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Signi Lenea Falk

Professor 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.

After 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).

During 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.

At 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.

One 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."

Falk 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."

Falk 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.

In 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 respected."

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.

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