Astute and Unafraid: Remembering Professor Emerita Ann Magennis 

Spring 2024

Josh Zaffos

Professor Emerita Ann Magennis, circa 2017.

Professor Emerita Ann Magennis, an enduring and admired faculty member at Colorado State University Department of Anthropology and Geography, passed away on February 27, 2024, in Fort Collins, Colorado, following a brief illness.  

Magennis taught biological anthropology in CSU Anthropology from 1991 to 2017, including courses exploring human skeletal biology, human adaptation to disease and nutrition, and bioarchaeology. When Magennis and other Anthropology faculty recognized a growing interest and demand among students for courses in global and public health, she developed anthropology classes on those topics, too. Through her career, she carried out fieldwork and research across Colorado and North America, Morocco, Tanzania, and Central and South America, often supporting and collaborating with colleagues. 

“Ann always pitched in,” said Professor and Department Chair Mica Glantz. “I’ll remember Ann for how warm, thoughtful, and caring she was, and just always ready to get to work and get things done.” 

Born and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Magennis studied Anthropology as an undergraduate at Michigan State University (‘73) and then received her Anthropology MA from the University of Tennessee in 1977. In her graduate study, Magennis trained as a bio-archaeologist/ skeletal biologist – studying human bone and remains at archaeological sites. She received her Ph.D. in Biological Anthropology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 1990, and was hired at CSU in 1991. 

Leading Research and Fieldwork

Professor standing above site at Machu Picchu, Peru
Professor Emerita Ann Magennis at Machu Picchu in Peru.

Professor Mary Van Buren was an Anthropology instructor when she met Magennis as she was unpacking her new office in the Clark Building in 1991. “We shared outlooks and interests, and became friends and eventually neighbors,” Van Buren said. “As a colleague, she was really loyal and generous with her time.” When Van Buren had to travel across Colorado to take custody of the Vanoli site collection – a large assemblage of artifacts from a late-19th-century red-light district in Ouray – Magennis was along for the overnight road trip. Magennis also visited Van Buren at her field site in Bolivia and the two traveled to Machu Picchu in Peru and in Greece. 

Professor Kathleen Galvin and Magennis collaborated and traveled together to conduct nutritional surveys among Maasai groups living in and around Ngorogoro Conservation Area in Tanzania in the mid 1990s. The colleagues spent long days in the field surveying Maasai pastoralists and families, collecting their physical measurements, and interviewing them about their diets and travel habits to understand the impacts of conservation and parks protection on nomadic peoples’ health. At night, they camped in the conservation area – a practice no longer allowed – as elephants and wildlife wandered along and sometimes through camping areas. Magennis and Galvin coauthored several research papers based on the study. 

“She had never been to Tanzania before, but she was good in the field,” Galvin recalled. 

Among Magennis’ publications, she coauthored a monograph, “The Indian Neck Ossuary, Chapters in the Archeology of Cape Cod,” (1986) and a book, Black Mesa Anasazi Health: Reconstructing Life from Patterns of Death and Disease (1991). She also wrote numerous articles in journals including the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, Northeast Anthropology, and others, and contributed book chapters from her work. 

Analyzing Collections

Beginning in 2002, Magennis focused much of her time and attention on a collection of skeletons from 155 patients from the state’s mental-health hospital in Pueblo. The remains, buried in an unmarked cemetery used in the late 1800s and early 1900s, were discovered and removed during construction, and given over to Magennis and the department for research and analysis. Magennis and Glantz helped with parts of the cemetery excavation and relocating the collection. Through her work, Magennis concluded that many of the unidentified individuals likely died from syphilis, which had no cure or treatment before the 20th century and can cause dementia as it progresses. 

Magennis also played a key role in the 2000s identifying and returning Native American individuals held by the department – remains gathered through excavations or, frequently, donations from local families. Following the passage of the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), museums, universities and other entities with such collections that receive federal funding were mandated to inventory and return bone or funerary objects affiliated with tribes and descendant communities. 

“Ann was instrumental in our NAGPRA work in terms of identifying indigenous individuals housed at CSU,” said Professor Jason LaBelle who collaborated with Magennis on the department’s NAGPRA response. “She and her students determined their age, health, sex, and other vital characteristics as part of the documentation process. Her skill set was uniquely positioned to complete this work skillfully and with respect.” 

Mentoring Students and Colleagues

For Glantz and other colleagues, Magennis was also a mentor and a sage provider of advice and opinion who helped shape the Department of Anthropology and Geography. 

“In many ways, she is responsible for giving my professional career its start,” said Glantz, referring to Magennis’ role as chair of the search committee that hired her at CSU.  

“She often came into my office and told me to do certain things, like apply for a Fulbright or send manuscripts to certain journals,” Glantz continued. “Those of us who knew her well have notions about her that approach myth. We had the sense that she was always right about things – even when we disagreed with her.” 

Professor Ann Magennis (top row, third from left) and Professor Michael Pante (top row, fourth from left), with CSU Anthropology master’s students at the American Association of Biological Anthropologists Annual Meeting in 2018. (Image courtesy: Connie Fellmann)

“Ann was not afraid to share her thoughts and when she did everyone was compelled to listen,” said Professor and incoming Chair Michael Pante. “We always trusted Ann’s opinion on important decisions, and she remained a leader in the biological-anthropology concentration through her retirement.” 

“She was a very astute assessor of people,” Van Buren added. “She could be harsh but, so often, she was also accurate.” 

Van Buren and Galvin also remember Magennis as a dedicated and committed advisor and proponent for graduate and undergraduate students. “She was completely devoted to the department and students, and especially to her graduate students,” Van Buren said. 

Throughout her time at CSU, Magennis was a vocal advocate for student, non-tenure faculty, and campus equity. After retirement, she volunteered with the local food bank, fostered dogs, and drove for SAINT, a local nonprofit that offers free transportation for the elderly and disabled in northern Colorado. She stayed in touch with Anthropology peers over cocktails and coffees. 

Friends and colleagues have erected a bench and planted a tree in Eastside Park in Fort Collins in memory of Magennis. CSU Anthropology and Geography is also developing a student research fund in Magennis’ name.