After 25 years at the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum, Bonnie Snortum has announced that she will retire from her position as Athenaeum Director on June 30th. Snortum has worked at the Athenaeum since January 1989 and has filled the role of Director since 1992.
In an email to the CMC community announcing her retirement, Dean Jeff Huang wrote that Bonnie “has established herself as someone who cares deeply about the intellectual development of young people, the world of ideas and possibilities, and of course, CMC and the Claremont Colleges.”
While Bonnie plans on simply enjoying her retirement by traveling and spending time with family, she also might return to the Athenaeum as a guest next year and the administration is planning a retirement celebration sometime later in the spring.
Snortum was raised on a farm in North Dakota, and grew up speaking both English and Norwegian. She first came to CMC in 1967 when CMC hired her husband, John Snortum, as a psychology professor. While Snortum spent most of her time at the Athenaeum as its Director, she actually first visited the Ath as a guest, performing there as a pianist with her chamber music ensemble three times, once in 1986 and twice in 1987.
Then, in 1989, after her husband passed away, she began looking for a way to give back to the school and decided to take on the position of Assistant to the Athenaeum Director, who at that time was Jil Stark, wife of former President Jack Stark. Three years later, Snortum rose to the position of Athenaeum Director.
As Director, Snortum was steadfast in her vision for transforming the Athenaeum into a bastion of intellectual discussion. For example, she believed in the importance of being receptive to all ideas rather than presenting polarizing figures. She also placed a higher emphasis on the quality of the ideas presented than on the popularity of the speaker.
“You don’t judge success by the size of the crowd, that’s not the goal,” Snortum mentioned in an interview with the Forum last semester. “My goal is to keep the intellectual integrity of what we do—celebrity is fine, but there has to be substance to it.”
However, the next step to take once Snortum retires is to appoint her successor. In order to accomplish this goal, Dean Huang has tasked the Athenaeum Advisory Committee, which is chaired by Professor Lisa Cody and includes students, faculty members, and staff members, to conduct the search. Huang hopes to have a successor in place by the end of the spring semester.
“I expect that it will be a challenge to find a new Director, as this position takes a very special set of skills, requires evening work hours, and is not found at other institutions,” Huang explained in his email, “but we have to get this right in order to ensure the intellectually engaging Athenaeum experience that we have come to appreciate. Therefore, we will not settle for a ‘good enough’ candidate.”
Bonnie Snortum’s 25 years of dedication to the Athenaeum have enriched the CMC community immeasurably. On behalf of the Forum, thank you, Bonnie, for your service.