Scarborough, ME — With great sadness, we note the peaceful passing of John Blodgett Stebbins, age 85, on Thursday, July 25, 2013, after a well-fought 15-month fight against lung cancer. Originally from Niagara Falls, NY, he was a graduate of St. Paul’s School, NH (’46) and Harvard College (’50), and became a beloved educator in NY, VT, MA, and CT. He married the late Mary Emelie Tobias of Charleston, SC while in the Navy there. He is survived by his second wife, Janet Jones Stebbins of Scarborough, ME; his children, John B. Stebbins, Jr.(Willy) of Brockton, MA, George Stebbins of Craftsbury, VT, and Elizabeth Stebbins Torkelsen of Wilton, CT; 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, NY 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 the tree-house. John drew pictures of horses, planes and trains at Maple Ave. 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, Concord, NH, (’46) 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, SC.
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 and nurture his first son Willy (John B. Stebbins, Jr.). There he nearly completed a PhD program at the University of Buffalo. Next, he seized the opportunity to help found a school in Northern Vermont (Sterling School, now Sterling College, in Craftsbury Common, VT) 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, and soon added son George to his family. 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. In a few years, cherished daughter Elizabeth was born. He earned a Masters in School Administration at Johnson State College, and had brief stints at Manlius Pebble Hill School (NY) and Lamoille Union High School (VT). Next, he traveled across the street from Sterling to become principal of Craftsbury Academy, the local high school. Following the death of his wife, he and Elizabeth moved to Ashburnham, MA where he taught English and Latin at Cushing Academy. There he met and married his second wife, Janet Elizabeth Jones.
At Cushing, he taught, and coached shot put and discus. He also continued his woodworking passion and built inlaid workbenches, headboards, and coffee tables. He also renovated their Maine summer cottage on MacMahan Island, adding a bedroom and woodshop, building a king-size bed in the attic so that it looked out to sea, fitting built-in drawers under the eaves, and designing the famous Stebbins wine rack that fit bottles between the studs. After his retirement from Cushing, he lived in Westminster and Walpole, MA before moving to Pomfret School, in Pomfret, CT. 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 (a gorgeous inlaid sideboard was proof). After many happy years there, he really retired, this time to Piper Shores Lifecare Community on the ocean in Scarborough, ME, 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 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, ME 04106.