Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum


Inside CMC, April-May 1988, Volume 3, Number 2


The following article is based on an interview with Jil Stark, Athenaeum director.

The Athenaeum serves many functions. We are a hotel, a travel agency, a speakers bureau, and a student center. The Athenaeum has an interesting history. When Jack became president, we already had a home in Claremont. We had three children and I was expecting our fourth child. The president's house, 890 Columbia, was simply inadequate for a family of our size, so we decided that we would stay in our own home.

Donald McKenna had talked quite a bit about his parents who would have students over for a meal and to discuss ideas and current events. Jack had always felt that the meal hour was a wasted time in a college student's life. He felt that adding intellectual stimulation during the meal hour was a very good thing to do. By combining Jack and Donald's ideas, the first Athenaeum was born at 890 Columbia (once the president's house, now the admission office.) We soon outgrew that facility, so the decision was made to build a bigger center in the middle of campus that would be the focal point for student activity at CMC. The result was the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum, completed in 1983.

One of the criticisms we have received recently is that because of the Athenaeum's popularity, it is harder and harder to do last minute events here, which was Donald McKenna's original hope. We've offset that with our Open Forum, where people drop in on Wednesday for lunch. Now, however, we have people starting to line up outside the Athenaeum at 11:15 in order to get in for lunch at noon.

Our teas, held every day from 3:00-4:30, have been very popular. We like to carry magazines that students can leaf through--magazines that most students don't get in their rooms, Vanity Fair, Los Angeles, People, New Yorker, and a couple of travel magazines.

This year our speakers program has varied from sports celebrities to philosophers to political figures to people in the medical profession. We have tried to have a good balance between conservatives and liberals and between men and women. I have begun booking some of our larger events at McKenna Auditorium. We did this for John Irving, George Deukmejian, Patricia Schroeder, Allan Bloom, Leon Sullivan, and Randall Roberts. In order to fill McKenna, however, we have to publicize the event to every student and faculty member at the Claremont colleges. This takes a tremendous amount of time.

The program for next year is already filling up. Tentatively I'm planning a series on great explorers, a series on the children of famous individuals, and a series on the effect that the Los Angeles Times has had on the history of California. In planning events I work with the Athenaeum Committee, which is composed of students and faculty.

It is my philosophy not to pay a speaker more than between $1000 and $3000-sometimes $5000 but that is as high as I ever want to go. Patricia Schroeder charged us $2000 to come and that is what I want. I want someone who is interested in outreaching to us, not someone interested in becoming wealthy on us.

I'm doing some programs with the other colleges. Elie Wiesel was sponsored by the Athenaeum, the Scripps Institute of Humanities, and the Office of the Chaplains. That not only helps our cost but our crowd as well. Some of our best programs have been done in cooperation with the Claremont Graduate School.

We do several purely social events throughout the year as well. The Madrigal Dinner has been very popular. This year we had 300 people a night for six nights. The Evening in Vienna was something that Michael Lamkin planned, and it was smashing. It is good for us if this kind of event can be held one night for students, one night for the development office, and one night for the community.

I guess there could be some tension between my role as Jack's wife, as hostess of the College, and my job here, as director of the Athenaeum. I try not to let it interfere. I do not think the students see me as the president's wife, which is really healthy.

Most of the students either call me by my first name or a nickname. It's great that they see me as a friend because I need to work closely with them.

I work with a dedicated staff: David Edwards, manager; Carol Bovett, secretary; John Roth, faculty fellow; Robert Weber, head chef; Jackie Hawkins, pastry chef; Kenneth Ryder, cook; Phil Willis, kitchen utility person; James Van Beek and Stephanie Lum, student fellows; Jeff Zitko, student manager; Kathy Hoke, assistant student manager; a two-person cleaning crew, Carmen Guzman and Gail Shepherd; and more than 100 student waiters.

Our two student fellows do a great deal of writing for the Fortnightly. They also host our guests. The fellows sit with our guests at dinner, and suggest other students who would be willing to sit there. Our student fellows also plan events that are specifically student oriented, like the Festival of the Arts. The fellow's job is a mixture of being a host to the guests and a guide to the director so that the student viewpoint is kept pretty high on the agenda.

David Edwards' job is really to manage the building. He deals with the physical plant, parking, and all our student employees. When you have 100 students on your payroll you have 100 questions. David also works closely with the kitchen staff.

One thing that I want to stress is that this is really fun. The students are fun to work with, the guests as a rule are really, really nice, and the faculty are very understanding of what goes on here. It's lively and it's fun and there are a lot of laughs associated with the job. I look forward to getting here. If I'm not here by 8:00 a.m. I think I'm late, so that must be a good sign.