John Blodgett Stebbins, 85
John Blodgett Stebbins, died peacefully at home, on Thursday, July 25, 2013, after a 15-month fight against lung cancer. Originally from Niagara Falls, New York, he was a graduate of St. Paul’s School (’46) and Harvard College (’50), and became a beloved educator in New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. He married the late Mary Emelie Tobias of Charleston, South Carolina while in the Navy there. He is survived by his second wife, Janet Jones Stebbins of Scarborough, Maine; his children, John Blodgett Stebbins, Jr. of Brockton, Massachusetts, George Tobias Stebbins of Craftsbury, Vermont, and Elizabeth Stebbins Torkelsen of Wilton, Connecticut; four grandchildren: Alex, Ben, Emily, and Kristina; and two great-grandchildren: Bella and Chase.
John was passionate about his career as a teacher. Although he briefly tried school administration, he always preferred the classroom. Over the years, he taught subjects as diverse as astronomy, Latin, English and history. Despite his classical education and his ubiquitous bow ties, John never took himself too seriously.
As John would put it, he “festered as a youth” in Niagara Falls, where he was proud of his parents, Dr. Edward C. Stebbins and Hope Blodgett Stebbins, and his younger brother Ned, Edward C. Stebbins, Jr. Even so, at a tender age, he tried to run away, but only got as far as the corner because he was not yet allowed to cross the street by himself. Later, he fished coins out of the top of the American falls — securely anchored by old clothesline. He had a permanent impact on brother Ned — having dropped a ball-peen hammer on his head from their tree-house, a fact which Ned never let him forget. John drew pictures of horses, planes and trains at Maple Avenue School, then moved on to act in theater and play drums in the marching band at Deveaux School. When he missed an exam there, he was sent to St. Paul’s School, where he learned discipline, crew, and Latin. After four merry years at Harvard College (‘50), where he was a cartoonist for the Lampoon and a member of Hasty Pudding’s “Hairy Leg Chorus,” he emerged an English major, which prepared him perfectly for his next four years in the Navy in the exotic port of Charleston, South Carolina.
His time in the Navy was memorable for his having been bitten by an IBM machine (his “war wound” — he wanted a purple heart but the corpsman gave him a bandaid and laughed); acting in many productions at the Dock Street and Footlight Theaters; drawing and painting their PlayBills; and meeting and marrying Mary Emelie Tobias (Toby). He then returned to teach at his old school, Deveaux, in Niagara Falls. He subsequently seized the opportunity to help found a school in Northern Vermont (Sterling School, now Sterling College, in Craftsbury Common, Vermont) with several Berkshire School faculty. At Sterling, he served in virtually every position from school carpenter to night watchman to Headmaster.
He designed and built his own house near the campus. He constructed and played three banjoes, helped to launch the local fiddlers’ contest, served as the town’s republican representative, was a deacon in his church, and continued to act in local theater. He earned a Masters in School Administration at Johnson State College, and had brief stints at Manlius Pebble Hill School (New York) and Lamoille Union High School (Vermont) and later became principal of Craftsbury Academy, the local high school. Following the death of his first wife, he moved to Ashburnham, Massachusetts where he taught English and Latin and coached shot put and discus at Cushing Academy. There he met and married his second wife, Janet Elizabeth Jones.
He also continued to pursue his passion for woodworking, building inlaid workbenches, headboards, and coffee tables. He renovated their Maine summer cottage on MacMahan Island, adding a bedroom, woodshop and custom furniture. After his retirement from Cushing, he lived in Westminster and Walpole, Massachusetts before moving to Pomfret School, in Pomfret, Connecticut. There, he served as the school’s top English, history, and Latin tutor, while continuing his success in watercolor painting, woodwork, and local theater. During this time, he moved to an 1840 farmhouse in the neighboring town of Woodstock, where he converted half the old barn into the woodshop of his dreams. After many happy years there, he really retired, this time to Piper Shores Lifecare Community on the ocean in Scarborough, Maine, where he lived for his last four years. Weeks before his death, he celebrated his 85th birthday with children, grand-children, great grand-children, nieces and nephews, during which, as usual, all were riveted by his storytelling. He loved giraffes, model planes and railroads. He always said his demise would come (embarrassingly) by being trampled by butterflies. At the time of his death, he had almost finished memorizing Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. He is survived by Janet, Amber — the dog, and many wonderful family, friends, and memories. A memorial concert in his honor is being scheduled for September in Scarborough. In lieu of flowers, please consider a contribution to Beacon Hospice, 54 Atlantic Pl., Portland, Maine 04106.
—by the family