By Ann Gill (M.A., ’76)
One does not expect inspirational encounters in an airport, but that is exactly what happened to Marty Lenz (B.A., ’90) on a Friday morning in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He spotted Temple Grandin, CSU professor of animal science and world-renowned expert in animal welfare and autism, walking through the concourse.
Marty is co-host of “Colorado’s Morning News” on KOA Radio in Denver. While a student at CSU, he played wide receiver for the Rams, majored in speech communication, and did a Saturday night classic and progressive rock show on KCSU radio. After graduation, he has spent 30 years in radio, first in music formats, then news at stations from Columbia, South Carolina, to Sacramento.
He has remained a loyal Ram. It was during a trip to watch the team play the University of Iowa this fall that he had his never-to-be-forgotten encounter. That story, in his words:
I’m used to asking questions, having access to people in the know – experts, policymakers, leaders, influencers – from all realms, perspectives, and walks of life. When I saw Dr. Grandin, realizing my good fortune in such a random location and moment, I didn’t want to miss this opportunity to engage with a truly transformative person. I went up to say hello, adding, “You here for the football game?” She looked puzzled! I introduced myself as a CSU alumnus. She said she was flying back to Denver, after giving a lecture at Coe College.
I forgot my mask was down; she kindly reminded me with a bit of a twinkle in her eye. I immediately apologized. She said, “COVID is serious.” I nodded in agreement, and she continued: “It’s serious. We need to be careful, get vaccinated. But we have to live life, move about, but do it the right way.”
As we stood there, a young woman approached. She began heaping effusive praise upon Dr. Grandin for her advocacy for autism; the woman’s young child is on the spectrum. After she left, Dr. Grandin and I continued standing in the concourse. I asked, “May I buy you coffee?” She replied, “I’ve had too much coffee, but you can buy me water!”
I asked about her talk at Coe College. “Livestock and climate change.” Dr. Grandin explained in beautiful simplicity, but with such insight and thought, on how animals can be part of the solution. “Grazing animals will always be with us.” She went on to talk about how solar panels in the fields for power could help farmlands dissipate heat, offering a form of shade, protecting grazing livestock in the process. She was more detailed than my simple explanation, but I was in awe of how she saw complex problems and offered clarity in ideas.
A businessman sitting nearby said, “You’re Temple Grandin! I appreciate your work.” He said he works in agriculture. Dr. Grandin then offered her thoughts on the “supply chain.” I marveled at how well-versed she was; I could tell the businessman had an even greater appreciation of her.
I asked, “Is there more autism, more people on the spectrum, than when you were a child, or are we better at diagnosing it?” She said, “We are better at diagnosing; resources and research are better today.” My son was speech delayed. He’d get upset, and the only thing that seemed to help was pressure, strong hugs—something I told Dr. Grandin I learned from her HBO life story a decade earlier. “Yes pressure, deep pressure, that is common for people like me,” she said. Then she said abruptly, “Better handle on autism, better diagnosis, better understanding,” looked at her watch, and left.
Marty ended his story by saying Temple Grandin gave him a gift, demonstrating “a whole new level of humanity and kindness.” He continued, “As much as I love CSU football, I continue to be inspired by and appreciate the greater mission of the University and the people it touches. Learning is a lifelong process; what I experienced with Temple Grandin is a reminder of the truly amazing people that call Colorado State University home.”