“I never took a class at NIU. But I will always consider myself as one of the best alums that NIU has,” said Stevens, who served as secretary for six NIU presidents over a 32-year span.
Stevens, who graduated with a sociology degree from Lake Forest College, has given back to NIU through scholarships and her support as a Huskie fan.
After retiring, the DeKalb resident established scholarships in the College of Visual and Performing Arts. Three seniors – one in art, music and theater and dance – are recognized annually for their academic achievement and talent.
She extends her kindness by meeting the scholarship recipients and watching them perform.
“When they’re onstage performing, I can watch them and enjoy knowing them,” Stevens said. “And so it’s been a wonderful reward for me.”
As a Huskie fan, she regularly appears in the stands of football and basketball games and enjoys attending concerts, recitals and theater productions.
At Northern, she has found friends and family. To this day, she stays in touch with NIU presidents and their wives.
“I felt like I was part of every presidential family,” Stevens said.
Besides serving presidents, she handled dinner parties for wives, from planning the menu to finding entertainment groups.
“If you were to take a family portrait of NIU, Sally Stevens would be sitting front-row center,” John Peters said during his term as NIU president.
When Stevens started at NIU in the 1960s, it was a teachers college with 9,000 students. By the time she retired 32 years later, the university had expanded to a student population of 24,000.
During her presentation to honors students, she encouraged them to be mindful of their actions during college and in the working world because it reflects on them and the university.
“As you’re starting out, you need to respect those you’re working for and with,” she said. “And don’t go in like you’re going to change the world the minute you get there.”