From a quest to find the forgotten burial location of one of Wheaton College’s founders, to placing birthday flowers underneath Eliza Baylies Chapin Wheaton’s portrait 205 years after her birth, Zephorene Stickney of Marion Gebbie Archives embodies the definition of dedication to Wheaton College and its history.
Stickney earned a history degree from Wheaton’s sister school, Mount Holyoke, and spent several years working in archival studies before coming to Wheaton as its first permanent archivist in 1980. One of her first projects was to find the actual burial site of Mary Lyon. It was a rumor that she was buried at Wheaton, but her gravesite was at Mount Holyoke (Mary Lyon is in fact buried at Holyoke, as Stickney soon discovered). Stickney also spent her first few years here looking through Wheaton’s offices, closets, and storage rooms to find new archival material.
When asked about her passion for history, Stickney says, “It’s the human part of the story that is fascinating to me. Wheaton had nearly forgotten its own history.” As Wheaton began planning for its Sesquicentennial campaign (Wheaton’s 150th birthday), the need to remember the human element of Wheaton’s history became clear. Stickney worked to discover the forgotten aspects of Wheaton’s history while collaborating with students compiling the Sesquicentennial yearbook. Assistant Archivist Megan Wheaton-Book, who has worked with Stickney for the last few years, notes, “She spent a ton of time with those young women making sure that they understood Wheaton’s history and that they were connected with the college. They had this bond.” In fact, the Sesquicentennial yearbook was dedicated to Zeph. Wheaton-Book says, “Zeph would go off about how wonderful those students were, but its obvious looking at physical documents like that yearbook that Zeph was really important to those young women as well”.
Stickney’s love for the human element of history is also reflected in her choice to honor the birthday of Elizabeth Baylies Chapin Wheaton every year. The tradition began with Founder’s Day and was continued by Wheaton alum Beryl Proctor Fenstermacher ’26 until her passing. Today, Stickney puts roses under Elizabeth Baylies Chapin Wheaton’s portrait on her birthday and during Commencement.
Stickney’s close relationship with the students and staff continues today. Wheaton-Book notes, “She has so many friends in faculty that you cant walk anywhere with Zeph without someone coming up to say hi and have a little conversation. She knows everyone…its kind of hard to quantify”.
Stickney has filled the Archives, and other places, with the history of Wheaton. “We have a lot of administrative records,” she said. “But that’s not the meat of the matter. We are here to teach young people, but we don’t have that much that shows what’s taught!” She urges students to send in their notebooks, club fliers, syllabi, and other materials they feel sum up their life as a student here. This is because one of the most important elements of Wheaton’s history is and always will be its students.