Letter: An appreciation of Ann Stenmark

Jean Dickinson, Guest writer

Ann Stenmark presided over the Inquirer lab for more than more years than most faculty advisers. She sometimes hovered over editors’ shoulders, wielding a sharpened wooden pointer stick tipped with red paint (one student’s idea of a joke) and pointing to something on the screen that caught her attention — a headline in the wrong font, a photograph lacking a cutline, a wrong page number. She could be acerbic, funny, plain-spoken, and grumpy, but no one ever questioned her absolute loyalty to the students or her dedication to their work. She wanted the Inquirer staff to be its best and she loved her students.

Ann died Saturday, Nov. 10, of lung cancer. She was 74. Knowing her, it’s not surprising she kept her illness a secret, except for her immediate circle in the cafeteria. While part-time in the Inquirer lab, Ann also worked as an assistant to Food Services manager George Delfabro for more than 15 years. She quietly retired in February before beginning chemo and radiation treatments, five years after having retired from the newspaper.

Ann first joined The Inquirer as a student in 1995, one year after I’d begun as the faculty adviser. At the time, billing records for ad sales consisted of pages in a small, tattered notebook, and I sent a plea to business instructor Bernice Dandridge, asking for any student who might want some real-world experience. Ann’s arrival marked a partnership that lasted through my retirement in 2010 and through the first two years of Mary Mazzocco’s tenure.

What to say about those many years?

Ann was my lifeline. After she maxed out her two years as a student in the newspaper production class, I hired her as an instructional assistant, having no clue when it came to teaching students how to lay out award-winning pages on computer software. First we had PageMaker and pasted up the pages on boards prior to taking them to the Contra Costa Times for printing. Then came Quark and finally InDesign. Along the way, Ann and the students ditched the waxer and learned how to send the pages digitally to the CCT. And over the years, the Inquirer staff racked up individual and group awards at regional and statewide journalism conferences.

For many years, the Inquirer was published weekly, and production night often stretched into midnight or later. Those nights were exhausting, but also filled with laughter, pizza and the camaraderie that comes with hard work on a shared goal.  Ann and I moved the Inquirer lab twice during that time, from a cramped single classroom in the Humanities Building to the former Career Center by the Quad in the late ‘90s and then back to the same classroom in the Humanities Building in 2003. Only this time it was a double-wide (a wall was knocked down), complete with an office and glassed-in conference room. Ann was instrumental in overseeing every detail, down to placement of each electric outlet and cable. She also snagged desks and chairs unused in the new business building.

We had a great run. Ann and I didn’t discuss politics (she once described me as “way beyond liberal”, whereas she was an avid watcher of Fox News), but we shared an inseparable bond. I could not have survived 16 years as adviser without her and will never forget her unswerving loyalty to me, the students and their newspaper.

No services are scheduled at this time, but George Delfabro said he plans to organize a memorial on campus in January.