Roger Lacey Stevens was born in Detroit, Michigan, on March 12, 1910, to Stanley G. Stevens (1875-1966) and Florence O. Jackson Stevens (1875-1957). Roger was the second of three sons, and for most of his childhood the Stevens family enjoyed a comfortable life in Ann Arbor. Stanley worked in real estate and invested in several local businesses. Florence was active in local women’s clubs and was a life-long learner. When Roger was 12, Florence enrolled in sociology and philosophy courses at the University of Michigan, and at age 60, she received a Master of Arts degree from the School of Education at New York University.Roger attended local public schools and began his high school career in Ann Arbor. Report cards in the collection contain all of the expected subjects such as math, history, and writing, but they also include classes in deportment and something listed as “Man. training.” This likely stood for “manual training,” a 1920s version of shop class. Roger later transferred to the Choate School in Wallingford, Connecticut. The collection holds correspondence from his parents which begins around this time. At Choate, Roger played on the basketball and football teams, and life there suited him. After graduation, he became an actively involved alum, and he maintained an interest in the institution for the rest of his life.
Roger had planned to attend Harvard University after high school. He was accepted, and there is a letter from Harvard in his personal papers requesting that he submit his application for living on campus. Three of his friends named him as the fourth roommate on their applications. Unfortunately, a change in the family’s financial circumstances prevented Roger from enrolling in Harvard. Instead, he moved back to his hometown and attended the University of Michigan where he took courses in French, history, math, and rhetoric. Essays and exams from this time are included in the collection.Roger left the university after one year and cobbled together a living from different jobs including working as a gas station attendant and on the assembly line at the Ford factory. He also spent a fair amount of time reading in his local library. By 1933, he had ventured into the world of real estate, joining the Hamman Real Estate Exchange based in Detroit. Real estate brought Roger his first financial success, and he was soon able to strike out on his own. In 1937, he hired a young woman he’d met at a party to be his secretary. Christine Gesell was a student at the University of Michigan where her father was head of the Medical School’s physiology department. She and Roger married on New Year’s Day 1938.
The story goes on. There’s a six -month honeymoon around Europe and by the end of the year, two become three with the birth of daughter Christabel. World War II looms on the horizon, and Roger serves in the Navy from 1944 to 1946, stationed in Florida. The bulk of collection’s correspondence between Christine and Roger takes place during this forced separation. Thanks to Christine, Roger becomes a regular theatergoer, and in 1949 he produces his first Broadway show. The story goes on, but the origin tale is wrapping up. There’s so much more ahead for Roger and a great deal of it is documented in his papers at the Library. Look for the finding aid coming out this spring to find out more.