Jon Mark Beilue: Living Up to His End of the Deal

Oct. 17, 2019

Living Up to His End of the Deal

At 65, dad said he'd finish school if his two daughters would

By JON MARK BEILUE

Stephen Green threw out the challenge, he said, half-jokingly. But that also meant he was half-serious.

A half-dozen years or so ago, to try and encourage his two daughters Arista and Shaunda to complete their college degrees at West Texas A&M University, Green threw out this little nugget – if they went back to college and graduated, so would he.

Keep in mind that Green was nearing 60 at the time.

“When he said that, Risty and I sat there and looked at each other and thought, ‘Yeah right, you’re not going back to college,’” Shaunda Stoughton said. “So we go back, graduate, and now it was, ‘Hey, you brought it up. We’ve graduated. It’s your turn now.’”

And so it is.

Green turns 65 next month. He will also receive his bachelor’s degree in history the following month. For someone who said he “more or less threw it out there,” this has turned out to be a win-win – and win.

“Yeah, I probably never would have done this had I not opened my mouth one day,” said Green, who owns and operates the Canyon Tobacco Shoppe on Fourth Avenue just across from campus.

It was about six or seven years ago that Green had a heart-to-heart discussion with his daughters. They were both Randall High School graduates from the late 1990s.

Like many at that age, their academic future was on hold. Shaunda was married but didn’t have any concrete career plans. Arista was still living with her parents, Stephen and Karen.

Dad wanted the two to get off high-center academically, so that’s when he threw out the higher ed quid pro quo – you go back to school and get your degree, and your old man will do the same.

The two did. Sparked by Shaunda’s son, Tyler, who is autistic, both studied special education. Arista Easley, who is 2 ½ years older, graduated from WT in 2015. Shaunda, who overcame brain surgery during that time, graduated in December 2016.

Arista teaches special education in the Sunray ISD middle school. Shaunda is in her first year teaching at Mimi Farley Elementary School at Boys Ranch – “it’s a magical place,” she said. “I’ll probably work there until the day I die.”

“I don’t know if what I said made any difference,” Green said. “Probably not, but it’s a possibility. But I just think they matured to the point that they understood what I was trying to tell them and did it on their own. But I don’t want to take any credit for what they did.”

But Green can certainly take credit for the rest of the story – and that’s his college education. He grew up in southern Illinois and moved to Amarillo with his parents before his senior year, graduating from Tascosa High School in 1973.

He attended college for a bit. Even though he was well read and had a keen interest in history, he eventually quit school. He owned and operated roller rinks and day cares in Amarillo, which carried him for about 40 years.

But since his daughters were finishing their degree – half-joking or not – he would live up to his bargain, and so at age 61 in 2015, he enrolled at WT. He would make it work as an old new student and owner of the Tobacco Shoppe.

Stephen Green goes back to school.

Felt welcome from the start

He started back to school with two online classes – one on Texas history taught by Dr. Jean Stuntz and a humanities course – and a classroom course taught by Dr. Bruce Brasington,The Historians Craft..

“I had to force myself to adhere to the curriculum time frame and make sure I followed protocol,” Green said. “The thing about history, they teach you scholarly writing. About 10 years ago, I wanted to try and write a book. I wrote maybe 30 to 40 pages and figured out I didn’t know what the hell I was doing.

“If I went back, what better venue than history to learn how to write. There’s tons of reading and writing. It’s a very strict discipline.”

Green took a course on sports and society, taught by Dr. Brian Ingrassia. The syllabus went out the first day with the lengthy list of books to be read and other requirements.

“By the second or third class, half the kids were gone, but I was still there,” he said. “I was just interested in the historical aspect of it.”

Since 2015, Green estimates about 60 percent of his work has been online. At the outset of classroom studies, he had some jitters and wondered if he might be looked upon as a novelty act by those around him.

“When I started, I was 61, and I walked into a classroom full of 21- and 22-year-olds, and you kind of feel out of place,” he said. “But the students have all been very receptive. There’s obviously a major age difference, but some of them were kind of impressed with what I was doing, and I think it showed the importance of what they were doing.”

As for the faculty, it was one of respect and appreciation for this non-traditional student.

“They never looked down on me like why am I wasting my time with this old guy,” Green said. “I’ve become somewhat friends with two or three professors, and we converse outside the classroom. They tell me point blank it’s nice to have someone their age they can relate to.”

On occasion, Green has found out that age has its advantages.

“In the classroom one time, the professor wanted to talk about the Kennedy administration, his assassination, the Bay of Pigs,” he said. “Talk about it? Hell, I lived it.”

Green is finishing up his final semester with three courses – Readings, where specific readings are assigned to students, a course on nature and culture in American history, and one on British history.

But this may not be the end. Green is seriously pondering a master’s degree.

“My dad is super smart,” Arista said. “I always thought he would have made a great history teacher and football coach. I wished he had gone to school a lot sooner. I couldn’t be more proud of him.

“I tell people all the time that my dad is in college. They say, ‘Your dad? How old is he?’ He’s 65. You can always go back.”

 Do you know of a student, faculty member, project, an alumnus or any other story idea for “WT: The Heart and Soul of the Texas Panhandle?” If so, email Jon Mark Beilue at jbeilue@wtamu.edu.

 

—WTAMU—


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