Eliot Circular

The Gray Fund: 20 Years On

The Gray Fund has brightened campus with Tibetan monks, whitewater kayaking, awesome concerts, and even toasters.


Walking around campus in the early nineties, Betty Gray thought students seemed “too somber.” Mindful of their own backpacking trips in the Cascade Mountains, John and Betty established the Gray Fund to “liven things up.” All events are sub-free and open to students, faculty, and staff.

I looked down from what was—to me—a dizzying height. Although I was securely strapped with a halter around my lower body, I couldn’t shake off the nagging sensation that I might fall off the edge of the wall at any minute. This was most unlikely, because I was climbing at the Portland Rock Gym and supported by an expert belayer who was shouting out words of encouragement. Still, I wondered how exactly I had found myself on this precipice. The answer was the Gray Fund.

For 20 years, the Gray Fund has been creating experiences for Reedies to remember for the rest of their lives, from barn dancing, to hot-air balloon trips, to meeting populist historian Howard Zinn.

Reed trustee John Gray and his late wife, Betty Gray, gave Reed $2 million to establish the fund in 1992. “It was really Betty’s idea,” John says. “She thought that Reed students were too serious and somber. We’d walk around campus and they seemed to be so deeply occupied with their studies. We decided to create a fund to get ’em off campus and just liven things up.”

The express purpose of the fund is to ensure that Reed will have “stimulating cultural, social, and recreational programs of excellent quality” that provide opportunities for students, faculty, and staff to interact outside the classroom. They are also explicitly substance-free.

Since its founding, the Gray Fund has brought scholars, performers, and artists to campus, while sending students, faculty, and staff off to explore the Pacific Northwest with outdoor trips and sample cultural offerings in Portland. Kyle Webster, chair of the Gray Fund Committee, says the purpose of the Gray Fund is to support students, help them de-stress, and build community. “It was definitely ahead of its time,” says Kyle.

Many students say that the Gray Fund transformed their Reed experience. “Gray Fund was a huge incentive for me to come to Reed,” says English major Anna Perling ’14. “I have done some awesome things with Gray Fund I never would have been able to do on my own on a student budget. I have gone to a Ducks’ game, eaten dinner with Billy Collins, gone on a week-long hiking trip, and eaten many a Voodoo doughnut at a movie night.”

Sociology major Adrien Schless-Meier ’12 says the Gray Fund provided a crucial counterbalance to the intensity of her coursework. “I honestly cannot imagine what my life at Reed, or even Reed in general, would be without the Gray Fund,” she says. “It’s allowed me to hear people like Sherman Alexie and Ursula Le Guin speak, to learn to make my own cheese and roast my own coffee, and to cheer for the OSU football team. I know it’s contrived to talk about becoming a ‘well-rounded’ individual, but I honestly think that the Gray Fund was one of the primary factors that contributed to that process for me.”

Kristin Holmberg, director of student activities, feels tremendously lucky to be involved in a program that very few educational institutions have. “It is such an amazing gift to the college.”

To celebrate 20 years of the Gray Fund, Reed is planning a special event at the Schnitzer concert hall on April 20 that will feature an array of performers and acts. The final lineup remains a carefully guarded secret—but if the past is any guide, it should be a night to remember.