Diversity, Equity and Inclusion|

Department of History

icon of a calendarNovember 20, 2019

icon of a pencilBy Kelli M. Titus

Making History

An alumna’s passion leads her to historical strides

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Sarah Griffith

How did Nancy Zimmelman Lenoil, CAS ‘83, carve herself a space in history as the first female State Archivist of California? With a devotion for history itself.

Born and raised in Michigan, Lenoil’s love for history was first sparked by her father; a passion that drove her to pursue a bachelor’s degree in history with a minor in American studies at Oakland University. Upon her arrival to the University, Lenoil was captivated by the nature of OU’s history department, including the supreme mentorship of its faculty.

“I gained a tremendous amount of analytical, research and practical skills from my classes,” explains Lenoil. “The professors we’re so approachable, and their mentorship set me on a path toward this career.”

After OU, Lenoil expanded her skillset with a master’s in history and a graduate certificate in archival administration from Wayne State University. In 1987, she began her journey to the California State Archives in Sacramento for a post-graduate fellowship in archives management with a focus on identifying and processing the state’s legislative records. Shortly after the conclusion of the fellowship, Lenoil earned a permanent position with the California government as an archivist and the administrator of the Western Archives Institute, a two-week introductory program to archives management. She was appointed as State Archivist in 2006, becoming the first woman in California history to hold the position. In 2012, she was elected as a Distinguished Fellow of the Society of American Archivists.

“The purpose of archives is to preserve records, and they have a profound ability to make a long-term impact,” says Lenoil. “It’s always been exciting to be a part of that process, to ensure that the records of the past and present are accessible for research in the future.”

Lenoil’s historical strides leave her humbled and empowered, as she retires this year from the State Archives after 31 prominent years of service. While this chapter of her career is concluding, she fondly recalls the opening pages that were written amongst the backdrop of OU’s campus.

“I have had lots of opportunities to reflect and think about how I got here and what I’ve accomplished during my career,” Lenoil says. “It all comes back to how Oakland University planted the seed for getting me to the point I am now. I would not be State Archivist of California had it not been for my OU experience.”

Nancy Zimmelman Lenoil reviewing books in the California State Archives
Hand flipping pages with black and white photos
Nancy Zimmelman Lenoil holding old advertisement for hair lotion
Stacks of old books on shelf
Nancy Zimmelman Lenoil leaning again shelf in California State Archives

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