GARNER — Three months before her 101st birthday, retired schoolteacher and widely-respected Garner mainstay Lucile Bryan Stevens died in the home where she was born Sunday night.
Stevens spent more than three decades as a teacher – most of those years teaching eighth grade – and won the prestigious James R. Stevens Service to Garner Award in 2011. (She was not related to James R. Stevens, the former alderman for whom the award is named.)
“It is very very sad because she was so well-known in the town. People loved her, people of all ages loved her,” said Kaye Whaley, a local historian who spent a lot of time with Stevens.
Stevens had a reputation for being dedicated to education, for having been a strict but fair teacher and for hosting annual Easter egg hunts at her house on Oak Circle well into her senior years. She touched the lives of countless Garner residents both as a teacher and through activities at her church, Garner United Methodist.
She leaves behind a daughter, Beth Stevens Davis, and a slew of nieces and nephews. Davis said her mother retained a keen interest in everything going on around her, especially her family as well as bridge and book clubs, right up until the end.
Despite Stevens’ age, Davis said the death shocked and saddened her.
“I knew she never would bounce back to what she was before,” she said. “I don’t think it matters how old a person is. You just want to keep, you just want to hold onto them.”
Davis said her mother had been happy to get home from the hospital and then hospice Thursday. She had been admitted and treated for pneumonia, and suffered from congestive heart failure. The conditions had taken a lot out of her, but not her desire to go home.
“She hated that hospital. She was ready to start ripping the stuff out of the wall and start walking to Garner,” Davis said.
A full life
Lucile Bryan Stevens was born on Oct. 22, 1913, in the same house on Oak Circle where her mother was born. Though the house has seen renovations and additions, it was first built in the 1840s.
She graduated from Duke University with a degree in education in 1934, in the midst of the Depression. She managed to get a job in Wayne County, and lived in a teacherage (a boarding house for teachers). Only two in the house had a car and she had to hitch rides to work.
She met her husband, Ralph Sanders Stevens Jr., at her next stop, in Smithfield. Shortly after he met her and a few other teachers, a friend asked him, “Have you met these teachers?”
“He said, ‘Yes, but they’re so pretty I’d like to meet them again,’” Stevens said in October near her 100th birthday. “He was very flattering.”
The two married in November 1938 after a one-year courtship. (Davis said they drove through a snowstorm from their honeymoon to make it to a Duke-Pitt football game.)
During World War II, though, Ralph Stevens died at age 30, three months after their daughter was born, during the battle of Monte Cassino in Italy. He never met his only child, though Davis said she’s pretty sure he had learned about her birth.
“His death was the biggest change I could possibly experience,” Stevens said last year. “For a while I wouldn’t go out with anybody. I was too brokenhearted to even think about it.”
She never came close to marrying again. Eventually she moved back to Garner, where she cared for her elderly parents at her childhood home. She continued teaching there.
In all, Stevens taught school for more than three decades in Nahunta, Smithfield and Garner. Students regularly kept in touch, including Mayor Ronnie Williams.
“She was extremely admired and she was devoted to education,” Williams said. “Her passion was reading and her passion was education, and she lived that out.”
A part of the well-known Bryan family that helped start the Rand Bryan House, she was enmeshed in the community of Garner.
The family was well-known enough that when she and all of her sisters came home for an anniversary party in 1957, The News & Observer wrote a story about it, complete with a photo of the quintet and their parents.
Right up to the end, she continued to play bridge and read (she was partial to light mysteries) when she could, though her eyesight had been slowly degenerating. She was in the same book club for 60 years.
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