Professor, family man, lifelong teacher and dear friend, Joseph Stepans, passed away at his home in Mountain Meadows on July 3 at the age of 70 with his family around him.
Generous, gregarious, loving and compassionate, Joseph led a life dedicated to the service of others. Born June 22, 1943, in a tiny village in rural Iran, Joseph’s family hailed from the ancient Assyrians. Growing up poor as the eldest brother in a Christian family, Joseph learned lessons that would define him all of his life; a deep love of his adopted country, the value of hard work and a moral imperative to stand up to intolerance and injustice. At the age of 19, Joseph came to the U.S.
Once in the U.S., Joseph put himself through school, working nights as a dishwasher, in a cannery and on a turkey farm while attending classes fulltime during the day. Joseph completed his undergraduate studies in physics with a minor in mathematics at the University of California Stanislaus in Turlock, California.
He went on to earn a Masters Degree in physics and a Ph.D in curriculum and instruction from the University of Wyoming (UW). It was in Laramie that he met the woman that would become his wife of 41 years, Mary Beth Flanders. After receiving his Ph.D, Joseph returned with Mary Beth to Iran to teach at Bu-Ali Sina University in Hamadan.
After being offered positions in Yemen (an appointment which included a private security detail within the compound which formerly housed an ambassador), Joseph elected to take a teaching position in Sublette County School District No. 1 teaching high school math and science in Pinedale. After four years in Pinedale, Joseph received an offer for a tenure track position at UW. He accepted and welcomed the return to the one place that truly felt like home, Laramie, spending the next 35 years as a faculty member in the College of Education.
Joseph was considered a pre-eminent science educator, speaking at national and international conferences. He published numerous articles, co-authored or authored eight science education books. He developed the TRIAD program and implemented it across Wyoming and in other states. His is a legacy of excellence in teaching carried forward by his former students, including many educators currently teaching in Wyoming.
Joseph received recognition and awards for his contributions to the field of science education, including the Ellbogen Meritorious Classroom Teaching Award, the Hollon Award for Teaching Excellence in Off-Campus Programs, the Wyoming Science Teachers’ Excellence Award and Teacher of the Year, as well as the Presidential Citation from the National Science Teacher’s Association. Of his many accolades, he would say that he was very proud of being invited by former students to deliver a commencement address to the graduating class of Pinedale High School.
Joseph lived a full life, speaking five languages, playing a wicked game of racquetball (humbly enjoying beating opponents 20 years or more his junior), coaching in the Laramie Soccer Association and spending a number of summers putting up hay at his in-laws’ ranch in Hayden, Colo.
After retiring from UW and being awarded Professor Emeritus status, Joseph found the most pleasure spending time with his family, fishing with his friends, engaging in the occasional poker game or trip to Blackhawk or Laughlin, and playing with his Wyoming mountain dog, Samson. Joseph was known to many as a generous host, spending days cooking, telling stories and entertaining.
Joseph was preceded in death by his brothers, Baba, Isaac and James; his parents, Ivan and Lucy; and his in-laws, Leonard and Rosemary Flanders. Joseph is survived by his wife, Mary Beth; daughter, Sarah (Laramie); son, Robert (Jackson); brother, Yooash (Turlock); sister, Florence Szi (Las Vegas, Nev.); dear cousins, friends and colleagues from around the world who will miss his infectious laugh and love of life.
Joseph’s warmth, caring, intellect and stubborn insistence on quality and integrity within the teaching profession had an amazing impact far beyond Wyoming.
Funeral liturgy will be held today in Laramie.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions should be directed to the Joseph Stepans Excellence in Education Fund/UW Foundation and mailed to the UW Foundation, 1200 E. Ivinson Ave, Laramie, WY 82070.
To send condolences or to sign the online guestbook, please go to www.montgomerystryker.com.
For the complete article see the 07-12-2013 issue.
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