By Felix Nguyen, Assistant Layout Editor
Mary Burke is the special collections manager at Hardin-Simmons University. Growing up, Burke dreamed of becoming the next Indiana Jones. One could argue that she has achieved just that. Burke has collected national historical records, unearthed Etruscan tombs and artifacts as an archeologist in Italy and taught as a college professor – the only part missing is having escaped from shooting darts and tumbling boulders with a golden idol in hand. Today, the people of Hardin-Simmons University know of Burke as the special collections manager, yet few have heard of her adventures.
As an “air force brat”, Burke moved around frequently with her family because of her father’s service. She and her younger brothers were born in Las Vegas, Nev., which her mother lovingly said she “hit the jackpot” with her children. As Burke’s father retired, her family settled in Texas, where she went to high school. She graduated from St. Bonaventure University (Bonas) with a bachelor’s in history and earned a master’s in museum studies at Syracuse University – both in New York state.
Burke had many major internship and work opportunities throughout her life that helped shape her ambitions. While at Bonas, she interned with the National Archives and Records Administration, where she worked with primary documents and conducting research, but did not enjoy being cooped up in an office. She spent the following year in Italy studying archeology. She loved having first-hand-experience with history but, similar to an office job with the National Archives, she was isolated in the field. She eventually settled on museum studies in graduate school because of her passion to not only study history, but also to share it publicly.
Burke moved to Abilene in 2013 with her fiancé Anthony and started her job at Hardin-Simmons University in 2016. When she heard about an open position on campus, she took it almost instantly. “When God intends for you to do something, the work is laid without you realizing it,” Burke said.
Besides from having arguably the best office view from the third floor of Richardson library, to Burke, working as a special collections manager offers her everything she has hoped for. “I love the people I work with – I work with fantastic people. And we have a stellar collection here with great history. It’s the jackpot and I don’t want to leave,” Burke said.
Burke’s favorite thing about her job is that she does something different every single day. Initially, her job description was to manage the university collection and digitize it on the internet. Today, this is only 10 percent of her workload. Additionally, she helps with student and public research, she teaches a First Year Seminar regarding the legacy and history of HSU and when any department is cleaning out basements, Burke is called to look for “gems” in dusty boxes. Throughout, she has thoroughly enjoyed her relationships with co-workers and student workers.
In the fall of 2016, after a casual conversation, Burke and the administrative assistant to Dean of University Libraries Shannon Maynard had a vision for an on-campus childcare. After three years of collaborative planning between Hardin-Simmons University, Hendrick hospital and Day Nursery of Abilene, the groundbreaking for a new building took place this summer and construction will finish early 2020. Being the co-founder of the HSU Childcare Initiative is, to Burke, her greatest achievement while working here.
“I enjoy passing along my energy and my happiness by helping others,” Burke said.