James Stephen Stokes, the son of Henry Bright and Harriet (Weaver)
Stokes, was born May 28, 1860 on an Ohio farm and died April 5, 1951
in Kirksville, MO. He was buried at Maple Hills Cemetery
raised in Cameron, MO and graduated from Cameron High School before
enrolling as a science major at the University of Missouri. Around
1883, he headed a committee of physics students selected to design
and install an electric light system in one of the campus buildings.
These lights, with dynamo and other equipment donated by Thomas Alva
Edison, were among the first, if not the very first, electric lights
west of the Mississippi.
Stokes was awarded his Bachelor of Science degree in 1887 then
taught for a year in a rural school. He moved to Macon, MO in
the fall of 1888 to teach at St James (later Blees) Military Academy
and the day after Christmas married Lula Walker, his high school
sweetheart, back home in Cameron. In 1890, he became
Superintendent of Schools at Columbia, MO and while in this position
directed the creation of Columbia High School.
In 1894, Supt Stokes resigned from the city school system and
enrolled full-time at the University of Missouri to complete the
Master of Science he had begun earlier. He went from there to
Harvard for an additional two years of graduate study, working as a
graduate teaching assistant and night school instructor for the
Cambridge schools. He returned to Missouri to teach physics at St
Joseph High School, 1897-1905.
When he left St Joe, he moved to Kirksville to take on the first of
his two careers at the First District Normal School (Northeast
Missouri State Teachers College from 1919). From 1905 to 1925,
he taught Geography and Physics and for most of those years was
Chairman of the Science Division. He was, from all reports, an
excellent and well-loved teacher, but he is perhaps better known for
what he accomplished after he “retired” in 1925.
At the request of President Fair, Stokes immediately signed on again
as Supervisor of Grounds. He was to oversee the landscaping
and maintenance of the campus grounds and teach gardening,
floriculture and astronomy. His most immediate chore was to do
something with the raw, unsightly area left when the debris from the
Baldwin Hall fire was removed. His solution was to design and
plant a Sunken Garden in the depression that had been the basement
of the building. He then undertook the engineering and design of a
new football field, track and stadium on the grounds of the college
farm just south of the main campus. With the help of student
workers, he did all the surveying, grading, landscaping and other
groundwork, then built the stadium. The first football games
were played in the new Stokes Stadium October 1930. He retired again
(and for good) in 1946 at age 84.
James and Lula had a family of three children, Stanley, Roland and
Marian (Mrs CM Browning). Lula had two younger sisters, Nell
Walker and Jo (Walker) Humphrey, who joined the
Normal/Northeast faculty for several years in the 1910s.