David Steiner '57

  • Willa Collins
    Willa: Okay, you can start whenever you're ready, so...
  • David Steiner
    David: Okay. Let's see, my name is David Steiner, David Elliot Steiner, and I am 77 years old. I graduated from Grinnell in 1957, and I came to Grinnell because my grandfather, Edward A. Steiner, had been a professor here from 1903 until 1940, and there is a hall named after him, and I am his grandson.
  • David Steiner
    David: I came here because my father had also been here. He was a graduate of Grinnell in 1923. My brother was a graduate of Grinnell in 1956. He had originally matriculated in 1951, and left to join the Army for a couple years, came back and then graduated in '56, just a year before I did. My grandfather lived at 511 High Street, in a house that is no longer there, and among his students were people like Harry Hopkins, and a great many others.
  • David Steiner
    David: Edward Steiner was a professor of applied Christianity, and he had written a number of books. He had written a number of magazine articles, I should say, for the Outlook magazine, in the early part of the 20th century, around 1900, and he was expert on immigration because he himself had immigrated to the United States in 1884, and he had become a congregational minister for a time in Sandusky, Ohio, after working in the coal mines of Pennsylvania, and there he had my father and my aunt, Gretchen Steiner, who also went to Grinnell, and graduated, I think, in 1920- 1919 or '20. You could look that one up.
  • David Steiner
    David: And... on one of his trips abroad to do research for his immigration books and articles, he was on the same passenger liner with President Main of Grinnell, and Main talked to my grandfather and decided that he would make a good choice for a faculty position here for the Rand chair of Applied Christianity, which is now known as Sociology.
  • David Steiner
    David: The position was open because of a huge scandal by the professor who had had an affair with someone else and had begun- in a town like Grinnell, it was a big scandal- so he had gone, and the chair was empty and it was endowed, so it was easy to hire someone and he picked on Edward, and they had a long relationship.
  • David Steiner
    David: Subsequently, Edward wrote 18 books on immigration, some of which are still in print, and when he died in nineteen fifty-... Let me see, fifty... five, I think. Yup! That would be ’55, that's right, in his 90th year. When he died, there became a movement to name a hall after him and subsequently the building that was then known as the YMCA building was renamed Steiner Hall, and its since been much renovated. It was a mess in the 50s.
  • David Steiner
    David: Of course, everything was a mess in the 50s in Grinnell. Where I'm sitting was actually in midair in the auditorium in the Alumni Recitation Hall, because the theater was a two-story auditorium with a balcony, and a very tiny, tiny stage. It had no wings, no flies, and nothing but a stage that was, I think, 18 feet across at the time, and I was an English Major because, although my.. bent was theater, the theater department, like many other departments here at the time, were in chaos, and we had four theater professors in the four years that I was here from 1953 until 1957, so that really precluded a Major in Theater, and so I became an English Major instead.
  • David Steiner
    David: Now, let’s see…What else do I need to... for background? Was there a professor, student, or staff member who had a particularly strong influence on my life? Boy, you’d have to look this one up, because I can't remember his name. It's been so long—56 years since I graduated. Oh man, a Psychology professor.
  • David Steiner
    David: Anyway, he was a big influence in my life because I had a lot of trouble in the English Department, because my brother was also an English Major and they- and he was doing extremely well, and one of the English professors told me it was too bad I wasn't as smart as my brother, so I had some issues with that and I went to this Psychology teacher that I knew, and he helped me realize that that was in fact not the case. So it was fine.
  • David Steiner
    David: My best memories of time at Grinnell: Well, I was president of the Grinnell Players, which produced all the plays and musicals and everything else and I was in a huge number of productions here- practically full-time, actually, which accounts for my poor performance in terms of grades. But I learned a great deal about theater, and we had sort of a free hand to do whatever we wanted.
  • David Steiner
    David: Nobody paid much attention in those days to obeying copyright laws in a little, tiny school in the middle of Iowa, so we were able to produce just about anything we wanted without paying any royalties, and as far as I know, we never did. We had.... I knew an awful lot of wonderful people in the Theater Department, and most- some of them are dead. Most of them have never returned to Grinnell. I’ve looked forward to seeing them at Reunions and they’ve never showed up, and it’s too bad.
  • David Steiner
    David: Let’s see, what did I..? After Grinnell, I was in ROTC. Oh yeah, that’s an interesting story! The ROTC Department was in the basement of what is now Steiner Hall in the YMCA building, and it was a hole down in the basement and it was occupied by, I think, three officers and one enlisted person who did the paperwork, and we had a number of people, and it was- it was actually required for the first two years to be in ROTC here. Yeah, it was. And then if you wanted to go to your junior and senior years, you could apply and do that, which I did, and I was in ROTC and graduated, and was commissioned by General Everest in 1957 at commencement, who himself was a graduate of Grinnell, long ago.
  • David Steiner
    David: Subsequent to that, I went into the Air Force, and served as a navigator along with another graduate. There were several graduates my class at that time in 1957. Jim Gabrielson, Quimby Day, and there were- I think there were seven of us who were commissioned to Second Lieutenants and went into the Air Force. I was the only one in that class who eventually remained in the Air Force.
  • David Steiner
    David: I... Let's see... What was the thing? I- I went to... I was in the Air Force for 3, 4 years, something like that, and then got out, went to graduate school and got a Masters in Theater at the University of Michigan, and then I went to the University of Oregon, which had a very good Theater Department at the time, under Horris Robinson, and got a PhD in Theater History in 1969.
  • David Steiner
    David: Let’s see. I lived in Cowles Hall while I was here, and, we had- in those days there was a pecking order. In the first year you were here, you were in a single room in the middle of the building, and- a little- it was a cell, really. It was about the size of this little room. It was, I don’t know, probably about 7 feet wide and about 13 feet long. That's it, room for a bed and a desk and that was it. And if- and the end rooms in Cowles Hall were much bigger. They were suites, and those went to officers of the building.
  • David Steiner
    David: I don’t know. I think people move around a great deal now, and live everywhere and co-educationly, but in those days, men lived on the North Campus and Women on the South, and so eventually, the next year, I had a better room sort of on the end, but it was a little bigger room, and it was one of the... and then the third year I had an even larger room and the fourth year I was the.. I was “big cheese”. I was the Prep Master of the hall. In those days you stayed in the same hall all four years, and I was in Cowles, where the dining room was.. And so I had a really good room the last year. My senior year, I had a room that had- a corner room. It had two windows. It was great!
  • David Steiner
    David: Let’s see.. What kind of clothes did you wear every day? We had to wear a coat and tie to eat dinner in Cowles Hall in those days. Yup, and everybody- It was a matter of pride that your coat was the worst looking thing that you could possibly imagine, never been cleaned, it was covered with stains of one thing or another, and you had to wear a tie, and the more lousy your tie looked, the better. I had a.... I had a very expensive tie that I wore the whole time. It was- I- It was tossed at the end. I still have the jacket hanging in a closet. That's amazing I still have it. I always- I often wore it at rehearsals. It would just be a matter of good luck. I no longer fit in it, I'm sure. I was very thin in those days.
  • David Steiner
    David: What book influenced you? Gosh, I don’t have any books that influenced me more because we studied so darn many of them that I just thought they’re a blur. Of course, since I am an actual certified scholar, I have a huge library with thousands of books, some of which I’m getting rid of as I get older, ‘cause I haven’t read them in years. People come into my house and say, “You read all these books?” And yes I did at one time and I can’t remember anything that’s in them.
  • David Steiner
    David: The town of Grinnell. The town was really interesting. Of course, my father had worked in the Glove Factory, and the Glove Factory is now owned by Grinnell and still retains the name, but no longer makes gloves! And... he and my grandfather-
  • David Steiner
    David: Well, my grandfather was a... a pacifist. He was of German descent- actually Czechoslovakian descent. He was born Sanest, Slovakia. He was a pacifist, obviously, Chair of Applied Christianity, the social gospel, and so all that, so.. And because he spoke with a heavy German accent- actually Slavic accent, but they thought he was German, and his last name was Steiner, so he appeared to be a German- so during First World War, he became suspect. Maybe he was a German sympathizer. And he became under attack, really, and the President at the time decided it would be a good thing for Edward get out of town.
  • David Steiner
    David: So, in the summer of 1917, Edward went to University Northern Colorado—I think at the time it was Colorado State Teachers College—and he taught there for the summer, and enjoyed it very much, loved Colorado, and he went up to what had just become Rocky Mountain National Park to visit, and he stumbled on a plot of land that was 160 acres and was for sale for $600. And, he needed a place- he wanted a place in the summer away from Iowa, where it was very hot and humid, where he could go in the summer and write his books. So, he thought this would be an ideal place, and so he sent a telegram to his wife, Sarah Levy Steiner, in Grinnell, and asked her to come to Colorado and have a look at this place, which she did!
  • David Steiner
    David: She got on the train, went to Colorado, took a steam powered Stanley bus up to the acreage, which was just outside of Rocky Mountain National Park, and walked around the place and told Edward, famously quoted in the family, “Well, if we never see it again, it will be a good investment.” And so Edward put down $300, and my father, who had earned, believe it or not, in those days $300 at the glove factory, which was a lot of money for a 16-year-old kid—which is what he was- and they bought the place. And it is still in the family... and I live there in the winter, and I have a beautiful home there as well and it's now in a trust and it will be for our children who love the place as well.
  • David Steiner
    David: Let's see, how did I get off on that? The town. Ah, yes, the town. When I was here, I didn’t know anything about the Glove Factory. I knew that my father had worked there, but I- I never even... I saw it, but I never went there or anything.
  • David Steiner
    David: What we did mostly in town, we had- Beer and wine were not available. You couldn’t have alcohol on the campus, at all.
  • David Steiner
    David: You couldn’t have a car on campus, at all, until the second semester of your senior year—then you could have a car. That was open season on Grinnell students by the town police, who lay in wait all year waiting for the seniors to get their cars so they could give them speeding tickets, which they did, and I was a victim of that, like everyone else.
  • David Steiner
    David: But there was no alcohol, and- available anywhere, so those who were of drinking age, for real alcohol, made a living while they were here, running booze from Newton where you could buy alcohol from a Green Front State Store, and bring it back here. Those of us who were so inclined kept our gin in rubbing alcohol bottles on our dressers, pretending that we were athletes who needed it, and we survived that way. 3.2 beer was available if you were of age and that was at the Three Elms, which is now a Pizza Hut, and that was the only place.
  • David Steiner
    David: And there were a couple of- there was a little, tiny.... It wasn't restaurant; I don’t know what the hell you’d call it. It was a take-out joint: Joe’s Place, where pork tenderloin sandwiches were sold. They were absolutely delicious and very inexpensive, and always, the cooks there were students and.. I don't know. There's a long list of students who worked there and have are fond memories of all that grease, and other than that, we didn't know much about the town.
  • David Steiner
    David: During those days when I was a freshman here, if you were a freshman, you were a prep—a preppy—and you had to.. and hazing was a big part of the fall in Grinnell in those days. I think this was perhaps a hangover from the days when the men came back from the Second World War, but I'm not really sure.
  • David Steiner
    David: You had to remember a lot of things, and recite a lot of things, and do a lot of things for the upperclassmen, and on Friday nights you had a list of infractions that you had, and it resulted in a number of spankings with paddles. You had to go out and buy these plywood paddles, which were supplied by the lumberyard. The local people made a fortune of these things. And you had an upperclassman who you were responsible to, and at the end of this hazing period, you had to have a paddle- a Memorial paddle made that he could hang on his wall. It was a really bizarre kind of circumstance.
  • David Steiner
    David: And... And there was a prep night where you went out and did all kinds of horrible things around the town. The town people dreaded that episode every year. And we had to wear prep hats, a little beanie, on your head, and anywhere you went on the campus, if an upperclassman, who, without a beanie, said, “Button, preppy!” you had to bow and touch the button on top of your beanie. It was extremely bizarre.
  • David Steiner
    David: And when I became the Prep Master at Cowles Hall in 1957, I decided that the whole thing had run its course and needed to be stopped, and so our freshman dressed up in coats and ties, and went to class with a little sign around their head- around their neck that said, “The gentlemen of Cowles are above such nonsense,” And that was the end of that phase of prepping at Grinnell. The the next year it was gone, entirely. So I’m very proud of that. Of course, it was on its way out anyway, so I was just- I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
  • David Steiner
    David: Let’s see, how has Grinnell changed since I was a student? How hasn’t it changed? It would be a better question. When we were here, the town itself was very rundown. The houses had been built in the early part of the 20th century, and they were in terrible condition. Today, of course, you go through town, and all the houses have been- that are old have been rehabilitated and repainted, restored, and are beautiful and expensive.
  • David Steiner
    David: My grandfather’s house was torn down and a really kind of ticky-tacky... replacement sits on that lot. It’s not a very pretty house at all. And it is in between houses that are... have been restored. After my grandfather died, it became a sort of rooming house. It was a large house because he was well off compared to other people, and it had a lot of students in it, and it went to hell in a hand basket, I guess. Anyway, let's move on.
  • David Steiner
    David: Hmm… Describe something that’s no longer available on campus that was meaningful to you: buildings, programs… Well, we had the women's gym right in back of this building, just East of ARH. The women's gym- Oh my God, what a relic! It... it had a gym floor and that was it, with rooms around it, that were originally locker rooms because men and women did not exercise together, of course. That was rude. It was a... an oblong building. Hmm. Yeah, oblong. It was not circular but oblong, because it had a little indoor track in the basement, which was really a horrible, dark, gloomy place. Smelled bad too.
  • David Steiner
    David: We had- did some productions in the women's gym on the gym floor. We did a production of a musical called, “Dark of the Moon.” In graduate school I ran into the author of that musical. It was the only thing he ever wrote. He was a one-hit wonder. That play is still being done.
  • David Steiner
    David: Let me see, and of course Darby Gym was there, and the track. It's gone. A lot of things are gone. The science building was then-new ,and now that’s been torn down and it’s gone and been replaced by a much newer and better one... and of course there are new dormitories. There were only the North campus dormitories in those days. Hmm. Lots of improvements, lots of money.
  • David Steiner
    David: My favorite academic experience? Well, my favorite academic experience... Hmm, I guess would be the production of a play. I- In my senior year I did a reading of “Under Milkwood” in ARH, that is really, sort of legendary, but it was just sort of a happy accident. I had very good people, and we had a very good time doing it, no staging at all—just a reading, and it was great. And we repeated it at commencement, and... in the high school auditorium in Grinnell. That did not go well. Some things can't be repeated.
  • David Steiner
    David: If you knew then what you know now, what would you have done differently during your time at Grinnell? Hmm. Well, I would've treated some- some women very much better. I know that. I owe several of them an apology, but I'll never get around to that. I've never met any of them at a reunion. If I meet them I certainly will apologize. I was really sort of a rat.
  • David Steiner
    David: I did not meet my spouse or partner at Grinnell. I really had no interest in a... A lot of our- my classmates had met their wives here at Grinnell. In fact, one of the trustees of the College now, John Egan, who is here for this reunion, he met his wife here, and they’ve been married for, hmm... fifty- I guess it would be fifty-five years. And... lots of people did, and the marriages in many cases lasted much more than these days. But I knew I was going to go into the Air Force and fly, which I did for 25 years, and I retired as a lieutenant colonel in 1983.
  • David Steiner
    David: How would you compare the students of today with your classmates? I don’t understand the students at Grinnell anymore because they are a different- totally different breed. We had no such thing as drugs here. My son, Henry-York Steiner, class of 1984, was here. He had a roommate- he lived in Cowles Hall, and his roommate grew marijuana in the closet. So, things have changed a great deal since my time. We thought we were very risqué having gin in rubbing alcohol bottles on the dresser. Not so anymore.
  • David Steiner
    David: Describe student campus life... hm. It was good. We had a good time. We had- I remember we had mock elections.. in Darby Gym. We had mock political conventions, and those were a lot of fun. People got up and read lewd poetry, and one thing or another. We had a good time.
  • David Steiner
    David: Tryin' to see here.... Describe student campus life.... Mm, nah, I don't think I wanna do that. If you were writing a history of Grinnell College, what would you include from your years here? Hm. Well, it's been very well-documented by a great many people, some of it incorrectly I must say.
  • David Steiner
    David: I owe Grinnell a great deal. I was- I went to a private school, a small private school in the 1930s during the Depression, and my... That private school had- I had only six or seven students in my class. I had excellent teachers. It was a school called Hillside School, which is now Catlin Gabel in Portland, Oregon, and has an outstanding reputation. And it had great teachers, and they were so good that I coasted all the way through high school, didn’t really have to open a book to get through public high school.
  • David Steiner
    David: And then came to Grinnell, and I was so busy with theater that I let a lot of things slide. I had to take a.... physics course, which... bonehead physics, which I liked, but I didn’t really have time for, and I had to take biology, which I really sucked at. That was just absolutely horrible. It required all kinds of study and I had no time for it. I was busy learning lines. So, those kinds of things went by the wayside, but once I got out and went to the Air Force and then to graduate school, things changed a great deal.
  • David Steiner
    David: And I became a theater historian... and teacher of public speaking, and I taught... I taught public speaking and theater, acting, and oral interpretation at six colleges and universities, eventually: University of Oregon, University of Guam, University of Maryland, in Thailand, and let's see, where else? San Jose State, and then Solano Community College, the California State Prison in Vacaville, where I taught public speaking for Sacramento State, and then I came- retired from the Air Force, 1983, and taught theater, public speaking and communications, oral communications, for teachers at the education school at the University of Colorado in Boulder, and I retired in 2006.
  • David Steiner
    David: So I had a really, kind of strange, sort of double life, and I owe a great deal of it to Grinnell because it, as badly off as it was in the 1950s- and it was rather badly off- the fact is that the graduates of that period get a bum rap and are considered to be the "lost" generation of Grinnellians, who were just not as good as they should have been. However, the fact of the matter is that Robert Noyce was a graduate of the 1950s, and we had a great many people who went on to graduate degrees and great careers in teaching and elsewhere.
  • David Steiner
    David: And... So I have nothing to apologize for in terms of my education here. Curtis Bradford, my main English teacher, he despaired of my knowing anything about Thomas Mann or any of the other modern writers that he adored, but he knew my interests lay elsewhere and was sympathetic, so it worked out really very, very well.
  • David Steiner
    David: And I have great memories of Grinnell. I’ve come back- I came back to a reunion in the 25th, I think the 30th, the 50th, and here I am six years later, in the 56th, because I probably will not live long enough to see the 60th, who knows? One never knows about these things. So, I’m very grateful to Grinnell, and we- my family has a long history here, and I’m very proud of my grandfather.
  • David Steiner
    David: My wife and I, she is a... she has absolutely nothing to do with Grinnell. She was a registered nurse I met in the Airforce at an officer's club bar. We have two fine children, one of whom was a graduate of Grinnell in 1984, and the second one- and he has become a PhD micro-botanist and flies all around the world selling herbicides to third world countries.
  • David Steiner
    David: And my other son, Richard, was... applied to Grinnell and was turned down. This is really kind of an interesting story, actually, so I will take a moment to tell it, because he applied to Grinnell and was rejected, and I wrote to George Drake at the time, who had graduated a year before I did, 1956, and he was the president of Grinnell, and I said, "George, you know, it's really sad, that my father graduated from Grinnell, my grandfather taught here for 40 years, my older son graduated in 1984, and he was not nearly as well qualified as Richard- still, he was rejected. I'd like to know why."
  • David Steiner
    David: George wrote me back and said, "I have nothing to do with those kinds of things. I cannot possibly know why he was rejected, and I can't do anything about it." I wrote back and I said, "George, you know, I'm a teacher, and I teach in a college, and I know that that's not true. You can admit Richard with a stroke of a pen, so don't give me any crap." And he wrote back once again, and said, "I'm terribly sorry that we can't do it."
  • David Steiner
    David: So, I wrote another letter to George, and I said, "Okay, here's the deal: Richard's not going to go to Grinnell. He's going to go somewhere else, and wherever he goes, if he does not graduate, with honors, I will give Grinnell a thousand dollars a year for the rest of my life. And I'm not going to tell Richard anything about this." Richard graduated cum laude in Philosophy at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and he is now the vice president of Interactive and New Media at Turner Classic Movies in Atlanta, and.. makes a lot more money than I ever did- or George did.
  • David Steiner
    David: So, that's the story of my family and Grinnell, and... I- I'm really sort of glad that Richard did not go here, because he was a double major in Philosophy and Film at University of Colorado, and that's how he got to be where he is today, so.. Things do have a way of working out, and I have no regrets.
  • David Steiner
    David: So, it's been a pleasure to do this little oral history, and I hope whoever comes across it will find it interesting. It is, to the best of my knowledge, all fact, and not very much opinion.
Alumni oral history interview with David Steiner '57. Recorded May 31, 2014.
This content, grinnell:19526, has been visited 15 times and downloaded 27 times.

Advanced Search