Tucked away on the first floor of the library are small offices; the silent nature of the library fills the halls and corridors, but there is nothing more exciting than the story behind the woman in Office 110, Susan Swords Steffen.
Office 110 is small; the walls painted an eggshell beige with two black bookshelves pressed against the wall, filled with books that are tightly stuffed in each corner about to burst at the seam. To the naked eye, it seems like a regular office, but there is so much more history to it once you speak to the woman who occupies it.
“I read about 175 books a year,” says Steffen as she swivels in her chair to glance over at the bookshelf.
No book in particular stands out to her; she just reads what seems to be the best novel at the moment. She collects books by piles, ready to pick up the first book on the pile. Starting this summer, she will be nose-diving into more novels to satisfy her love of reading.
On February 20, Elmhurst College learned through a campus-wide email that Steffen would be retiring on June 30 after working at EC for 22 years, but being a part of the EC campus for over 50 years.
“Susan’s contributions across the college are numerous and memorable, indeed,” says longtime friend and director of the EC honors program, Mary Kay Mulvaney. “She is also a good friend who will be sorely missed at Elmhurst College”.
When she was six months old, Steffen was formally introduced to EC through her parents—her father, Robert Swords, became an English professor in the fall of 1952, and her mother, Barbara, also an English professor, joined the same department in 1960.
Growing up on a college campus is an experience foreign to many, but Steffen has fond memories of it, recalling one of her favorite things that came out of growing up with faculty members who had children near her age—her birthday.
“I had two birthdays, which was very cool because who has two birthday parties?” she says, her eyes crinkling as she laughs.
As she continued to grow up on the campus, Steffen didn’t see herself attending EC. Her father would often tell people that she had a fine educational career before returning to EC.
“There was nothing wrong with Elmhurst; I just wanted to be away’” says Steffen, who received her undergraduate degree at Carleton College, her Master’s in library sciences at Dominican University, and another Master’s for English at the University of Chicago.
One fateful night, when she was on campus attending a fourth floor party in Stanger Hall, Steffen met Joe, the man she would find herself marrying in 1975 in Hammerschmidt Chapel, just a few hundred feet from where they first met.
After receiving her degrees, Steffen found herself back at EC in 1997 when she accepted the position to be the director of the A.C. Buehler Library.
“Susan is a tireless director who is truly devoted to Elmhurst College,” said Donna Goodwyn, head of reference at EC.
When the average person thinks of the workday of a librarian, they do not imagine a hectic day. The mind might imagine a day of organizing bookshelves and ordering books in the most silent place where you can hear a pin drop. This could not be further from the truth.
“It’s never boring” says Steffen chuckling loudly. Her days usually consist of meetings, teaching class, and training interns for the library. To her surprise, there were no meetings on this day.
Apart from working in the library, Steffen also served as a professor in a gamut of classes such as Children’s Literature, First Year Seminar, and City As Text: Rome, Prague, Berlin, and Amsterdam.
“She was like the mother hen of the group. She has been on that trip multiple times, so she knows where to be and when,” said Katherine Albano, an EC sophomore who went to on the Cities as Text January term trip this year. “As long as we were safe, she was happy.”
Throughout her 67 year history at EC, three generations of Steffen’s have been a part of the institution, starting with her parents, herself, and her son Jason, who is a 2006 alumni of EC where he received his B.A. in Music Education.
“We have 90 years of faculty service from our family,” Steffen says proudly, “and mine is only 22 of them.”
Her retirement date is June 30 and in a full circle moment of life—her last faculty meeting will be on the 30th anniversary of her parents’ final faculty meeting.
“I’m looking forward to not knowing what the next thing is,” says Steffen on what she will do after her retirement. “We [her and her husband] have some trips planned, and I have stacks and stacks of books to read, so we will see how long that lasts.”