Museum Accepts Major Stevick Family Collection
Over 800 personal items of Marajen Stevick-Chinigo included in purchase from The News-Gazette.
It is a rare moment for a museum such as ours to gain access to a collection as diverse and expansive as the one owned by the Countess Marajen Stevick-Chinigo and the entire Stevick family. For one hundred years, the Stevick Family (David, wife Helen, and daughter Marajen) owned and operated The News-Gazette, Champaign-Urbana's longest-serving newspaper. In 2018, the newspaper fell into bankruptcy and the subsequent sale offered an opportunity to preserve this valuable local history. However, Since The News-Gazette, Inc. was in the middle of bankruptcy proceedings, the objects were part of the building and Stevick family and not part of the new owners' assets including the newspaper's archive.
In order to save these artifacts, the Museum would be required by the bankruptcy court to purchase the artifact collection. Enter Traci Nally, the longtime Vice-President of The News-Gazette Inc, and chief legal counsel. Traci approached the museum about personally donating the needed funds to purchase the entire collection. In addition, she was willing to add to her donation to purchase the archival materials necessary to preserve and store the items. While it is not typical for our museum to purchase artifacts it was necessary to preserve these outstanding pieces of local history. The arrangements were made and the courts approved the transaction in July.
Our work began in earnest in early July. We embarked on a mission to scour the four floors of the iconic Downtown headquarters seeking out all of the artifacts including those that had been put into a special closet following Marajen's death containing her most important artifacts and documents. We transformed a basement conference room into a massive processing facility. For the next two months, our volunteers, while socially distanced, of course, undertook the process of inventorying and tagging every item. When the list was complete there were over 800 unique items on the list, not including letters, photographs, and company documents that were immediately transferred from the museum to the Champaign County Historical Archives. What remained was a massive collection of artwork, photographs, statuary, and miscellaneous items related to the life of Marajen and her family.
In total, it took two months, and hundreds of volunteer hours to complete this work.
However, no museum would be able to house every item in this collection. About half of the items contain very little local provenance to Champaign County including artwork acquired during the world travels of Marajen Stevick-Chinigo. Therefore, decorative items such as framed lithographs or artwork along with some local items that are duplicates or outside of our scope are being sold, at the donor's request, at a public auction to further benefit the preservation of the Stevick Collection and the entire permanent collection of the Champaign County History Museum. It reality this auction will likely mark the final philanthropic act of David, Helen, and Marajen Stevick.
While The News-Gazette lives on to continue writing the first draft of our local history, the Stevick Family's era as leaders of that voice has ended. However, thanks to the generous gift of Traci Nally and the hard work of The News-Gazette, Inc President John Reed, the Stevick Family will live on for researchers and scholars for generations to come.
Top Ten Stevick Collection Items
As selected by Museum President T.J. Blakeman
10. 1901 Gilbert Clock
This W.L. Gibert Clock Co. Regulator No. 8 Clock was manufactured in Winsted Connecticut stood watch over visitors to the Stevick Family home as well as employees at The News-Gazette. The photo above was found during the inventory shows the clock in the entryway of the Stevick home.
The clock had been put away in storage in The News-Gazette's basement but will now be moved to our home at the Cattle Bank and restored for all to see.
9. Around the World with William F. Buckley
In the 1980s, Marajen joined a group of other wealthy travelers on a $35,000 per ticket trip around the world on British Airlines Concorde. At each stop, luxurious meals were prepared, and excellent accommodations made. Marajen produced an hour-long program on the trip. The master copy of that video is part of the collection. In addition to the video, the collection contains ephemera, including tickets, menus, and photos. Marajen can be seen in this photo in the second row, first from the left.
8. Robert Zuppke Paintings
Many in Champaign County and around the country know Bob Zuppke for his talents on the gridiron. As Illinois' winningest football coach, the Memorial Stadium field the Illini play on today is named Bob Zuppke Field.
However, Bob Zuppke was a talented painter and a very close friend of the Stevick Family. This collection contains seventeen pieces of his work, including a portrait of Marajen and a 10 piece series of hand sketches while on a trip to Havana Cuba.
7. Family Photos
The collection contains hundreds of personal family photos, many unseen before by the general public. As the heiress to a newspaper, it seemed Marajen had cameras around her where ever she went. Some of the more striking photos are those of her and her third husband, Col. Edwin Dyess.
Col. Dyess and Marajen (seen above) were married in California just before he was ordered to take command of all flying squadrons on the island of Bataan in the Philippines. Unfortunately, his units were overrun on April 9, 1942, when American forces surrendered the island to Japan. Col. Dyess was placed in a POW camp until his escape on April 4, 1943. However, on a retraining mission on December 22, 1943, the day he was made Lt. Col., Dyess suffered a malfunction in his P-38 Lightning Bolt was killed just outside Burbank, CA. He refused to bail out of his crippled plane to avoid crashing in a densely populated area. Marajen was a widow of a war hero at the age of 31. In 1944 she published his story "Bataan Death March A Survivor's Account." Abilene Air Force Base in Texas was renamed in his honor on December 1, 1956.
Other photos include family portraits, vacation photos, pictures of the various Stevick homes (including this image from their Hollywoodland home in California), and many, many more!
6. Penny for Your Thoughts Scrapbook
When longtime anchor Larry Stewart began his new call-in show "Penny for Your Thoughts" on WDWS, he supplemented each day's calls with an article in The News-Gazette. Many of these early articles have been preserved in a beautiful scrapbook. The cover is adorned with the simple words "Penny FYT."
5. Addendum to David W. Stevick's Will.
There is no denying that The News-Gazette founder David Stevick was extremely fond of his only child and thought the world of her. In 1935, just before his death in December of that year, David asked his attorney August Meyer to add language to his will. It stated that he and his wife Helen would agree to turn over all of their shares of the company to Marajen after she had worked 20 years as a "faithful, loyal, and steady employee" of The News-Gazette.
She was also obligated to "abide by the general teachings" of her father as she learned the newspaper businesses. Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack on December 15, 1935, before he could teach her those valuable lessons. Also found with this collection was the small index card that David wrote to Marajen (right). A touching sentiment and lifelong advice from a man whose life was cut too short.
4. Michael Chinigo's War Records
It has long been speculated that Marajen's fifth and final husband, Michael Chinigo, was more than just an International News Service War Correspondent. Many have speculated that he worked for the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency. This collection now confirms that fact with letters addressed directly from the OSS to Michael discussing his travel arrangements and orders. Also, more stunningly is a collection of folders containing confidential and secret letters between Benito Mussolini and Adolph Hitler. Also in this collection is a series of records containing speeches from Il Duce himself and photographs of the brain dissection of the former fascist leader. More research is needed, but clearly, the INS Rome Bureau Chief was more than a reporter. Michael went on to be the publisher of the News-Gazette serving under his wife Marajen. Their marriage broke down in 1974 when she filed for divorce. Before the proceedings concluded, Michael died of a gunshot wound on the streets of Rome, thousands of miles from Champaign and Marajen.
3. Jackie Kennedy's Signature
Shortly after their marriage in 1953, Michael and Marajen purchased an expansive mountain top villa called Torra di Civita in Revello, Italy, on the western Amalfi coast. The Villa was originally a monastery that had been abandoned by WWII. The 10,000 square foot estate welcomed countless dignitaries. Notable visitors include Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, Marajen's brother-in-law Buddy Rogers, and First Lady of the United States Jackie Kennedy. Mrs. Kennedy visited the Villa on August 16, 1962 for a brief stay and swim in the mountaintop swimming pool. Her signature appears in the guest book from the Villa, and as a special surprise, a young Caroline Kennedy signed her name as well. The Villa was recently placed on the market for 45M Euro. If you'd like to see what the Villa looks like today, you can view this beautiful promotional video.
2. Marajen Stevick-Chinigo's Artwork
Many people know that Marajen was a prolific hostess at her Italian Villa, but lesser-known was her love of painting.
Not only did she love to paint, but she became quite good at it. Her collection features 15 paintings, mostly oil on canvas, including one that won honorable mention at a show in Revello, Italy. Most of the pieces feature the picturesque views of the Amalfi Coast. The collection also contains her painter's box that still holds her palette and brushes just as she left them on her last trip to Italy.
1. George Scroggs Cane
This item doesn't directly relate to the Stevick Family but indeed links to printed newspapers in Champaign-Urbana. This cane was presented to George Scroggs, Owner and Editor of the Champaign Gazette in 1875 by the Illinois Press Association.