Dr. Bonnie Stepenoff, professor of history at Southeast, strives to inspire a passionate quest for the truth and an appreciation for the physical remnants of history in her students. In addition to encouraging her students in such idyllic pursuits, she also inspires them to break into song.
“At the summer field school in Ste. Genevieve, I was watching three students cleaning a monument in the old cemetery with brushes and buckets of water, and it started to rain,” Stepenoff said. Instead of dashing for cover, the students stuck to their mission, demonstrating that they did have the passion and appreciation their professor hoped to inspire.
“They just kept brushing and rinsing, and one of them started humming ‘Singing in the Rain,’” she said. “It was a great moment.”
Stepenoff’s varied interests paint a colorful picture of the life of the professor who is committed to preserving the history and lives of others. She enjoys everything from cultured evenings of talking, dinner and drinking wine with friends to listening to country music and playing Texas Hold’em poker, which she recently learned to play.
“I’m a fan of Missouri wines,” she said, “and I like Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash.”
Stepenoff also enjoys writing haiku, and has had some of her work published in Frogpond, Modern Haiku and Bellowing Ark.
It’s easy to see how Stepenoff’s dedication and experience is inspiring to her students.
Her devotion was evident during a sabbatical leave, when Stepenoff chose to live in an old, remote farmhouse at the end of a dirt road that became impassable in high water, in order to research the Missouri Big Spring Historic District for a report published by the National Park Service.
“When it rained, they told me I had to decide which side of the creek I wanted to be on,” she said. “But I enjoyed every minute of it.”
Stepenoff joined Southeast as an assistant professor in the Department of History in 1993. She was promoted to associate professor in 1998 and to professor in 2003. She successfully enhanced the University’s historic preservation program during her time as director from 1995 to 2003, including developing a summer field school for students and creating enviable job placement rates for graduates of the program. Stepenoff has been extremely active with public history institutions and working on historic preservation at the local, state and national level. She is an expert in labor history, women’s history and historic preservation, and has an extensive list of publications and presentations to her credit. In 2003, she was appointed by the governor of Missouri to serve on the Missouri Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.