On October 20, descendants of Grant D. Venerable (BS '32) welcomed the students of Caltech's Venerable House into their family. They exchanged stories, traditions, and cherished memories, setting in motion a kinship across bloodlines and generations.
The occasion, a community storytelling event called Making a House a Home, brought together the Venerable family, students of Venerable House (known as "Vens"), and members of the Caltech community to reflect on how Grant D. Venerable's legacy has helped shape Caltech into a welcoming home for all. Held in the Hameetman Center, the event was recorded for the Caltech Archives as part of a larger project to share Grant D. Venerable's story.
Venerable was the first Black student to graduate from Caltech, earning a bachelor's degree in civil engineering in 1932. When the Institute recently renamed several campus assets and honors that had memorialized individuals affiliated with the eugenics movement, Venerable House was renamed in honor of the late alumnus.
At the event, Venerable's three children—Grant D. Venerable II, Lynda Venerable Ellington, and Lloyd Venerable—narrated their family history and their father's life.
"[My father] was genuinely disarming," said Grant Venerable II. "You went into his presence, and something inside of you made you feel good to be alive. And so, I'd say 90 percent of [people at Caltech] were just very warm and receptive. [He] couldn't have got through Caltech without that."
Venerable was involved in many activities on campus including the Cosmopolitan Club (a group formed to promote fellowship among diverse nationalities, of which he was president), the student newspaper, and the track team. Grant Venerable II said his father's charisma allowed him to make many meaningful friendships at Caltech, and he carried those connections with him after graduating from the Institute. The Venerables characterized their family home in Los Angeles as an open house, made lively by a rotating cast of family friends.
"The group that's here really represents what I saw growing up," said Lloyd Venerable, noting that the racial diversity of the Venerable House students mirrored that of his father's friends. "[My father] would come here and fit in very comfortably."
In response, many Vens spoke to the ways their house's identity aligns with its namesake.
"The reason I love Venerable House is that we have such different interests, and we have such a diversity in our students," said house president Emily Choe. "Everyone has somebody that they can talk to about their interests."
"The stories about Venerable really resonate with the tight-knit community within the house and how we create long-lasting friendships," said upperclassman Marcos Perez.
Lynda Venerable Ellington added that her father was a dedicated caretaker and provider for their family. After their mother, Thelma Venerable (née Scott), passed away when the children were young, Venerable Ellington said her father took on a more involved parenting role. At the same time, he supported his family financially, working in mining, insurance, and eventually as an entrepreneur.
The business Venerable's children remember most was the chalkboard eraser company he bought and operated, the George R. Healey Manufacturing Company. They recounted stories of helping in the eraser factory and embarking on family hikes to Millard Canyon. They also recalled details about their father, like the fact that he never missed sending a birthday card to a friend or that he drove using both feet.
Dilichi Nwankwo, a third-year undergraduate, asked the family: "How do you think Venerable would feel seeing the current state of Caltech's campus and the fact that there's a house named after him?"
"If you want to know how he would feel about all of the Vens that are here, he would embrace all of you," Venerable Ellington said. "He would've just loved to come to Ven House and share with you, and you would keep him going all night long. He would stick with you and talk and answer questions, and he would be proud to know all of you, because that's family. You guys are family, and we're proud to share [the name] Vens with you."
After the event, students and community members were invited to record their thoughts for the Caltech Archives project.
First-year Ven Angelica Moussambote said, "When the Venerables described their father, it fits the house. … You can see many different people [around the house] and learn from their backgrounds."
Another first-year, Jayden Bautista, shared: "The thing I like most about being a Ven is that I can truly be myself and be an authentic person and not have to put a mask on when I'm with other people. Being in Venerable allows me to pursue my goals and my dreams to the full extent and have a really strong community that supports that."
Although not a member of Venerable House, graduate student Thomas Henning summed up the impact of Venerable's legacy for himself and other Black students at Caltech: "Venerable and what he's done has allowed me to find a place like home here at Caltech. … For me, home is someplace where I can feel accepted to be my true self, someplace where I can do my science at the highest level without worrying about fitting in, without worrying about being respected. And a lot of those things wouldn't have been possible if it wasn't for the work that Grant Venerable did."
Making a House a Home is the first in a series of community events and programs to highlight Grant D. Venerable's legacy at Caltech. Led by jill moniz, a Los Angeles-based art curator who empowers audiences to engage with art on their own terms, the project will include two more events in early 2024 and will culminate in June with the unveiling of an art installation in Venerable House. The installation will include a timeline of Venerable's life and Caltech's history as well as a portrait of Grant D. Venerable by painter June Edmonds.