“Day in and day out, he had a great pride,” Perpetual Federal Savings Bank President and CEO Mike Melvin said of Warren Stevens. “He had a deep pride in Urbana High School, a deep pride in Urbana City Schools, and a deep pride in Urbana.”
Stevens, 75, died in a car accident Wednesday evening. He was a longtime Urbana City Schools board member, serving as vice president this year; an Ohio Hi-Point Career Center school board member; and the president-elect for the Ohio School Boards Association southwest region. He has been part of a variety of community groups and government organizations, including the Mental Health, Drug and Alcohol Services Board of Logan and Champaign Counties.
Stevens was born in Urbana, though he grew up in Pennsylvania after his parents separated, he told the Urbana Daily Citizen in a previous story about his life. He reminisced about his first job: A pinsetter at a local bowling alley in Pittsburgh at age 9. The family moved back to Urbana after Stevens’ father died. He attended Urbana High School beginning his sophomore year. Stevens played several sports, especially football. He graduated in 1959 and went into the Air Force, later getting a degree from Ohio State University with funding from the GI Bill. He worked at Honda in Marysville while getting that degree and retired from Honda.
Stevens’ son, Warren Jr., said his father was all about family.
“He was about keeping the family close, keeping the family connected. But he considered his community family as well,” he said.
Stevens Jr. said though his father was passionate about his various boards, committees and other community service, it never mattered if others saw things the way he did.
“He could sit and talk and listen to anyone,” he said. “On either side of the aisle he could talk to people. Everybody was a friend to him. He was a people person, without a doubt.”
Stevens Jr. said it was always amusing to see his father interact with others, and he realized he had the same kind of demeanor with everyone.
“That was just him, a part of who he was,” he said.
Stevens enjoyed photography in his spare time, Stevens Jr. said.
“You always knew you could count on him,” said Urbana High School Alumni Association President Hayla Sawyer Parker. “That is a gap that will not be filled anytime soon.”
Sawyer Parker was a fellow classmate who graduated the same year Stevens did. She later taught English at the high school and had two of his children in her classroom.
Stevens most recently helped the alumni association keep its doors open after declining membership, she said.
“He’s done so much for the community,” Sawyer Parker said.
Dedication and service
Friends and associates say they will remember Stevens’ dedication to the causes that mattered most to him and his willingness to always help.
Urbana City Council President Marty Hess said he knew Stevens when he was transportation supervisor at Urbana City Schools. They did not serve on Urbana City Council together, but they ran into each other while working with the county Democratic party.
“He was very thorough. He investigated everything he could to find out the best result for everybody,” Hess said. “(When I was) transportation supervisor, he would stop in and see how things were going. He was always concerned, always smiling. If you needed something, you could go to Warren. And you knew when you went to Warren you wouldn’t get it quick, but you would get it right. He didn’t want to make any mistakes.”
City of Urbana Director of Administration Kerry Brugger agreed: “He was very dedicated, very committed and very passionate about what he embraced. Our hearts go out to him and (his widow) Audrey.”
Champaign County Democratic Party Chairman Lynn Mintchell agreed, noting Stevens served on several committees for the party while on Urbana City Council. “Warren was a very dedicated long-serving member of the Democratic party. He had a very sincere heart to serve this community and a strong desire to fight for the best education for the benefit of all our children. Warren inspired everyone by the way he lived. He was a wonderful friend, co-worker and just a wonderful human being.”
Urbana Mayor Bill Bean worked with Stevens while serving on the Urbana University board, and was saddened by his loss.
“He was an inspirational person and a community leader,” he said. “My wife and I would like to offer our deepest condolences to Audrey, his wife, and his family. Warren will be greatly missed in our community.”
Flying under the radar
Stevens was always unassuming, not trying to draw attention to himself, Melvin said.
Melvin, a student at Urbana High School at the same time as Stevens, worked with him on the Urbana High School Alumni Association and said he realized this early on.
“Warren was the kind of guy that worked behind the scenes,” he said. “He didn’t care much about the exposure and the glory.”
Sawyer Parker agreed. “He was very quiet, but he thought things through, said what he felt. I don’t think I ever heard him raise his voice. I would run into him all over town. He always had a smile on his face.”
Melvin added Stevens was always calm and easy-going.
“That was just Warren. He never got too flustered, was just sort of laid back,” he said. “If you disagreed with him and you saw him the next day, you were still pals and friends.”
Education a top priority
Stevens was most passionate about education, and that was obvious to those who worked with him on his various boards for the Urbana school district, the Ohio School Boards Association and Ohio Hi-Point.
“He was always a champion for the community, for the people, but mostly, putting every effort he had, for the students,” Ohio Hi-Point School Board President Anne Reames said. “There wasn’t a time when Warren got to interact with students when he didn’t take full advantage to ensure the students’ individual education was exactly what they needed for their future.”
Reames added Stevens was on his way to Ohio Hi-Point’s Wednesday board meeting when the accident occurred.
Stevens had been on the Ohio Hi-Point board representing Urbana schools since 2004 and served as legislative liaison for Ohio Hi-Point and Urbana school boards.
Ohio Hi-Point Superintendent Dr. Rick Smith said Stevens “will be very missed in both districts where he served.”
In Stevens’ 12 years on Urbana’s school board, OSBA Executive Director Rick Lewis got to know him from all the work he did with the OSBA. He said Stevens would immerse himself in how to be a great board member and work for the best outcomes for students and his community. He couldn’t list how many committees Stevens had been on, but noted he was always the first choice for OSBA members and officials to help with anything. And Stevens served at the national level, too, – lobbying Congress on education issues in conjunction with the National School Boards Association.
Lewis added Stevens received a number of awards and recognition from the OSBA for his work both statewide and nationally, but that wasn’t the point to him.
“He was truly an ambassador for education,” he said. “He was always involved, always making a difference. He was one of the most kind, giving individuals I’ve known. He always struck me as the type of person that if he made a difference in the life of one kid, to him his life had purpose.”
Lewis said Stevens was so prevalent in the community, and the national and state organizations, that his passing leaves a huge hole.
“His loss isn’t going to be felt just in Urbana; it’s across the state and really across the nation,” he said. “School board members across the country loved and respected him for all he did. Our directors, our trustees, our members and staff all lost a friend. Public education has lost a loyal and fierce advocate and a champion. It’s a void I just don’t know how you fill.”
Hess said one word describes Stevens the best: “Selfless.” He added this is a trait difficult to find in people
“It’s hard to replace these people,” Hess said. “Once they get into something, they keep going and going and do a great job. It’s hard to find people like that today. I hope I’m thought of as well as he is.”
Warren Stevens’ obituary appears on Page 2 of this edition.
Casey S. Elliott may be reached at 937-652-1331 ext. 1772 or on Twitter @UDCElliott.