The sun spills through the large windows of a cozy office as the old heat register gently clatters in the background. Hundreds of books line the wall, housed in custom made bookshelves, and several brightly colored paintings from Mexico tell a silent story as you enter the room. The desk, placed directly in the warm sun’s path, is an antique table handed down from a loving grandmother. It is a place where one finds serenity. It is a place where one finds a waiting intellectual conversation. It is a place where one will find inspiring Professor Ann Page Stecker.
As Stecker prepares to make her entrance into retirement, she’ll leave behind 40 years of teaching humanities, 20 years of coordinating the Wesson Honors Program and many long hours preparing courses, syllabi and lectures. Stecker says, “I’ve been stimulated the entire time I have been at the college. It has allowed me to work on my intellectual and historical knowledge. It has allowed me to blossom, and I have made many wonderful friends.”
Stecker’s passion for living an intellectual life began at an early age. She fell in love with William Shakespeare and Virginia Woolf while pursuing her degree in English at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg, Va. After graduation, she moved to London and made a living selling men’s socks at a famous department store. As luck would have it, London was celebrating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, which meant theaters were offering performances of all his plays. Stecker is proud to admit she went to every single Shakespearean play while living abroad.
The 18 months overseas also introduced Stecker to a life of travel. She and a friend journeyed throughout Europe for two months, before heading back to the United States. Traveling through Belgium, Germany, Italy and Greece, she gained independence and learned how to budget her money, as she paid for the entire excursion herself. It was this experience that sparked a love of travel within Stecker.
Once back on American soil, Stecker began her career in academia and served as the head of the English Department at The Maret School in Virginia. She considered going to Ireland to attend graduate school, however, on one fateful Friday afternoon in 1970, she met Frederick IV (Rick) Stecker and was instantly smitten. They were soon inseparable. Rick Stecker finished up his last year in the Virginia Episcopal Seminary and became the assistant to the rector at the Episcopal Church. Ann Page Stecker decided to pursue her degree locally, and attended the University of Virginia. And, not surprising, wrote her master thesis on a play by William Shakespeare.
It is the church that eventually brought Stecker and her husband to New London in 1979. She and her husband visited the town and immediately fell in love with the area. A week later, Stecker’s husband was offered the position of rector at Saint Andrews Episcopal Church, and the family moved soon after. When their daughter, Hardy, turned 5, Stecker decided it was time to go back to work. She enrolled Hardy in the Windy Hill School and embarked on her 40-year journey as a professor at Colby-Sawyer College.
Forty years is a long time to be at an institution, and Stecker has certainly seen her share of change. When she first started at Colby-Sawyer, it was an all-women’s college. She was honored to be asked to join the advisory committee which ultimately decided to transition Colby-Sawyer into a coeducational institution. Stecker says, “I like complexity. I would say I have been fortunate here to be part of change.”
Stecker brought her own to changes to Colby-Sawyer as well. In 2000, Stecker approached then President Anne Ponder and asked if she could create an honors program at the college. Given the authority to move ahead, Stecker began forming the structure of what would eventually be named the Wesson Honors Program. Stecker says, “Being able to start an honors program here gave me ways to enlarge my intellect and ability to lead. It helped me create excellence and interdisciplinary opportunities for our students.” Since its introduction, the Wesson Honors Program has had more than 400 students graduate with this distinct honor.
Since her time here at the college, Stecker has published three books and has just finished writing her fourth book – the first biography of Mary Elizabeth Wilson Sherwood. She has begun research, including travel to Mexico, for her next project which will focus on the social, cultural, aesthetic, and legal and illegal presence of graffiti. Stecker has also published several magazine articles and cultural studies essays.
Another proud accomplishment for Stecker is receiving the former David H. Winton Endowed Chair. She received this recognition of excellence in 2002. She was stunned by the honor and says, “It led me to more creative leadership and confidence in my teaching and research.”
Upon her retirement, Stecker will also be awarded the college’s highest honor. At the commencement ceremony, President Sue Stuebner will present Stecker with the Susan Colgate Cleveland Medal for Distinguished Service. This award is presented to individuals who exemplify Susan Colgate Cleveland’s attributes, ensuing that her work, dedication and influence will be remembered by future generations. Stecker says, “This award makes me feel thankful for being received here at the college. I can’t think of a thank you that would mean more than this. It is the recognition of what I have done and the chances I have taken.”
As Stecker plans her departure, she has asked Professor Mike Jauchen to step in as the new coordinator of the Wesson Honors Program. She says, “My proudest accomplishment is creating the Wesson Honors Program because it kept my intellectual, social and humanities skills blooming. I am confident that, with Mike’s leadership and what he has inherited, the Wesson Honors Program will continue to grow.
At the end of the academic year Stecker will pack her Mexican art and load up her grandmother’s table. She will shut the door to her cozy, sun-drenched office for the last time. In doing so, she will open a new door to retirement as she looks forward to spending more time with her daughter and grandsons, traveling, gardening and writing a future book. She says, “When I thought about becoming 77 last fall, I decided I would propose retirement to President Stuebner and plan to retire this May and continue research and writing at a new pace. Teaching at Colby-Sawyer for 40 years has been my beloved profession, so it was not an easy decision, but the right one I believe.”