West Haven Community Mourns “Legendary” Teacher Merle Stevens

Miss Stevens was a 50-year veteran of WHHS

Danielle Ricketts, Reporter

The West Haven High School community is mourning the loss of Merle “Sam” Stevens, a 50-year veteran of the school described by many as a “legendary” teacher.

Miss Stevens, 73, was raised in West Haven and died on Oct. 7. She began teaching at West Haven High School in 1968, the same year she graduated from Albertus Magnus College. She is survived by her siblings, Maria, Arthur and Jimmy Stevens, and the generations of students who had her as a teacher.

Miss Stevens dedicated five decades of her life to teaching students and mentoring younger teachers. She was an influential woman, allowing her memory and unique personality to live on in the stories and anecdotes of others. This gives the younger generation a chance to know what she was like and how all she has done still affects the community today.

I don’t think there is a single educator who touched so many lives.

— Jillian Woychowski, school librarian

“I don’t think there is a single educator who touched so many lives,” said Jillian Woychowski, school librarian and a long-time friend of Miss Stevens.

English teacher Lauren Plumey described Miss Stevens as “no-nonsense, staunch, witty and intriguing.”

It was this attitude that gave her the ability to handle challenging students, teaching with strict discipline and high expectations, causing these students to become exemplary in her classroom.

“I did not have her as a teacher, but to watch her teach was always captivating,” Mrs. Plumey said.  “And regardless of the behavioral issues that she could potentially have in her classes (for years, she was given VERY tough classes), those kids were on time, in their seats, facing forward,with backpacks under their desks.”

This was also witnessed by a fellow English teacher Alissa Ficaro, who shared a classroom with Miss Stevens for years.

Every year on Parent Visiting Day, Mrs. Ficaro saw Miss Stevens reunite with former students, who were now parents of her current students.

“Those parents, and even a few grandparents, had Miss Stevens as an English teacher back in the day, and they made it a point to come tell her how much they appreciated her class and valued her teaching style,” Mrs. Ficaro said.

When she wasn’t teaching, Miss Stevens had little quirks that made her like no other.

Mrs. Plumey recalled that one day while Miss Stevens was outside in the hall blowing on her whistle and yelling “The party is OVER!!,” a student wrote a crude comment about Miss Stevens on the blackboard. It read, ‘Mrs. Stevens YOUR a @#!@.”

Mrs. Plumey said that Miss Stevens “came in, took one look at it, and corrected the Mrs. to Miss, and said, ‘I’m not stupid enough to be married anymore.’ Then she changed the YOUR to ‘You’re,’ and said, ‘Now that looks about right.’  She left it on the board for the day!”

Miss Stevens did not want anyone to steal her stapler and had very low standards when it came to what she ate. She was the type of person to borrow WiFi from their neighbors because she wouldn’t get it for herself, Mrs. Woychowski said.

Mrs. Woychowski called Miss Stevens, “Bonkers. But in a good way.” She witnessed Miss Stevens’ quirkiness when it came to her old car, “She’d lie to it, and say ‘just going to Stop and Shop’ to convince it to actually run.”

When she was younger, Miss Stevens’ dream career was to be an actress, which, according to her sister Maria Stevens, she was very good at. Miss Stevens participated in several plays while attending Sacred Heart Academy for

Miss Stevens played Peter Pan in her senior year of high school. Her father rigged up a piano wire so she could “fly” over the stage. (Contributed by Maria Stevens)

high school and then Albertus Magnus College. She even took part in plays at West Haven High when staff were involved.

One of her most impressive roles was when she played Peter Pan as a senior in high school, Maria Stevens said.

“My father secured piano wire and a parachute harness, which Merle wore under her costume,” Maria Stevens recalled. “When it was time to fly my dad hooked the lead piano wire to the harness and off she went! My dad’s only stipulation was that he would be the only one to ‘fly’ Merle.”

Aside from acting, Miss Stevens considered becoming a nurse. She worked at the VA Hospital’s blood bank in the evenings evenings and on weekends. Maria Stevens said that when their mother’s response to these potential careers was “ABSOLUTELY NOT,” Merle Stevens decided to teach.

“I think we’re all glad Merle became a teacher,” Maria Stevens said.

The high school community is now taking some time to appreciate the sacrifices and significant contributions made to this community by Miss Stevens, a woman who Principal Dana Parades described as, “The truest Westie there ever was.”