HUMBOLDT — “Way to go, Simon!” Jerry Stephens shouts as his nine-year-old son deflects a ball in a rec league basketball game.
Stephens, 60, was a bit late in starting a family. Today, he’s making up for lost time.
A native of Humboldt, Stephens and his wife wife, Loraine, were settled in Santa Barbara, Calif., until their return to Humboldt 18 months ago. Part of the reason for coming home was for their son.
“Santa Barbara was big, (population nearly 90,000) and with so many people, Simon wouldn’t have been able to do all he can in Humboldt,” said Stephens, referring to a small town’s all-is-welcome mentality to sports and other activities.
Stephens had worked in computer operations in a bank in Santa Barbara. A reconfiguration of operations portended a transfer to Los Angeles.
That opened the door for a move back home, a decision he frequently considered. When his parents, Gerald and Nadine Stephens, died, he kept their home in Humboldt.
Stephens took over management of the Humboldt Housing Authority in August 2012, with the death of Dale Marney, and immediately became involved in civic affairs.
Last April he was elected to city council.
“I like to think I have a positive voice in the community,” Stephens said.
He pointed to Humboldt’s many groups working to improve the town, the initiatives of Thrive Allen County and the new Allen County Regional Hospital.
STEPHENS WAS born in Kansas City, and moved to Humboldt at age 4. He graduated from Humboldt High in 1971, attended classes two years at the University of Kansas and then earned a degree in computer science at a technical school in Manhattan.
“I worked in Denver, in oil and gas,” and then, prompted by a friend, moved to Ventura, Calif., in 1984. He found a job working in computer operations for a bank in Santa Barbara and soon called the seaside city home.
“I enjoyed living in Santa Barbara, with the mountains and the sea, but it’s a different life than in Humboldt,” he said.
“There’s a saying about Santa Barbara, that it’s a place for the newly wedded and the nearly dead. Newlyweds, young people, aren’t bothered by the hustle and bustle of the city, while the elderly come back to live there after they’ve made their money.”
One section of the city is referred to as the Riviera, upscale homes on mountainsides overlooking the sea.
“It is a beautiful community with lots of (dining and other entertainment) choices,” he said.
Stephens said he has quickly found Humboldt and Allen County more to his liking.
“Life has a different feel to it here,” he said. “People are real, you feel like they’re more a part of the community. It’s not the detached feeling you have living in California, where people go to work and then sometimes spend hours returning home.”
Some concerns are the same.
“Affordable housing is something we need more of here, and it also is a problem in Santa Barbara,” Stephens said, with a difference being what is considered “affordable.”
Stephens professionally has a role in providing affordable housing for people in Humboldt. Housing to benefit low-income individuals and families was built in 1967, with 50 units at several places in town.
“It’s advertised as safe and sanitary housing and that’s what we strive for it to be,” said Stephens. Also, “it’s a clear benefit for people here. All 50 units are occupied, mainly by the elderly, but also some who are disabled and we have a small number of units for families.
“There’s not much turnover, usually when someone dies,” he said. However, “I’m always happy to see someone get a job that permits them to move out of a low-income unit” and find something in the private sector.