Grand Valley State University and the West Michigan community mourn the death of Joseph Stevens, who died Saturday, December 17. He would have been 94 in January.
Many in West Michigan knew Stevens as the founder of National Correct Color Service, after moving to Grand Rapids from Detroit in 1956. The Poland native immigrated to the U.S. in 1949. Stevens evaded Hitler’s World War II death camps by concealing his Jewish identity, and was a leader in the underground raids against Nazi soldiers. Through the efforts of Grand Valley President Emeritus Arend D. Lubbers, Stevens’ wartime experiences were published in the book, Good Morning, in 2001.
A public service is planned for 11 a.m. Wednesday, December 21, at Temple Emanuel, 1715 E. Fulton.
Stevens’ relationship with Grand Valley began in 1988, when he spoke about his war memories to a new class about the Holocaust, established by political science professor William Baum. It was Stevens’ first time talking publicly about his experiences. His sons Richard and Jack had encouraged him to write down his stories to preserve them. When Lubbers heard about the compelling lectures and the manuscript, he determined it would become Grand Valley’s first university-published book. English Department faculty members became involved in the project, Baum wrote the preface, and Hank Meijer, of Meijer, Inc. underwrote production costs.
In 1990 the Joseph Stevens Freedom Endowment was established by Grand Valley from the proceeds of the book and the contributions of individuals. The endowment funds lectures related to human rights and freedom. During the 2010-2011 academic year, presentations included an Amnesty International lecture by filmmaker Guy Gunaratne and a keynote lecture about the conflict in El Salvador by screenwriter Oscar Torres.
In 2004, WGVU Productions traveled with Stevens to revisit the places of his past life in Poland for production of a documentary, Defying Hitler. The 30-minute film was premiered in 2005 and received several national awards for excellence in documentary film.
As stated by family in Stevens' obituary, memorial contributions may be given to the Joseph Stevens Freedom Endowment of Grand Valley State University or other charities.