Stephenson came to Transylvania as a student in the fall of 1936 and never really left. With the exception of three-and-a-half years for military service during World War II, two years playing professional baseball, a year of graduate school, and another year of high school teaching, Stephenson has enjoyed an uninterrupted association with Transylvania as a student, teacher, administrator, and coach that now spans a remarkable seven decades. Today, in his role as special assistant to the director of athletics, Stephenson is celebrating the 70th anniversary of his love affair with Transylvania.
When Stephenson enrolled at Transylvania in 1936, Franklin D. Roosevelt was president and the nation was struggling to climb out of the Great Depression. A basketball grant helped make Transy affordable for Stephenson, who became a star player, making the All-Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament team as a senior.
Though Transylvania did not field a baseball team at the time, the game was Stephenson’s first love and a sport he pursued on the professional level, first during his college summers as a shortstop and second baseman in the Ohio State League at Findlay and with the St. Louis Cardinals organization in Springfield, Missouri.
World War II put Stephenson’s college education on hold while he served with the U.S. Army Air Corps as crew chief and engineer on a C-47 troop carrier in the southwest Pacific. He returned to Transy in 1945 to complete his A.B. degree in physical education and psychology and graduate with the class of 1946. Still clinging to his dream of playing professional baseball, he played AA ball briefly at Rochester and at Winston-Salem before returning to Lexington to earn his master’s degree in education from the University of Kentucky. He then taught and coached for a year at Garth High School in Georgetown, Ky.
At the beginning of fall semester in 1948, the late Transylvania athletics director Algie Reece ’33 offered Stephenson the position of instructor in physical education, along with basketball and baseball coach. Thus began what is now an unbroken string of 58 years in the employee of his alma mater. Over the years, Stephenson has also served Transylvania as men’s golf coach, athletics director, intramurals director, and health services director.
In his role as athletics director, Stephenson was instrumental in bringing to Transylvania C. M. Newton and Lee Rose ’58, two men who not only brought athletic glory to the Pioneers, but who also went on to become national figures in intercollegiate athletics. (See program notes for additional information on Newton and Rose.) As a physical education teacher, Stephenson was recognized as an authority on team sports rules, especially football, basketball, and baseball. He was also one of the first to organize clinics for officials.
Stephenson retired from the faculty in 1983, but continued to coach the men’s golf team and referee intramurals. In 1990, he was NAIA District 32 Coach of the Year as he guided the golf team to its first-ever appearance in a national tournament. He now assists athletics director Jack Ebel ’77 in a variety of special projects.
In a 1998 interview, Stephenson remarked, “It’s funny how things work out. You never know just what your future will hold, but as the years went by, Transylvania became such a wonderful part of my life. I wouldn’t trade my experiences here for the world.”
Transylvania awarded Stephenson and his late wife, Willie Mae Montague Stephenson ’46, the Morrison Medallion in 1993 for their outstanding service to the University. Stephenson was inducted into the Pioneer Hall of Fame in 1996.