Laura Schmidt Stanifer ’03

Archivist at the Marion E. Wade Center

Words: Kailin Richardson ’20
Photos: Tony Hughes

Wheaton College Wade Center archivist Laura Schmidt Stanifer

In the Marion E. Wade Center’s Kilby Reading Room, archivist Laura Schmidt Stanifer ’03 sits behind a wide wooden desk. Dusty sunlight pools in corners, weaving around stately bookshelves, dancing off glossed tables, and landing on the soft green floor as she surveys the authors’ written legacies lining the walls.

This room, not Narnia—and maybe not even her beloved Middle Earth—is Stanifer’s realm. She oversees it with the care and gravitas, yet also the delight, of a faerie queen in her forest.

Yet Stanifer had a relationship with the Wade Center long before it had its own building. When visiting her sister at Wheaton, Stanifer would run off to the Wade Center to read the authors she’d come to love deeply as a little girl. She wanted to attend Wheaton, but even more, she hoped to spend as much time in this delightful realm as possible. She started as a student worker in 1999, and after studying information science in graduate school, she returned to the Wade Center as an archivist in 2005. She’s been there ever since—acquiring, preserving, and helping people use the materials.

Although the stories have entranced her for years, the job is hard and serious work. Stanifer often reminds herself that she’s handling materials that have power to inspire a life-changing imagination for one’s faith, life, and relationships. “I have to remember the content is transformative to me, to others,” she said. “I need to let that passion shine through what I’m doing.”

Eventually, she saw an opportunity to bring that transformation into community. The Tolkien Society had met informally until Stanifer stepped in as a staff advisor for the circle of student fans. She also began the WhInklings writing group for students, bringing the Wade Center authors’ creative practices to life on campus.

“I love seeing the way God works through that community and gives encouragement to other people,” Stanifer said. “I love being a part of it because then I can really see the fruit that comes out of that investment and ministry.”

From a group of like-minded nerds to even her husband (a visiting researcher), Stanifer has discovered and cultivated a world she treasures through the Reading Room.