Who’s SAU? Onnica Marquez
By Rebecca Harris-Klawon
"This is what you are supposed to do with your life," said the mummy Isis Neferit to Onnica Marquez one night-in a dream, of course.
It was this dream that persuaded Marquez to get a Master's in Museum Studies while working as an archive technician and registrar at the Putnam Museum in Davenport, where Isis Neferit's sarcophagus is showcased.
Marquez's training in museum collections and archives ultimately landed her in a climate-controlled, "hidden" room in the St. Ambrose Library as its archivist.
Marquez likens the room, which only can be accessed by ringing a doorbell, to her own version of Narnia-the mystical land in a perpetual state of winter in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.
Inside, the archive is a cold, magical place where students, faculty, and staff can find practically anything related to St. Ambrose University. The archive is unique because it only collects items related to SAU. Manuscripts, yearbooks, old photographs, items related to alumni, textiles, and even letters written by past students to their families back home are cataloged and waiting for someone in search of answers.
A Day In The Life Of An Archivist
The work Marquez does on a day-to-day basis is incredibly varied. At any given moment, she can be found executing research requests, setting up training projects, or creating historical displays found around the Library. She also preserves and catalogs donations.
Before cataloging any material, she considers a few questions: Does the item have a story? Does the item have research value? Does the item mean something to the history of SAU? Once cataloged, the materials are accessible to the public, which means anyone who is interested in anything having to do with the history of St. Ambrose University. Marquez even fields overseas requests by email. Recent requests have come from Italy and South Korea, both asking about Fr. Edward Catich '34 and his works.
"I am the memory-keeper for the whole campus. All of these boxes contain memories, and my job is to preserve them so they are still around 100 years from now."
• What are your hobbies/interests outside of the archive?
Marquez's part-time job, OnniFaye, started out as ‘weird cupcakes' that she brought into work for Shark Week and various other events. People began placing orders and now she creates edible works of art every weekend.
She shares this passion with her husband, and they dance together at home and at social events nearly every week.
• You're known for sending out a digital newsletter to campus called Squirrel Mail. What's up with the squirrels?
"I love squirrels. They are my spirit animal. They are spastic little creatures that collect nuts and store them."
Yes, much like what she does in the archive.
Believe It Or Not
• What is the oldest holding in the SAU archive?
"The Articles of Incorporation." Signed in 1882, these are the founding documents of St. Ambrose Seminary.
• What might be the most intriguing holding in the archive?
"A relic of Saint Rita of Cascia." A relic is a part of a deceased holy person's body; usually a speck of blood, a tooth, skin or bone.
• What is the most surprising holding in the archive?
"SAU's liquor license." The Last Class Pub, located in the Beehive in Ambrose Hall, opened in 1972 when Iowa's legal drinking age was lowered to 19 years old. The pub closed in the mid-1980s.