. He was expelled. As I understand it, his expulsion [7] led him to seek his fortune out west and to his successful career.

To celebrate these historical events, each year students hold the Noyce/Cooper cookout. In this tradition, they slaughter and roast a pig and walk a cow [9] to the top of Gates Tower, which they then slaughter and cook [10]. I guess their comfort in doing so stems from being in a farming state. Note that they do not steal the pig or the cow; rather, they purchase them from local farmers, thereby benefitting the local economy. To enhance the celebration, they combine the two activities in one weekend.

I must admit that I find these traditions troublesome and inappropriate. I do appreciate the benefit that these events bring to the local economy, particularly because we purchase multiple pigs and cows to feed the large number of participants [11]. It’s also nice to have a tradition that does not involve alcohol. I like that it brings together most of the campus community, that we include any interested folks from the broader community, and that many alums return [12]. I’ve heard that our studio art students faculty make use of the bones in some incredibly compelling projects.

Nonetheless, it seems unnecessarily cruel to slaughter these animals on campus. The pig roast is also troublesome given the population of Jewish and Muslim students on campus. Plus, I expect that our custodial staff have to spend a lot of time and effort cleaning up the blood. The event may also explain why we have so few vegetarians who choose to attend Grinnell.

If you’re interested in participating, you are welcome to attend. Like most events on campus, the Noyce/Cooper cookout is free and open to all comers. Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait another year, since the event happens on April 1 [23,26].

[1] No, not the seventy-six trombones kind [2]. The band of eleven Congregationalists [5] who founded Iowa College, which was eventually renamed to Grinnell College.

[2] I wonder what it would be like if there were a hundred and ten cornettos close at hand [3].

[3] I wonder if you could find a hundred a ten cornetto players [4].

[4] What do you call a cornetto player? I know that a cornetist plays the cornet (or sometimes the trumpet). Maybe zinker or zinkist. I’m sure that middle son will tell me.

[5] Is eleven Congregationalists a Congregational dozen?

[6] In case you didn’t know, horses will walk up stairs, but not back down.

[7] Given that he never graduated, I’m not sure why we classify Cooper as class of 1926. My own alma mater [8], The University of Chicago, uses a degree of X for non-graduates. For example, Edward Asner is X’48.

[8] Should alma mater be italicized? It’s not English.

[9] Horse meat is not particularly popular in Iowa.

[10] The cow, not Gates Tower.

[11] One of the farmers who supplies the meat tells me that the tradition has helped him get by in tough years.

[12] I always like seeing alums!

[14] I suppose it would also be possible to contract with the Dayton Meat locker [15] to further support the event.

[15] I am told that Dayton Meat has some of the best bacon around.

[16] According to a not very useful Web page, Cooper returned to Grinnell after dedicating an airport in Newton [17].

[17] Newton, Iowa, not Newton, Massachusetts [18].

[18] Did you know that the Fig Newton is named after Newton, Mass [19]?

[19] If you meet someone from Newton, you should ask them North or South? No, you are not asking if they are a Yankee; they are. You are asking whether they attended Newton North (awesome) or Newton South (pretentious) high.

[20] The stories note that Cooper rode his horse to the top of the dorm. Given that Cooper was described as poor, it is unlikely that he owned his own horse.

[21] I do not believe that Gary Cooper ’26 is related to Craig Cooper, the proprietor of Bikes To You. However, it would not surprise me to hear that a student brought a campus bike to the top of Gates Tower and threw it off.

[22] April fools [23]!

[23] Note that in portions of the US [24], April 1 is April Fools Day, a day on which people pull stupid pranks or try to convince others of facts that do not exist [25].

[24] And, perhaps, elsewhere in the world.

[25] Hmmm … we may have reached the point every day is now April Fools Day in the US.

[26] You can find some followup notes after the endnotes.

[27] We even have a vegan bar in the cafeteria [28].

[28] They do not serve roast vegan.

[29] Do I find it ironic that they served pork at an event named using a Hebrew word? Words can’t begin to describe how I felt.

[30] He also did not ride a horse to the top of another building on campus.

[31] No, I made no claims about Bruce Springsteen elsewhere in this article. It just seemed useful to add.

[32] It probably wasn’t much of a surpise, but I tried.

[33] In that case, seventy six sackbuts should lead the big parade.

[34] They could also play Zink went the strings of my heart.

[35] I consider the campus bike program one of the clear pieces of evidence of the failure of self governance.

[36] In an earlier version of the essay, the paragraph did not appear before the endnotes. That earlier version of the essay lacked any claim as to the position of that paragraph.

[37] Or maybe not.

Let’s see … I should be a bit clearer. There is no Noyce/Cooper picnic. No, students do not slaughter pigs or cows or horses. We have large numbers of vegetarian and vegan students on campus [27]. Robert N. Noyce 49 did steal a pig from a local farmer for a hog roast and needed Grant Gale’s rhetorical chops to avoid expulsion. While we don’t have a the Noyce/Cooper picnic a few years ago, the Trustees did create an event called Selah which included a hog roast that was supposed to harken back to the Noyce incident [29]. Gary Cooper ’26 almost certainly did not ride a horse to the top of Gates tower [30]. While Cooper never graduated from Grinnell, he left voluntarily rather than being expelled. Gary Cooper was a successful actor. Students do have a Mary B. James festival. Because James name can be heard as Mary Be James, the Mary B. James party is a cross-dressing festival. Fig Newtons are named after Newton, Massachusetts. Our country is currently experiencing a significant disconnect between fact and fiction. Grinnell was founded by something we refer to as The Iowa Band, but you see little evidence of it on campus. Lee Running in art does some amazing work with bones, but she uses deer bones she collects as a way to reflect on the inadvertent slaughter of deer that our highways create. I have heard that Dayton Meat has excellent bacon. Bruce Springsteen did play in the old Darby [31]. Many of the endnotes in this essay lack a corresponding referent. These endnotes exist primarily so that there is a gap between the first set of endnotes and the surprise statement [32]. I do wonder what a marching band with a hundred and ten cornettos would sound like [33,34]. Newton North is superior to Newton South. You will enjoy the article that I mention in the next paragraph. Students do abuse campus bikes [35]. There is no clear rhyme or reason to when I italicize words within this paragraph. The page that indicates that Gary Cooper returned to Grinnell is not very useful. This paragraph does appear after the endnotes [36]. That should cover most of the claims I made in this musing [37].

The Grinnell Magazine recently ran a relatively nice article about Grinnell myths and legends. You should check it out.

Version 1.2.1 of 2017-05-28.