Skip to main content

Marilyn Wurzburger retires after 48-1/2 years at ASU

January 12, 2009

When she began working in Matthews Library on July 18, 1960, Marilyn Wurzburger had no idea that she would still be collecting a paycheck from Arizona State University 48-1/2 years later.

It just sort of happened, said Wurzburger, who will retire on Jan. 23. One year melted into another, and another, and new challenges came along to be met. Friendships were developed, and all too soon, Wurzburger became one of the two or three longest-employed faculty or staff member ever at ASU.

Wurzburger was born in Kirkwood, Ill., and received her bachelor's degree in English from MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Ill. She taught high school for a year, then fourth and fifth grades for four years in Illinois.

Her husband, Dick, who was an electrical engineer with Motorola, was offered a chance to transfer to Arizona, and the couple, always adventurous, packed their bags and moved.

Wurzburger taught a final year, at Loloma School in Scottsdale, then she and her husband went to San Diego, where he had accepted a job with another company after Motorola’s B-70 project was cancelled.

When Motorola reinstated the B-70 project and asked Dick to return, the Wurzburgers happily came back to Tempe and moved into their house, which, fortunately, had not sold.

It was then that Wurzburger made the choice that would bring her to ASU for a record tenure.

"I had been taking classes in library science to keep my certification, and I was certified to be a school librarian," she said. "When we came back from San Diego, I worked as a substitute teacher for several months, but I thought I really wanted to get into library work."

A job in cataloging was open at ASU, so she applied and was hired.

That was the beginning of a new challenge – working with the then-head librarian, whom Wurzburger called “Mr. B.”

Mr. B believed that married women should not be working, Wurzburger recalled. ”He thought that jobs should be reserved for women who didn’t have husbands to support them.”

He also seemed to go out of his way to intimidate some of his staff, particularly those like Wurzburger whom he considered to be in the “Cadillac and mink coat crowd.”

Once he asked a favored staff member to pick out items for Wurzburger to catalog, and the staff member “selected all the things she did NOT want to catalog,” Wurzburger said. “As I result, I learned a lot about cataloging because they were the snags – the hardest things to catalog – that no one else wanted to tackle.”

Some of Mr. B’s actions were ruinous to the library, Wurzburger recalled, and she shuddered when she learned what he had done.

“He stamped and perforated pages of rare books, which you should never do. And he made many errors in cataloging.”

Eventually, Mr. B was transferred from his job as head librarian to the faculty of the department of library sciences, but Wurzburger's former nemesis came back to haunt her. She had been taking graduate classes to finish her master’s degree, but whom did she find on the committee that would have to approve her coursework? Mr. B, of course.

"I just didn’t want to go near him. I never asked him to approve my coursework, so I couldn't finish my degree," Wurzburger said.

But fate intervened again, and she eventually was promoted to full librarian – without her degree – thanks to the intervention of another head librarian, Donald Riggs.

Riggs based his decision on articles Wurzburger had published in library journals, and her training in rare books, which she received from the then-associate librarian Jay Dobkin, who had once been a rare-book librarian.

There were other characters in the library. Wurzburger recalls a Miss Haskell, who felt that Wurzburger, who was the "baby" of the staff at age 26, was enjoying herself too much and having too good a time at work.

"She said to me, 'You are much too happy,'" Wurzburger said.

In 1973, Wurzburger was named acting head of Special Collections, and the job was given to her permanently in 1974.

Her job was to buy and acquire rare books and collections, and help scholars with research using ASU's materials.

There have been many memorable moments in her Special Collections work, and she has made friends from many countries -- some of whom she and her husband have visited several times.

Among her "prizes" for the collection is the Doris and Marc Patten Collection of Herbals and Early Gardening Books, a rare assemblage of books about botany and herbals dating from the 15th century.

"The Pattens had thought about donating the collection to the University of Wyoming, but the university told them they would keep it for three years and sell it," Wurzburger said.

"Doris Patten didn’t want it broken up. I wrote a letter to Duncan Patten, their son, who had been a professor here, urging the family to give it to our Special Collections. He replied that I had convinced him that it should be at ASU."

Another exciting acquisition was a leaf from the Gutenberg Bible, which was donated by the now-defunct Friends of the Library group. The Friends paid $15,000 for the leaf, which is now worth about $70,000, Wurzburger said.

What will Wurzburger do now that she won't be making the trek from her home in Scottsdale to Tempe anymore?

Perhaps she and her husband will travel more, though they have seen much of the world already.

Perhaps she'll dust off her tools for making stained glass, and perhaps she will finish the history of the library she started many years ago.

And perhaps Wurzburger, an avid cook who has been a Pillsbury Bakeoff finalist twice, will spend more time in her kitchen.

She will, however, leave a part of her heart – and a few tears -- in Hayden Library, her home away from home for so many years.

"This has been such a great job," she said. "I have had such a wonderful staff."