But his real passion is prepping students for the future
GALION — Most former students say they have had at least one great teacher, the type with a true passion and love for teaching and a genuine spirit of caring for his students. According to many, Bill Stepro is one of the “greats,” touching the lives of hundreds of students over a 50-year career with Galion City Schools.
After earning a bachelor of arts degree in history from Ohio’s Miami University, Stepro joined the Galion staff as a junior high school history teacher in the fall of 1968. In 1980, he transferred to the high school, a move which he’s glad he made.
“Moving to the high school was great,” he said. “My excitement for moving had nothing to do with the students. I loved the junior high students, but I didn’t love the way they rearranged the building and made it an open concept with no doors.”
Stepro has taught a variety of history and government classes. But he always had high expectations for his students, regardless of their dedication to their studies.
“Despite not being a very dedicated student, Mr. Stepro cared for me, and I knew that because he had high expectations,” said Matt Tyrrell, an elementary school physical education teacher and Galion graduate. “He taught me the best way to love your students is to have high expectations for them, a lesson I have tried to carry with me in my career.”
“Mr. Stepro treated students with respect and wanted each to succeed. But he was not afraid to poke fun at students in ways that would challenge them,” said Addison Zeisler, a 2015 GHS graduate. “I remember Mr. Stepro saying to me, ‘Ms. Ad, you believe in women’s rights? Carry the projector to the library.’
“He knew I wouldn’t be able to resist that challenge, and even though it was heavy, and I thought I might drop it, you bet I didn’t ask for any help. He always pushed us to do more than we thought we were capable.”
Meghan (Kuns) Tyrrell, Galion Primary School’s intervention specialist and a Galion graduate, said: “You knew going into Mr. Stepro’s class that it wasn’t going to be easy; that he was going to make you work hard and learn. He expected your work to be completed and correct when you turned it in on time, and obvious wrong answers were often met with a swift smack of his cane on your desk.”
“He made sure that everyone would participate in class and ensured that everyone was following along and paying attention. If not, he would surely call you out on it and get you to start,” said Clair Erlsten, a 2015 Galion graduate. “One thing that I really enjoyed was that he would not simply lecture to the class. Rather, he would participate and discuss during the class with students.”
Former students say Stepro was always fair.
“He treated every student with the same respect and he expected the same from every student,” said Galion Primary School teacher and Galion graduate Sarah (Flowers) Wegesin. “I wanted to try hard for him, because I knew he believed in me and what I was capable of. He wasn’t afraid to hold you accountable, but he did it in a way that you never wanted to let him down.”
“Bill had a way of creating a very challenging environment, but was always sincere and honest in his delivery,” said Gary Frankhouse, a 1989 Galion graduate. “He demanded your engagement, yet respected each student for their unique talents.”
Stepro is a great storyteller, and often surprised his students by dressing as a historical figure. He also had an ability to encourage students.
“He was like having a personal tour guide through the history books with all the added behind-the-scenes scandalous details,” said Meghan Tyrrell. “It was not uncommon to come into Mr. Stepro’s class to find him dressed as a past president or other historical figure. And a scaled, functional model of a guillotine on his desk was completely acceptable.”
“I know that he has personally written thousands of notes of encouragement to students,” said Matt Tyrrell. “I even know he writes notes to students who he has not had in class, such as those making All-A honor roll. This exemplifies Mr. Stepro’s ability to cultivate a special connection with all students.”
“I have received text messages from Mr. Stepro every finals week since starting at Kent State, wishing me good luck and encouraging me to keep pushing through,” said Erlsten. “This shows how much he cares about the success of his students — not only in class — but in the future.”
Stepro said his bond with students is what has kept him going for five decades.
“In ‘68 ,the students were great, despite me not knowing what I was doing,” said Stepro. “They could have caused all kinds of trouble, but they didn’t. I still communicate with several of those students today.
“The students today could go crazy because their teacher’s an old guy in a wheel chair, but they don’t. They’re all good kids and I appreciate that.”
One former student called on students for assistance and expertise while attending college. And Stepro didn’t hesitate to help.
“I remember calling him up to see if he had some time to sit down and talk over the material I had on an upcoming final exam in Modern World History class,” said Galion High School teacher and Galion graduate Brent Tyrrell. “He invited me over to his house that night, and that discussion helped me ace the final exam.”
“There are so many people with so many memories and stories that it could fill an entire world history book,” Frankhouse said.
While there are countless recollections and fond memories, Stepro has a difficult time identifying one that captures his attention.
“There have been so many people who have been so nice to me and done so many things for me that I can’t single out one,” he said. “I think still being in contact with students over the years, having places to stop and visit with students when we go on vacation, former students texting me pictures of monuments when they go to Washington … That’s neat because it shows they remembered something from class.”
“Mr. Stepro is one of a kind,” Matt Tyrrell said. “It’s hard to put into words exactly how he does what he does. But his dedication to his craft — at a knowledge level and at a relationship level — is unlike any I have ever seen. He’s the best!”
“He would make us learn things until we couldn’t forget, and then he’d make us learn them again,” Zeisler said. “He loved to talk about England and would always say, ‘you WILL go there someday and you WILL see this or that.’ I liked that he always talked with his hope for the future equally for everyone.”