Three photos of Jean Babcock Stoess at different times in her life.

Scholarship Honors Barrier-Breaking Woman

For many women in the 1950s and 1960s, facing the obstacles of financing a higher education with no family support would have been too much.

But Jean Babcock Stoess did. She went on to be a writer, author, editor, publicist, elected public official, board member, election monitor, mother, and grandmother. Now, a scholarship gift in her honor aims to bridge that gap for exceptional students like Jean.

“She was an achiever,” said her daughter Caryn. “Focused, service-oriented, and a proud feminist. She spent a lot of time proving to men she was their equal.”

Jean’s husband and Caryn’s father, Al Stoess, PhD ’67, wants to help two University of Oregon undergraduate students studying business or journalism who share the same pluck and determination as his wife with the Jean Babcock Stoess Memorial Scholarship Fund.

A Eugene native, Jean Babcock attended River Road Elementary and what was then known as Eugene High School, now South Eugene High. She was very involved in school activities from folk dancing to co-editing the high school newspaper. It seemed Jean was destined for higher education, but she did not have the support of her family in that goal. In fact, she would have to pause her degree-seeking twice—both times to focus on working full time—ultimately finishing in six years.

Throughout her life, Jean remained close with her Eugene neighborhood friend Doug McKay. The pair both attended the University of Oregon. Jean was upset when McKay was offered scholarship support, while Babcock, a female student with excellent grades and a roster of extracurriculars, wasn’t.

Undeterred, Jean made the most of her time on campus. She pledged Delta Zeta sorority as a freshman. She was one of just eight women awarded membership in Phi Chi Theta, the national business women’s fraternity. An interest-free loan from McKay’s parents helped Babcock finish her undergraduate studies.

Jean met her husband Al during their graduate studies at Oregon. Like many graduate students, she applied to receive graduate assistantship. A male professor didn’t think that a woman was worthy of the slot—but his objections were overruled and Jean earned her place as a GA.

“She stood up for herself,” Caryn said. “And she got her graduate degree—sometimes bringing me to class with a coloring book when childcare wasn’t available.”

During her career Jean Babcock Stoess worked as a writer and editor, raised children, and stayed heavily involved in her community and its government. Her children remember stuffing envelopes as their mom described the importance of voting in both local and national elections.

Starting in 1976, Jean was the Nevada manager of the News Election Service, where she was responsible for hiring, training, and managing reporters in every Nevada county. The service provided election results to major news outlets. Then from 1985 to 1996, Stoess was the Western Area Manager for News Election Service/Voter News Service with responsibilities for organizing and managing election reporting systems in 13 Western states.

She also was the publicity chair for several schools and non-profits, including the Sierra Club, Nevada Environmental Education Council, Nevada humanities projects. In 1977, she was appointed as the first woman County Commissioner in Washoe County and became the first elected female County Commissioner shortly thereafter.

Throughout the years, Jean’s drive for excellence never diminished. In 2002, she was the chair for the successful bond campaign for the regional animal shelter—one of her proudest achievements. Her final post was as a trustee of the Washoe County Library System from 2016 to 2022.

She also remained close with McKay. In fact, it was McKay’s involvement with the college that motivated the Stoess family to consider a scholarship gift. Doug and Jean were contemporaries of another UO donor, Phil Knight, and were inspired by his legacy of giving as well.

The fund will provide support for undergraduate students in the Lundquist College of Business and the School of Journalism and Communication and may be used to assist students with expenses related to attending the university, including tuition, fees, books, supplies, room and board.

Jean’s husband of more than 60 years, Al, and their children, Craig, Mark, and Caryn, think she would have approved.

“Jean achieved so many things during her lifetime and I don’t know that she got the amount of credit she deserved, that she should have gotten,” Al Stoess said. “Now, we’re trying to help an incoming student get started and importantly, continue the scholarship all four years as well.”

Read the Full Obituary

—AnneMarie Knepper-Sjoblom ’05, Lundquist College Communications