Longtime teacher Terry Stephenson has loved his job for the past 32 years at Philomath Middle School.
“Blessed” is his word of choice to describe his many experiences through the years. He feels blessed to have been able to work with all of those students, that he and his wife could raise their children here and that he could coach for as long as he did.
“For 32 years, there hasn’t been one day go by that I haven’t wanted to get up and come to work — and I’m serious,” Stephenson said. “I get up and I’m excited and I can’t wait to get there. And it’s because of the kids.”
Stephenson, who is among those retiring from the school district this year, taught all 32 years in physical education at Philomath Middle School and when the need came up, doubled as a health teacher for roughly 25 of those years.
Although he’s looking forward to retirement, Stephenson called the decision “bittersweet” because of the love he has for the job.
“I’ve been talking to a few people that retired before me and I tell them, ‘you know, it hasn’t really hit me yet’ and they said it probably won’t until September when everybody has to come back,” Stephenson said.
Stephenson said he hadn’t really ever thought much about leaving the profession with it really becoming a reality just this school year.
“It’s taken me about six months this year to kinda wrap my mind around it,” he said. “My wife and I had to go through all the steps and make sure we’re OK financially and all that stuff. I just never have thought about it because I love my job so much. But I am 58 and I’ve been here for 32 years and I can. I think it’s time ... I’m OK with it now.”
It’s an interesting story as to how he ended up in the position that would become his life’s work.
Stephenson’s wife had landed a job as a teacher in Corvallis and they decided that they wanted to stay in the area. Applying for everything in sight after graduating from OSU, Stephenson received interest from Philomath for a physical education position at the elementary school.
“I got an interview with Rod Harvey and about halfway through the interview, the superintendent, who was Lee Edwards at the time, got Mr. Harvey out of the room and just left me sitting there by myself,” Stephenson remembers. “He comes back in and he goes, ‘I’ve got some good news and some bad news.’ I’m thinking to myself this is not going to be good.”
As it turned out, the elementary PE job had been filled but the other part of that equation was that the teacher had transferred out of the middle school. Stephenson still expressed interest.
“Everybody at the time would tell me, ‘you know you’re crazy to be teaching middle school,’” Stephenson said. “And I have absolutely loved it.”
When the news came that Philomath wanted him, Stephenson was on the baseball field at OSU where he had been working as a graduate assistant under Jack Riley.
“Coach Riley came out and got me and said, ‘you’ve got a phone call in the baseball office’ so I ran back over there, sat down at my desk and I looked up and he was peeking through the door and so I knew something was up,” he said. “They offered me the job and so I took it.”
Stephenson’s early years had taken a few interesting twists and turns, including a bad break when it came to his athletic endeavors at the collegiate level. He graduated from Grants Pass High School in 1979 and headed to Southern Oregon to play baseball and basketball.
But then Southern Oregon cut the baseball program and hired a new basketball coach. Stephenson went back to Grants Pass to take classes at Rogue Community College. But he didn’t really know what he wanted to do academically and decided to head down to Napa, California, where he worked at a couple of jobs.
Eventually, he returned to Grants Pass because there were opportunities at the semi-pro baseball level.
“I got on one of them and put up good enough numbers to get recruited to play at Oregon State and I came up for my visitation with Coach Riley and the academic guy came in and said, ‘We’ve got a problem,’” Stephenson said. “Southern Oregon didn’t fill out my redshirt papers correctly so I didn’t have any eligibility left, so I was devastated.”
At the time, Kurt Kemp and Mickey Riley, the coach’s son, had been on the staff but they both left. Stephenson received an attractive offer from the head coach.
“He offered me a graduate assistant job and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do it,” Stephenson said. “Long story short — he ended up telling me that if I came and did it, he would pay for the rest of my school. So my parents said ‘you’re going,’ which ended up being the best thing that ever happened to me — to be a part of that program for four years and get to learn from him.”
The opportunity not only helped Stephenson land a teaching job after college, but served as a springboard into coaching.
“I was fortunate and blessed to be at Oregon State from ‘84 to ‘87 under one of the greatest teachers of baseball that I’ve ever seen in my life and I was able to learn from him,” Stephenson said. “When I came here, there was no baseball job open. But about two weeks after they hired me, they decided not to renew the contract of the baseball coach for I don’t even know why, so obviously I applied for it, and ended up getting it.”
Stephenson was the head baseball coach for 21 years from 1987 to 2008 with several exceptional teams playing on the field that now bears his name.
“I had great kids to work with every single year. At this size of a school, to have that quality of kid come out for baseball every year, in my opinion, is unheard of,” he said.
After his son, Riley, graduated, Stephenson decided to give up coaching to spend more time with his daughter, Tierra, who went on to great athletic accomplishments of her own.
Stephenson said there have been many over the years that contributed to his quality of life on the job and he wanted to make sure those people know that he’s thankful. He mentioned administration, staff, students, parents and the community for providing the support that he has appreciated.
“It’s been an awesome journey for me and I need to thank them for that,” he said.
Stephenson’s relationships with the students are at the top of his list in terms of why he loves the place and the job.
“That’s what I’m going to miss most — being here with them everyday and the relationships you make with them,” he said. “The staff here has made it special also, but ultimately, it’s the kids that have made this place so special. That’s what I’m going to miss the most.”
Stephenson said that beyond getting in more hunting and fishing, he’s not sure what he’s going to do with his time.
“I’m going to come back and sub and so I’ll get to be here a little bit,” he said. “I think they’re going to let me keep supervising athletic stuff here at the middle school, so I’ll get to do that.”