For 16 years, James Stevens volunteered full-time in the Bellevue Elementary School third-grade classroom taught by his daughter, Mary DeSantis. Stevens, a longtime resident of Marcellus, was best known as everyone's favorite reading partner.
"The kids, as soon as they'd see him walk in, [would say], 'Can I read with Mr. Stevens?'" DeSantis said. "And a lot of them might not get that anywhere else, time to read with somebody one-on-one."
Stevens, who is retiring from his volunteer work, was honored during today's Flag Day assembly in the Syracuse elementary school's gymnasium. It was also his 81st birthday.
Following a half-hour of patriotic songs performed by the elementary orchestra and sung by students, Principal Joanne Harlow took time to thank Stevens for his years of dedication. Stevens was greeted with a standing ovation from a room-full of students and teachers.
"Mr. Stevens was a wonderful role model, tutor and mentor to our students for 16 years," Harlow said. "He touched the lives of so many, and worked hard to make a difference to kids. Every day he demonstrated patience, unselfish caring and service to others."
Harlow announced that a donation of $150, collected by teachers, would go to purchasing books for the library in Stevens' name. The school also established the James Stevens Citizenship Award, which will be given annually to a fifth-grade student who demonstrates community involvement, caring and civic responsibility.
Luke Burgess, fifth-grade, was presented with the first James Stevens award. Burgess was chosen by DeSantis, who taught him in third grade, with full support from the fifth-grade teaching staff.
"I wanted somebody that was a lot like [my father], that may not get a lot of accolades in other ways," DeSantis said. "Just a quiet, really nice kid, who tries hard and is nice to everybody."
Stevens began volunteering at Bellevue Elementary after retiring from his work as a lab technician at Bristol-Myers Squibb. It started with a couple visits, and he soon became hooked. DeSantis said Stevens mostly stayed in her classroom, but his assistance in other classrooms was often requested.
Stevens said what he loved most about volunteering was "being with the kids."
"And if I can help them in some way, if I can work with them, that makes it better for me," he said.
Stevens will be dearly missed by students, teachers and staff at Bellevue Elementary School, and no one will miss having him at the school more than his daughter.
She said she feels fortunate, adding: "What other daughters get to spend more than half their career with their dad?"
James and his wife, Helen, have lived in Marcellus since 1960.