Stu Ervay

Educator, Author, Consultant

Barbara and Stu Ervay

In a unique era, I came of age. In a family of lower middle-class people who lived through the Great Depression of the 1930s, World War II, post war recovery of the late 1940s, and the decade of the 1950s.

Economic prosperity was enjoyed by many, and mainline religions flourished. Adult service organizations proliferated. Scouting and other groups for young people were common. And schools underscored the importance of service as a worthwhile meaning of life.

Caring for children and the infirmed elderly became a family and community imperative. Ongoing dedication to a spouse and children was pervasive if not universal. There was a sense of responsibility for those who were underprivileged.

Inroads were being made into overcoming segregation, while the war opened more job opportunities for women. Ever so slightly.

Some of these perspectives were being politicized. During my formative years the infusion grew of how important service was to finding fulfillment in life. Some emphasis was on methods for giving people something to do during the Depression. Through groups like the Civilian Conservation Corps. Or an acceptance of the military draft as a natural stage of life for young men.

Successful people turned away from lucrative careers to become service providers. One of them was Delores Hart, a successful Hollywood actress who became a Catholic nun. While that action was both startling and unusual, it was symbolic of what happened to many unfulfilled people. They realized fame and riches were artificial and meaningless.

Dwight Eisenhower was president during most of the 1950s. The man who accepted and successfully fulfilled enormous responsibilities as commanding general of the Allied Forces in World War II. Eisenhower possessed no authoritarian tendencies. Rather, he was a kind of father figure who openly discussed the importance of service to others. What appealed most to me about men such as Eisenhower, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff George Marshall, and others was how they viewed their vast power and responsibilities.

In my K-8 elementary school, an assistant principal oversaw the “patrol boys and girls.” They managed traffic in front of the campus and oversaw younger students who walked to school. They walked alongside a dangerous street or the Phoenix canal bank.

In my Cub Pack and Boy Scout Troop we were recognized for exemplary service through awards and rank designations. The same was true at the YMCA camp I attended each summer.

Service was linked to achievement. Personal accomplishments were acknowledged. But their underpinnings were attached to teamwork, community building, strengthening others, and making the world a better place for all. Usually connected to being in God’s will.

At Arizona State University I met Native American students and came to respect them as people and a culture. How shamefully they were represented in movies of the era! As author Tony Hillerman later depicted in his novels, members of indigenous tribes were deeply committed to serving their belief systems and cultural heritage. I enjoyed their friendship, learned something about their beliefs, and later provided service to their schools.

Although I considered many possible vocational or professional pursuits: journalism, law, and ministry, I eventually chose education. Within that field I first prepared for administrative leadership. Later I decided to focus on teaching. Then expanded my interest in teaching to the preparation of others also seeking classroom responsibilities.

In my academic career I ultimately concentrated on the improvement of curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Later I created a nonprofit organization with that goal in mind.

As a retired educator, I provided service through the care of my wife Barbara, who was afflicted with Alzheimer’s.  During Barbara’s decline and after her battle with Alzheimer’s ended, I provided leadership in the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). It was through AARP I realized how debilitating care giving is for spouses. Men often suffer in unique ways because our culture expects us to handle challenges independently and courageously. I wrote a blog and a book on that subject, Confronting Dementia: A Husband’s Journey as an Alzheimer’s Caregiver.

In recent years I have written on school improvement, especially since education has been dramatically affected by the pandemic.

My continuing interest in service has been greatly expanded by members of my church, especially my wife, Diana, who cared for her husband also afflicted with Alzheimer’s. We are committed to the memory of our former spouses, and benefit from our time together as a married couple. As servants of God. As believers in Christian values and convictions.

We are now octogenarians in good health with an active lifestyle. We use our union to serve family and those in need. We use our talents to reach out where we can. To individuals who need our help and love. To those who listen to our words. Or read them in media like this blog.

Service is defined differently when we are older. The word legacy keeps showing up. Not as a tangible endowment, but as a spiritual heritage. A bestowal of a meaningful outlook on life that survives the endowment of property or wealth.

Diana and I could have served as individual widowers. But we can be more and do more together. Demonstrate to others that a moral life has more than one dimension. More than one foundation on which a life of service is constructed.