Big Larry

Photo by Dena Lake

So, Larry, I’m interviewing you because at TCNJ, you are basically universally loved. Why are you so popular?
I think it’s because I treat people with respect, kindness, smiles…like they’re my children. Next year’ll be my 20th here.

Tell us about your family, your hometown.
I’m the oldest of four. We grew up in South Trenton. There was only one Black street back then. It was a different town. There were different kinds of people…Ukrainians, etc. It was actually more of a quiet, peaceful town back then.

Was that when Trenton was still industrial?
Oh yeah, Trenton was blooming. You could quit one job and go to the next. Really, I mean it. Unlike now, where, if you lose your job…you’re in serious trouble.

When did the jobs leave?
In the early 80’s.

The kids want to know about you, your family. I heard you’re a grandfather?
I was born in 1950, Eisenhower was president. I’ve got two sons, five grandkids. One’s a little baby.

So you lived through the 1960s, through segregation, the Civil Rights Movement, and all of that? Did you see anything that was part of that yourself? Also, do you think things have really gotten better? Is there further to go?
Well, first of all, I’m 58 and I never thought I would see a black president. Never. It wasn’t so bad in Trenton. However, sometimes I traveled through the South with friends or family. I would see, back in the 50’s, where Blacks would have to eat in the back of the diner. Also, if a Black person even touched, say, tried on a hat, or tried on a pair of shoes, it’d be yours, you’d have to buy it.

The Kennedy’s were my idols, because they were so big into the Civil Rights Movement. It was pretty important to me when Bobby Kennedy was Attorney General and they sent the National Guard to let the black kids into the good school.

I’m a fan of Ted Kennedy, I am very moved by his passing. I know he was a supporter of healthcare reform, and I hope they pass it in his memory.

So you voted Obama. What do you think of his track record so far?
I think he’s doing a good job, it’s gonna take time, he won’t be able to straighten everything out overnight. Give him time, he’s gonna do a good job.

What do you think of what’s going on in Afghanistan, what do you think we should do?
We should end it. We’re losing too many guys. Reminds me of the Vietnam War.

What music do you listen to?
Rhythm and blues. And as you know, my favorite sports team is the Eagles.

Is there anything in general you want to tell the kids at TCNJ?
Yeah, remember: partying is fun, partying is good, but you’re here to get your education. You got your whole life to party.

Did you raise your kids differently from the way your parents raised you?
Nope, same way! I think kids need to be raised with a little discipline. I think getting rid of spanking was the biggest mistake we ever made. Sending kids to “time-out” doesn’t do it. I’m probably a better person ‘cause I was spanked once or twice. It puts the fear in ya, you know? I’m not saying kill ‘em. But I don’t think it ever hurt anybody.

Are you in the union? Do you have to be? Is it helpful?
Yes, I’m in the union. You don’t have to be. I think it’s worth it. It protects you. Some of the people who aren’t union, they can just get fired for anything. They can’t do that to you when you’re in the union. All the supervisors, they’re non-union. You know…it doesn’t make sense to be writing people up when you’re in the group that’s protecting people from being written up.

What do you do when you’re not on the job?
I listen to music. I watch football, baseball. Sports. I play with my grandkids.

What do you think people would be most surprised about you?
I’m a very caring person. I just can’t say no, my wife says to me. You gotta treat people the way you wanna be treated, because what goes around comes around.

I’m very talkative – my wife tells me that too. My neighbors call me the mayor. I can’t be nobody else. That’s Larry Stevens.

Have any of the kids ever been disrespectful?
Some kids don’t feel me. But I work on ‘em. I do my silly stuff. Eventually I get a smile. Kids say, “Larry, you make my day.” And that’s what it’s all about, because I recognize that if it wasn’t for the kids, I wouldn’t have a job. I enjoy the kids who graduate, and come back to see me. Sometimes I can’t even remember who they are, but they come back. And they tell their little brothers and sisters about me, and they show up and already know me.

I can walk anywhere on this campus, all the kids know me. It’s like I’m a professor. Even parents know about me. I bet if something happened to me, this whole campus would back me up. (“Yes it would,” I interjected.)

I had a minister who told me: Let the life you live speak for you. I never had a problem with none of the kids. I get along with anybody. If someone is nice to you, you can’t be mean to them, even if you want to be. I love my job, coming to work every day. Every morning, when I open those doors at 7:00am, it’s a good feeling.

Dena Lake contributed reporting.

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