John B. Stephenson began his academic career at Lees-McRae College in 1961 after receiving his B.A. degree in sociology from William and Mary College and his M.A. in sociology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In the small town of Banner Elk he honed his teaching skills and found the two great loves of his life—Jane Ellen Baucom who became his wife, and the mountains, which became his life. In a letter he wrote:
"I love the mountains and their people. I have felt a completeness, a sense of fulfillment here that I haven’t known in other places. . . . There is a sense of doing something that needs doing. It needs doing worse here than in the flatlands. And it needs to be done by people who want to change things without changing them, if you know what I mean. Part of a way of life needs to be preserved and not sacrificed on the altar of progress."
When John left the college in 1964 to pursue his doctoral degree at Chapel Hill, he brought with him his wife and young daughter and left behind a legacy of devoted teaching and a refusal to accept the status quo when he had found that lacking. With his Ph.D. in medical sociology in hand, John moved to Kentucky in 1966 to work at the University of Kentucky. He spent the rest of his too-short life in the Bluegrass State, rising from scholar-teacher, to Appalachian Center director, dean, and eventually president of Berea College.
Scholar, teacher, humanist, administrator, and caretaker of Southern Appalachia, John B. Stephenson left an enduring legacy of devoted stewardship of the mountains. The Stephenson Center for Appalachia strives to carry his legacy into the 21st century, drawing upon his example, his courage, and his commitment.