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June 8, 2000

Grinnell College trustee, Joseph Frankel Rosenfield, dies

GRINNELL, Iowa - Grinnell College alumnus, trustee, and longtime benefactor Joseph Frankel Rosenfield died on June 7, at Iowa Methodist Medical Center, Des Moines, Iowa, of congestive heart failure. He was 96 years old.

Mr. Rosenfield, a 1925 graduate of Grinnell College with a bachelor's degree in political science, is credited as the financial genius who guided Grinnell College to a $1 billion endowment - the largest endowment per student of any private liberal arts college in the country.

"We regretfully and sadly announce the passing of Joseph Rosenfield earlier this afternoon [June 7]," said Russell K. Osgood, president of Grinnell College. "All would agree that his devotion and passion for Grinnell, combined with his wisdom and intelligence, were integral to the very life of the college over the past 50 years.

"Clearly, his is the most significant figure in the college's history. It is unlikely that anyone in the future will surpass his grace, generosity, and influence," Osgood said.

Details for a tribute, likely to be scheduled later this summer, will be made available as soon as possible.

Called the "Patriarch of Iowa Business" by the Des Moines Register, Mr. Rosenfield was referred to by Forbes magazine as "the guardian angel on Grinnell's board of trustees." A member of the board of trustees since 1941, he served on a number of committees, including board chair from 1948 to 1952.

To honor Mr. Rosenfield for his commitment to the college, the trustees established the Rosenfield Program in Public Affairs, International Relations, and Human Rights in 1979.

"Joe Rosenfield, through his activities, exemplified the ethos of the program and inspired students and faculty to work for a fairer and more humane world," said H. Wayne Moyer, Jr., current director of the Rosenfield Program.

Mr. Rosenfield was also an institution in Des Moines and Iowa, where he supported Planned Parenthood, the Boy Scouts of America, the Des Moines United Way, and the Iowa Methodist Hospital. He also served as a member of the Governor's Economic Growth Council of Iowa and the executive committee of the Des Moines Chamber of Commerce.

Mr. Rosenfield is credited by others for raising the funds necessary for the existence of the Living History Farms in Des Moines, as well as a youth employment program that provided literally hundreds of summer jobs in the 1960s.

Born May 16, 1904 to Meyer and Rose Frankel Rosenfield, he was raised among two sisters, a younger sister Louise Noun and an older sister Ruth.

Mr. Rosenfield's devotion to philanthropy began with the early influences of his life, including his mother, an early suffragist and the impetus for the Rosenfield Lectures; his sister Louise Noun, a 1929 graduate of Grinnell College and a well-known champion for women's rights and namesake of Grinnell's Noun Program in Women's Studies; and his wife, Dannie. She was a member of the Iowa Board of Regents.

His decision to attend Grinnell College after graduating from West Des Moines High School in 1921 remained a mystery to him. "On getting out of high school, I really didn't know where I wanted to go to college," he said in an interview in the Grinnell Magazine in 1994. "I entered Grinnell in the fall of 1921, not knowing exactly what I'd find there. But after I had been there about three weeks, I had fallen in love with the place and you couldn't have driven me out of there with a team of horses."

After earning his bachelor's degree from Grinnell, Mr. Rosenfield received a J.D. from the University of Iowa in 1928, and began practicing law with a Des Moines law firm until 1947. Upon the death of his father in 1929 - Meyer Rosenfield was the director of Younkers - Mr. Rosenfield joined Younker's department store, which had merged with the family retail business, and retired in 1964 as president and chairman of the board.

A spectator of sports while at Grinnell, his love of the game led him to become the chief minority stockholder of the Chicago Cubs baseball team, a team he supported with a passion for most of his life. Following the purchase of the team by the Chicago Tribune, Mr. Rosenfield donated the proceeds from his portion of the sale to Grinnell College.

In 1967, mutual friends introduced Mr. Rosenfield to Warren Buffett and the two became close friends. Investments in Mr. Buffet's future, as well as an investment in Grinnell graduate Robert Noyce's startup company, NM Electronics - the forerunner of Intel - were the cornerstones of Grinnell College's endowment growth.

Mr. Rosenfield's commitment to Grinnell College was evident in a recent article in Money Magazine by Jason Zweig, senior writer and columnist. Zweig wrote, "What has Rosenfield meant to Grinnell? The massive endowment, says school president Russell Osgood, has enabled Grinnell to survive even as other small schools have shut down. He has given much of his life and all of his fortune to Grinnell College. 'I just wanted to do some good with the money,' [Rosenfield] says.

"That's a lesson for all of us," Zweig wrote. "Instead of blindly striving to make our money grow each of us should pause and ask: What good is my money if I never do some good with it?"

Mr. Rosenfield received the Distinguished Service Award in Trusteeship in 1988 from the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, in recognition of his extraordinary leadership in building and managing of the college's endowment.

During his career, Mr. Rosenfield was committed to a number of institutions, including the Democratic Party. His support of such organizations throughout Iowa as Equitable Life Insurance Company, Northern Natural Gas, Bankers Trust, General Management Corporation, and Northwestern Bell, is legendary.

Rosenfield was also the founder, director, treasurer, and president of Hospital Service of Iowa, Inc., the prototype of non-profit health insurance plans now operating throughout the country.

He is survived by a sister, Louise Noun, Des Moines.

Mr. Rosenfield was preceded in death by his wife, Dannie Burke Rosenfield in 1977; a son, James Walter Rosenfield, who was killed in an automobile accident in 1962 ; and an older sister, Ruth, who died in 1978.