Phoenix teacher devotes 33-year career to Title I school


Erik Ketcherside

“And so it stood, a warm and vivid patch in his life, casting a radiance that glowed in a thousand recollections.” (James Hilton, “Good-bye, Mr. Chips”)

Schoolteaching can be a portable profession. Teachers are needed everywhere, and a long career journey can include many destinations.

Then there are teachers who are so at home in a particular school, so well-suited and needed, they spend their entire teaching lives there; teachers like the fictional Mr. Chips. Or Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College alumnus Joe Stultz.

Indiana native Joe Stultz (BAE ’48, MAE ’53) earned his first teaching degree from then-Arizona State College, coming to the university less by choice than medical necessity. “Joe was drafted into the Air Force in World War II,” his widow, Nelda, says. “He contracted rheumatic fever in the service and received a medical discharge. Because of the winters back in the Midwest the doctor suggested he move to a warmer climate, so in 1946 we came to Arizona.”


Victory Village trailers

Victory Village, 1940s on the ASU Tempe campus. Image from the ASU Digital Repository.


Joe enrolled at Arizona State, and the newlyweds lived among a conglomeration of trailer homes repurposed as married student housing, on the Tempe campus where Gammage Auditorium now stands. “It was called Victory Village, and it was full of veterans,” Nelda says. “I think there were about 6,500 students in the entire college at the time, and they were mostly women, of course, because the men were all in service. So when this influx of veterans came in, that was really the beginning of Arizona State University.”

Joe and Nelda eagerly followed all of Arizona State’s athletics. “We went to the football games at Goodwin Stadium,” she says. “We had season tickets to baseball, football and basketball. Joe also liked track. He ran track in high school, so we went to some of the track meets.”

Their campus life would last two years. Joe graduated from the College of Education in 1948 and accepted his first, and last, teaching job. Nelda says proudly, “He was a teacher for 33 years at Roosevelt School in south Phoenix. All at the same school. He taught 6th grade math.”

Roosevelt School building

The original Roosevelt School stood at 6000 South 7th Street in Phoenix from 1912-85.

Roosevelt School was the oldest school in the Roosevelt Elementary School District in south Phoenix, an area of the city that has suffered decades of decline. Today, 40 percent of the district’s students come from families living below the poverty line.

As Joe started teaching, Nelda got a job at a bank and worked there until they started their family. They had four children — two boys, two girls — and Nelda says as they grew up Joe always stressed the importance of education to them. “All four of my children and my five grandchildren have college educations,” she says, and most of them from ASU; all except the youngest daughter, Pamela. (“She was our rebel,” Nelda says.)

Alma mater notwithstanding, Pam Stultz is the one of the four who most closely followed her father’s path. She’s been a school-based speech pathologist for 38 years, all in financially challenged, Title I schools like Roosevelt.

“I started in Apache Junction and was there 13 years,” Pam says, “then I was in Mesa for 24 years. I’ve spent my career at Title I schools, and I’ve seen the hard work those teachers put in for their kids.”

Pam knows when her commitment to less-affluent schools began. “When we were kids, the year each of us was in sixth grade my dad would take us to school with him for a day,” she says. “We would spend the day in his classroom with his students. It was a whole different classroom setting than what we were used to.” Pam says what she remembers most of that day is the diversity she saw in her father’s classroom. “I had never seen classes like that at our school. And I remember all those students respected my dad. They listened to him and followed his rules.”

When Joe died in 2004, Nelda, Pam and the rest of the family agreed: If his legacy to them was a respect for quality education for everyone, they owed him a legacy as well. That same year they established the Joe Stultz Memorial Scholarship at Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.

The need-based Stultz scholarship is unrestricted, meaning any Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College student can apply, and Pam hopes those students will follow her father’s example.

“I would encourage them to work at Title I schools because that’s where they’re needed,” Pam says. “I would also want them to consider special education. I’ve worked in special education my whole career and I see people not going into special ed because it can be grueling. But there are a lot of opportunities there to make a difference. And they might enjoy that. Instead of having 30 students at one time, you don’t have as many, and you can make a difference for those kids.”

Nelda says her ideal outcome for the scholarship would be for recipients to be able to say, at the end of a long, successful teaching career, that they enjoyed the teaching. “And I’d like them to feel they made a difference in the students they taught,” she says. “I’d like them to say the scholarship meant something to them; that it helped them stay in teaching.” 

Roosevelt School bell

The Roosevelt School bell

The school where Joe spent his entire career, the original Roosevelt School at 6000 South 7th Street, survived him by only one year. It was destroyed by fire in 1985. Where it stood is the Roosevelt ESD Administration Center. In the vestibule of the school board room, sitting on bricks salvaged from the fire, is the bell that hung in the tower of the original school building; silent now, but honored for its long service to education.

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