Signi Lenea Falk: "One Person Can Make a Difference"
In 1906, Dr. Signi
Lenea Falk was born in Chicago to Swedish parents. Orphaned at
12, Falk became the foster daughter of Clyde "Toppy" and Jewell
Tull. Clyde was a professor of English at Cornell College in Mt.
Vernon, Iowa. Jewell was active in theater. Signi's love
for English was encouraged and nourished at home, as her parents
entertained writers who were guests at Cornell.
graduating from Mt.Vernon High School, Signi Falk went on to earn
B.A.'s in English and Latin from Cornell College, an MA in English and
Psychology from the University of Hawaii (1933), and a Ph.D. from the
University of Chicago (1948).
her early teaching days Dr. Falk taught at Traer High School in Traer,
Iowa. She also taught at Mid-Pacific Institute in Honolulu and
Colby Junior College in New Hampshire. Then in 1947, Falk began
her 24-year career at Coe College.
Coe, Dr. Falk was a beloved English Professor, also teaching in the
Latin and Theatre Departments. During the 1960's she published
two books: Tennessee Williams (1962) and Archibald MacLeish
(1966). The best-seller Tennessee Williams was
republished in 1978 in Twayne's United States Authors Series.
reviewer, Dennis Powers from the Nashville Tennessean,
commented that Falk's writing on Williams was distinguished by "her wry
humor and her sense of the ridiculous-valuable qualities, indeed, for
the critic of Tennessee Williams' plays." After reading this particular
review, Falk wrote a note to her publisher: "Dennis Powers actually
read the book. God bless him."
didn't slow down after retiring from Coe in 1971. Instead she
started a new chapter in her life, characterized by extensive travel
and tireless community activism. During the 1970's, Falk traveled
to over 20 countries. Her community involvement also proved to be
extensive. Madge Phillips, retired Linn County Health Center
Director, said "She's going to leave the world in a better condition."
was involved with the Common Cause of Iowa, Iowa Civil Liberties Union,
Amnesty International, Iowa State Advisory Committee, President
of the Linn County Task Force and the Heritage Agency on Aging.
She received two volunteer awards; Witwer Center's Volunteer of the
Year Award (1985) and the Governor's Volunteer Award (1990). She
was also an active member of the Unitarian Universalist Church.
1977 the Falk House, named by the eight original students, was
authorized for honor- student housing. Although the Falk House on
Avenue A was eventually destroyed to make room for the Clark Alumni
House and its gardens, Falk's impact on her students continues to
survive. As remembered by Joyce Anderson, one of Falk's students,
"Signi Falk had a great impact on my life. She made us read and
made us write, but she made it fun. She guided us let make up our
own mind. She wasn't an easy teacher, but she was well-liked and
Dr. Signi Falk passed away on November 24,
1998. During an interview, with the Cedar Rapids Gazette,
Falk said, "I've always liked Thoreau's idea on the power of the single
individual. One person can make a difference." She certainly did.