Carol and Bob Stephens pose for a photo at the Jay Community Center, one of Bob’s favorite places. Bob Stephens, who grew up in Jefferson Township, returned to the community about three and a half years ago after living elsewhere for decades. (The Commercial Review/Virginia Cline)
Carol and Bob Stephens pose for a photo at the Jay Community Center, one of Bob’s favorite places. Bob Stephens, who grew up in Jefferson Township, returned to the community about three and a half years ago after living elsewhere for decades. (The Commercial Review/Virginia Cline)
A former Jay County resident whose career took him away has come full circle, and he now loves living and serving in the community he left years before.
His path led him to many successes, both professional and personal, but was also filled with tragic times. He continues to nurture relationships formed with students while he was a teacher and coach here more than 50 years ago.
George Robert “Bob” Stephens, 83, moved to Portland three and a half years ago, accompanied by his second wife Carol, to whom he has been married for more than 30 years.
The move happened by accident. The couple was living in Scottsdale, Ariz., and came to Portland to visit for the summer in their RV. They ended up spending the summer in the parking lot of R&R RV Repair on the corner of Lincoln and Meridian Streets in Portland and liked Portland so well they decided to stay.
“We’ve never regretted it. We love Portland; absolutely love it,” Bob Stephens said.
“We began to visit,” Stephens noted while they were staying at the lot. The first person he met was the late Dave Miller, who was co-owner of the gas pumps located nearby.
Stephens and Miller were pilots and shared a love of sports. “I was very close with Dave Miller. He was about like a son to me,” Bob said of their relationship.
He would often serve as a co-pilot for Miller when they flew to various sporting events — including the Indiana State Basketball Tournament a few days before Miller was killed in a plane crash in Kentucky March 31, 2011.
Bob and Carol bought a mobile home in Golden Age Village on Blaine Pike in Portland, removed it and replaced it with a new model. They also sold their RV. They started becoming involved with the community and haven’t slowed down since.
Bob Stephens became a member of the Portland Aviation Board at the beginning of this year. He thinks the airport is very important to Portland.
“I’ve got a lot of things in mind,” he said.
He has talked to officials from local companies that might utilize the airport, and he believes that a runway extension could mean more business and industry for Jay County.
Stephens is also passionate about the Jay Community Center in Portland, where he and Carol exercise regularly. He thinks it is an awesome facility for Portland and that everyone should take advantage of it and do some form of exercise.
The couple attend Westchester United Methodist Church and Stephens said an advertisement for JCC appears on their song screen and says “See Bob and Carol.”  
Graduating from Governor I.P. Gray High School in New Mount Pleasant in 1946, Stephens was raised in Portland by his aunt and uncle Anona and Amos Byrd. Anona was his father’s sister.
His father Bob Stephens, who was a pitcher for the Chicago White Sox in 1910, died when Stephens was six. His mother Mabel, with whom he had lived in Muncie, chose to have him live with his aunt and uncle in Jefferson Township. He never returned to live with his mother, and she later remarried.
He worked his way through college from 1946 until 1954 and graduated from Ball State University with a degree in business and education. He worked several jobs, including with his uncle Amos who was a bricklayer. He married his first wife Kay (Chaney) in 1948, and she died of cancer while the couple was living in Colorado and Bob was coaching at Grand Junction Central High School. After her death, he had her body sent back to Portland for services and burial at Green Park Cemetery. Bob spoke fondly of Charlie Baird and Myron Freeman, who helped him with the arrangements.
After graduating from Ball State, Stephens got his first job at Jefferson High School in Randolph County and then went to Ward Township in Saratoga after they consolidated.
He then moved to Dunkirk High School.
“I had a lot of top notch students at Dunkirk,” said Stephens, who still keeps in touch with the starting five on the basketball team from the class of 1957. They all were college graduates.
Terry Bantz was an assistant basketball coach in Colorado, R.P. McCune was a teacher in Nebraska, Paul Campbell was a teacher, Duane Shrack was a high-ranking military official and Roger Casterline was an FBI agent and teacher.
Phil Ford, who is principal of Jay County High School, is also a former student of Bob’s from DHS and was a close friend with Bob’s son Steve. “I’m very proud of him,” Bob said of Phil’s success.
Steve was born George Robert Stephens like his dad but was nicknamed “Steve” and was a first five All-American basketball player in high school and earned a master’s degree in computer science. Bob had left Dunkirk High School and was coaching in Auburn when another son, Mike, died unexpectedly and Bob had to once again call on Charlie Baird and Myron Freeman to make arrangements for his son’s burial.
After leaving Auburn, Bob worked for a short time in Michigan City as assistant superintendent of the fifth-largest school district in Indiana. He was told about the job from the former principal at Gray High School. It was the 60s and there was a lot of racial tension, and Bob decided to return to coaching. “Coaching was my first love,” and so he headed west to Colorado to coach at Grand Junction. I “kept trying to move up,” he noted about his career.
His uncle Amos, who was a county commissioner in Portland, died in 1969. He remained devoted to the aunt who raised him and moved her to a nursing home in Montana, where he was coaching basketball at Montana Tech, after she suffered a stroke. She lived there for seven years where Bob visited her daily. After her death, Bob also had her body sent back to Portland for services and burial at Green Park.
During this time Bob also helped Jim Harris, a former coach at Bryant High School, run basketball camps for high school students in Wisconsin, Missouri, Tennessee, Nebraska and Colorado. He worked for Jim for 15 to 20 years and was able to make a good living at it during summers off from teaching and coaching. He recalls having NBA player and hall of fame member Ed Macauley of the St. Louis Cardinals as one of his students.
In the 1970s college coaches were able to begin having camps. “Well that put us out of business,” Bob remarked.
Bob ended up in Scottsdale after the tragic loss of his only daughter who was 28. While Bob was living in Montana, she was murdered by her ex-husband. The couple had three children ages 3, 5 and 7. “Pop will be here to get us,” Bob remembered the children telling the police, and he was the next day.
“I knew they were gifted,” Bob said of his grandchildren and wanting to concentrate on their future, he gave up coaching and moved to Scottsdale where there was a program for gifted children. It was there that he met Carol.
He is extremely proud of his grandchildren, noting the oldest Randy earned his Ph.D. from Indiana University and is a senior research scientist at Corning Glass. Granddaughters Peggy and Corey both work at the Walmart Distribution Center in North Platt, Neb., where one is a manager. They will soon be moving to Seattle.
Besides being a member of the aviation board in Portland, Bob partners with Mike LeMaster and meets with prisoners each Sunday at the Jay County Jail. “I tell them how good they are,” Bob said and lets them know their potential but makes sure he includes if ... if ... if ... He said usually 7 to 10 men join them.
He is also a member of the Gideons and is involved in the STOP (Stop Taking On Pounds) program at Jay County Hospital, but there are currently no active students in the program. “I’m really into that stuff,” Bob said of being in shape and living a healthy lifestyle. In addition to exercising at Jay Community Center, he has also competed in marathons.
He and Carol have been mentors at East Elementary School in Portland since they moved to town and they help with the annual Jay County Cancer Society Walk Against Cancer. Carol is active with American Red Cross blood drives and Bob helps as well. They also help Westchester serve the Bread of Life meal once a month at Asbury United Methodist Church and Bob visits Green Park Cemetery often to take care of the graves of his loved ones.
Bob’s career path led him to many places around the country to follow his dream and where he suffered many losses.
That same road eventually led him back to Jay County, and even though his career is over he didn’t plan on coming here to retire.
Bob and Carol chose not to just live in Portland but to become actively involved in the community and make it an even better place.
“We keep busy with it. We feel good about it,” Bob said.