Martha Henn ’84

Martha Henn photo

Martha Henn ’84

Hometown: Indianapolis, IN

Major at Earlham: English

Current title: Grant and proposal writer, Community Health Network Foundation

Volunteer work: Martha is a former chair of the Alumni Council and supports the the Alumni Volunteer Program.

If there are alumni who don’t feel plugged in and you miss that Earlham fix in your life, volunteer. Get your Earlham on!

Tell us a bit about how you discovered Earlham when you enrolled here.

Being from Indianapolis, I had a few high school classmates who were also looking at Earlham. I think I applied before visiting, but I visited sometime before the acceptance letter arrived. The visit was all it took for me to know I was home.

Share some fond memories from your Earlham undergraduate experience.

My dorm hall from year one—Barrett 1st floor—was what was then called a living/learning hall, and it netted me so many, many lifelong friends. I continued to build on that assortment of friends through a variety of classes and involvements, but the living and learning we did together has stuck with me!

That was year one, so let me try to grab one from each year. My sophomore year was about hitting my Earlham stride, really getting into my studies as a budding English major and spreading my wings into a variety of activities. I remember that I worked as a college phone operator for a while and had a Sunday-8 a.m. shift in Wanda Harvey’s switchboard cubicle in the lobby of Carpenter Hall.  Wanda had a mounted phone directory board, and, at the start of each year, she typed every student’s name and dorm phone extension on tiny slips of heavy card stock paper and mounted them on these boards. I counted the number of Marthas once. My sophomore year, there were 23 Marthas on campus; never before or since in my life have I been surrounded by a similar cavalcade of Marthas.

My junior year, I would point to my study abroad program in London during winter term 1983. We had a drama instructor who, as it turns out, was himself quite famous, Michael Billington. He was drama critic for The Guardian from 1971 to 2019 and is still writing. Wikipedia calls him “Britain’s longest-serving theatre critic.” He was famous then, but we were brash American kids and did not know it. In our Earlham way, with the egalitarian classroom approach, we would throw down the gauntlet to him and argue his verdicts on the range of plays we were seeing. He ate it up. I think in his famous drama critic life, no one else did that, and he got quite the kick out of our chutzpah. I have read and heard interviews with him over the years and always recall our irreverence and his enjoyment of it.

Senior year was about riding the wave, being at the top of my game in my major. It was a lot of very intense academic work to get through my senior thesis and my comprehensive exams. That winter term, I had a Shakespeare class, my capstone class with Gordon Thompson, in which we tackled Joyce’s Ulysses, and a drama class.  I may never have worked harder academically than I did that term, even in grad school.  It was intense.

Did you benefit from alumni giving or alumni volunteering as a student? If so, how?

I am sure I must have benefited from alumni giving, considering that Earlham met 100 percent of student need. That fact in combination with the fact that expected family contribution was so much more manageable back then, means I emerged from college with very little debt. That is a huge benefit.

Do you give to Earlham? Why or why not? If you give, do you support anything in particular?

I give every single year to Earlham and have for decades. I am an Earlham Day advocate, so I also raise funds for the College. I am a huge supporter of the Earlham Fund. I know many donors like to determine where their gifts go and so do choose particular funds to support, but my heart is happiest giving to whatever the College deems its area of greatest needs.

Why did you decide to become an Earlham volunteer, and what specifically do/did you volunteer to do?

I think I decided to begin volunteering decades ago – because someone asked. I am not sure they even asked me specifically. It may have just been a general ask in The Earlhamite, but I am a super Earlham devotee and so it seemed the right thing to do. I have had four major categories of service: as a donor, as a class chair, admissions volunteer and serving Alumni Council. 

Share some details from your volunteer experience(s).

I’ve done volunteering for many years, of many sorts. I’ve been an admissions volunteer over many years and in many ways, from letter writing and phone campaigns to showing up at front doors with welcome packets to serving at college fairs, most recently the Black Expo in Indianapolis. I’ve done fundraising letters, been a class chair and reunion organizer for decades, spoken at a variety of events on campus as an alumni rep, hosted Earlham groups in my home, organized local Earlham Day events—you name it, I have done it! My most intensive volunteer commitment has been as a member of Alumni Council. You can serve up to three terms of three years duration each. I am in year nine of my Alumni Council service, so we will have to see what Earlham volunteer opportunity I will pursue next!

In what ways do you feel you have made a difference as a volunteer?

You know, I think the College is in charge of and does a good job at articulating how volunteers make a difference for the College, from the College’s point of view. I do it for the College, but I also do it for me. I like Earlham people. I like being with them. I like how at home I feel during each moment of silence. I like being at that place and feeling like I am helping to both preserve tradition and advocate for innovation. When you keep on top of the College as it is today, you don’t get nervous about it being different than it was in your day.

What would you say to others to encourage more alumni to volunteer? 

It is great as an alumna to be connected to my friends from back in the day. That is one of the best aspects of the alumni community. But it is also so great to be able to feel connected to campus in meaningful ways and connected to students in meaningful ways. It is an expansive undertaking, because now I know not only my friends from my day, but alumni from many class years stretching across decades, plus I have a way to be connected to current teaching faculty, and I have gotten close to administrative faculty, which has been a really sweet connection. I feel super plugged in as an Earlhamite. If there are alumni who don’t feel plugged in and you miss that Earlham fix in your life, volunteer. Get your Earlham on!

We continue to monitor the effects of an industrial fire 1.1 miles from campus.
We continue to monitor the effects of an industrial fire 1.1 miles from campus.