Payson’s agriculture education fans scored yet another victory Monday night when the school board agreed to name the new vocational building after long-time agriculture teacher Wendell Stevens.
Advanced agriculture students had waged a behind-the-scenes campaign to convince the school board to ignore a district policy that requires someone to die before naming a building after him.
“That was a prerequisite I wasn’t really willing to meet,” said Stevens, who did not attend Monday’s meeting.
Hundreds of letters and signatures on a petition filed into the district offices, and school board members agreed that Stevens, Payson’s first agriculture teacher who waged a 30-year campaign for a campus agricultural headquarters, deserved the honor.
Two students and one former student spoke on Stevens’ behalf Monday night, as agriculture advocates usually do when the board discusses the much-loved program.
“We filled up the board room before with people who love Mr. Stevens,” said Lani Hall, former student and Gila County’s 4-H extension leader. “He has given his heart and soul to building this program.”
Hall told the board that she had spoken with a friend about the quest to honor Stevens, and the friend asked, “You’re going to name it for Stevo?”
And Hall replied, “Well, I doubt they’ll name it the Stevo building.”
Board members agreed that they wanted to name the building after Stevens, but worried about the implications of not adhering to district policy.
“I’ve never not done anything according to policy,” said member Barbara Underwood.
Member Matt Van Camp, replied, “I think you’re reading into it too much.” The district’s policy allows it to name buildings after “events of community significance.”
“A 30-year attempt to build a building isn’t an event of community significance?” wondered Van Camp.
Hall pointed out that Julia Randall Elementary School was named for the illustrious teacher before she died.
Superintendent Casey O’Brien said that while some board policies have roots in state statutes, breaking this particular policy just this once would have no legal implications.
Business manager Bobette Tomerlin said the policy had no particular reason for existing. O’Brien said many districts have similar policies.
“There isn’t a person in this room who doesn’t want to name it after Wendell Stevens,” said board member Rory Huff. Often, policies have reasons behind them, and the board just wanted to make sure they weren’t violating some important dictate, he added.
With unanimous support, the board decided to call the new agriculture building the Stevens Agriculture Education Building. Construction is scheduled to finish next month.
Some board members still had other suggestions. “I like the Stevo idea,” said Van Camp.