If it weren’t for a lack of electricity and inadequate bathroom facilities at the John Doscher Country School of Photography, Henry Stevens, Operations Supervisor at ASU Library, might have spent the last 44 years of his life in Woodstock, Vermont.
It was there, roughly 2,500 miles from Arizona State University, and the library job he’d left behind, that he discovered the greener pastures he’d been looking for, on the other side of the country, were not so green after all.
He’d been offered a job at the photography school, but the living quarters were not exactly ideal.
“I would have had to walk a quarter mile in the snow each morning to take a shower,” recalls Stevens.
He also discovered that he missed ASU and, most of all, working in the library.
So, he called up his old boss.
“Ed Danaher. He was the associate head librarian at the time, nice guy,” Stevens said. “He was gracious enough to accept me back without hesitation, and for that I owe a great deal to him.”
It was the summer of 1973, and neither Danaher nor Stevens could have known the decisive nature of that phone call – it was truly the beginning of a fruitful career, one that would span more than four decades and several hundred thousand interactions with ASU students and faculty, in addition to a number of lifelong friendships.
This month, when Stevens retires from his role at ASU Library, he says what he’ll miss most are the patrons, the students and the faculty; learning something new each day from his colleagues and the books he encounters; and being part of a university community that has made coming to work so gratifying he’s rarely missed a day.
‘If you were to open my arm, it would bleed maroon and gold.’
You’d be hard-pressed to find a bigger cheerleader than Stevens when it comes to student and faculty success at ASU.
“It’s been a blast watching some of these students, from freshman year to graduation, going from unfocused individuals to taking a degree, maybe even the first in their family,” Stevens says. “It brings me enormous joy, and is a very gratifying aspect of working at the circulation desk.”
Stevens’ enthusiasm for ASU goes beyond the library and into the arenas and the stadiums, where he’s watched countless ASU sporting events, supporting both men’s and women’s teams, at home or away.
“If you were to open my arm, it would bleed maroon and gold,” he says.
He may have even rushed the field once.
While Stevens’ love of all things Sun Devils began in the late 1960s, his love of sport was there from the beginning, during his childhood years spent in Philadelphia, where he was surrounded by winning professional teams and neighborhood kids who also played sports, just as he did, and until very recently, continued to do so.
Holly Kruper, Senior Library Information Specialist in Access Services, says she and Stevens, for a number of years, played on the same softball team in an intramural ASU league, in which Kruper was catcher and Stevens was pitcher.
“Henry and I used to play tennis, too, here at ASU, in the wee early morning hours,” says Kruper. “This was when they had the tennis courts by the SRC.”
Kruper has also enjoyed attending football games with Stevens and her husband, David: “It’s fun to hear Henry cheer for his favorite, Sun Devil Football,” she says.
Every once in a while, Stevens says he’s fortunate to be on the receiving end of the cheering – for example, when he’s helping faculty who are in the process of writing a book or a journal article.
“They sense that you understand what they’re doing and that you’re helping them along,” he says. “We don’t get pats on the back that often, but sometimes faculty will acknowledge your help in their book, and it’s truly a feather in your cap.”
Another perk of the job has been working with international students.
“It’s almost as if I’ve traveled vicariously through them and have a far better understanding of their culture, where they’re coming from – it’s part of what makes my job so enjoyable,” he says. “I wonder at times if I need to travel internationally because I feel like I’ve been there already.”
‘He’s been the captain to our ship’
It’s obvious the void Stevens will be leaving behind next week when he officially retires.
“He’s been like the captain to our ship,” says Maura Pollock-Moneyhon, Manager of Access Services, “taking command of the library at 5 p.m. when most of us went home, and safely navigating it until 1 a.m. when he handed the controls over to the overnight crew. He and his crew kept the library safe and sound regardless of the ‘weather’ or the condition of the ‘ship’. We never had to worry, he was always here and had everything under control.”
Libby Anderson, Operations Supervisor, says she will miss Stevens’ unique brand of kindness, generosity and thoughtfulness – and birthday hugs.
“Thank you for being such a kind and caring buddy to me these past 35 years,” she says.
Stevens may be leaving the library, but he won’t be too far away.
“My plans are to remain in Tempe,” says Stevens, who has not owned a car in more than 40 years and enjoys getting around town on his Schwinn cruiser bike.
He says he will be watching the ongoing evolution of ASU Library with considerable interest, particularly the remodel of Hayden, and will never stop going to Sun Devil games. (He is a season ticket holder after all.)
Photography, which has always been a hobby for him, will take more of a front seat now: “My camera loves Japanese Friendship Gardens,” he says.
He also plans to take in more movies; Harkins Valley Art in downtown Tempe is among his favorite venues.
“Henry and I have a shared interest in films, and I always enjoyed and appreciated his reviews and recommendations, especially as he often saw many smaller films with limited release at venues like Camelview and Valley Art,” says Edward Weidle, Operations Supervisor at the library. “I expect that I will run into him one of these times at the local downtown Tempe movie house, and I look forward to that.”
And while he’s had the luxury of living vicariously through the many international students he’s worked with at ASU, he does have some travel plans of his own, including but not limited to: seeing a soccer match in Wembley Stadium, eating sushi with Anthony Bourdain in Japan, sampling beer in Brussels, and listening to the sound of bagpipes played in Scotland.
But Tempe will always be home.
“This is home for me,” he says. “I’ve been very fortunate to live here in Arizona and work in library public service at ASU. It’s been a beautiful run.”