Historic volunteer

Erin McNeill ’10

A third-generation graduate of Cornell, Jean Minish Stoner ’41 has logged more than 800 volunteer hours in two years of service at the Lisbon History Center. “I’ve always loved history, local history,” said Stoner, a Mount Vernon resident.

Stoner worked for almost five years at the Linn County History Center before she offered her services to Lisbon in April of 2007, following a meeting she attended there. Winner of the first-ever Mount Vernon Alumni Association Award for Service and named to the Iowa Volunteers Hall of Fame in 1991, she has more than 60 years of volunteer service.

The History Center formed when Lisbon was planning to tear down its old City Hall, and many of the stored documents were going to be destroyed. Stoner’s first task was to help conduct an inventory of what the history center had and create records. She started a numbering system to keep track of people and donated items, and also created an alphabetical card file cross-referencing the family genealogies on record.

Stoner agrees with the center’s belief that history should be something tangible. “People should be able to touch stuff,” Stoner said. “What good is it to keep things if no one can see them?”

Thanks to Stoner, the walls of the center’s main work area are lined with shelves of easily accessible binders organized by subject, some containing genealogies, others with information on the schools, and still more with the history of local landmarks or important events. No one wants to dig through filing cabinets to look at things, she said.

The Lisbon History Center has been good to her as well, Stoner said. When she was fighting cancer in 2008, workers from the center brought bins of documents to her home for her to sort through while she was recovering. This work served as a great distraction, she said: “I maintain it kept my sanity.”

After graduating from Cornell with a degree in home economics, she married Virgil Stoner and they raised five sons on a farm outside of Mount Vernon. She’s an avid supporter of her alma mater, participating in the Cornell Scholar program. Through a gift of at least $2,500, donors establish a scholarship for a student in need of financial aid. This program also allows donors to form a relationship with the student, something Stoner has done.

(Erin McNeill is the recipient of the Mrs. Virgil Stoner Scholarship through the Cornell Scholar program)