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Stebbins didn’t just teach math

He spread love of justice, handball
Posted: Sept. 27, 2008

Jack Stebbins

Jack Stebbins urged his three children to go to college to pursue what they loved, not for a career or money, his daughter, Helene Stebbins, remembered Saturday. It’s advice that he followed, friends and family said. They described the retired mathematics professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee as a passionate teacher, a champion handball player and an activist for peace and social justice who loved Milwaukee.

Stebbins, who lived on Milwaukee’s east side, died Friday at Froedtert Hospital in Wauwatosa of lymphoma. He was 72.

John L. Stebbins was born in Boston and graduated from the College of the Holy Cross with a degree in philosophy. He received his master’s degree in math at Boston College and a doctorate from Wayne State University in Detroit.

In 1965, he came to Milwaukee to teach at UWM and adopted Milwaukee as his home, said his son John, who lives in San Diego. “He was involved and wanted to make Milwaukee a good place to live,” John said.
He was a dedicated father, said Helene, who lives in Arlington, Va.

“I remember growing up he said the education of his children was his job and he was grateful for the support he got from the schools he sent us to,” she said.

She described him as a staunch supporter of Milwaukee Public Schools who was involved in school integration efforts during the 1970s. She and her two brothers graduated from MPS, she said.
Stebbins and his wife, Mary Lou, helped start the meal program for the poor at St. Benedict the Moor Parish and volunteered there for more than 40 years, Helene said.

He was also instrumental in creating the Gordon Zahn peace prize, which is given yearly through Riverside University High School to a student who works for peace and justice, she said.

Gil Walter, a fellow retired math professor at UWM who had worked with Stebbins since the 1960s, said Stebbins started doing mathematical research but soon moved to teaching, where he made his career. He taught basic courses but wanted to challenge students and was pretty demanding, he said.

Handball — playing and later teaching — was another passion. In 1977, Stebbins won his first U.S. Handball Association National Division title, Helene said.

Tom Schoendorf of Greendale said he started playing handball with and against Stebbins more than 30 years ago.

“He was a very accomplished player and won local and state tournaments, along with national three- and four-wall doubles titles,” he said.

About eight years ago, after he stopped competing, Stebbins started teaching a handball class at UWM and did a good job of getting students interested, Schoendorf said.

Monday, Stebbins taught his handball class at UWM, his son John said.

In addition to his wife, son John and daughter Helene, survivors include son Daniel, of Whitefish Bay; a sister, Mary Lou, of Boston; and four grandchildren.

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