SF Firefighters Honor Dr. Richard A. Stephens
Academy of Art University Chairman Emeritus Dr. Richard A. Stephens and President of Academy of Art University Dr. Elisa Stephens with San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee. Photo by Jana Asenbrennerova for Drew Altizer Photography.
On February 26, the San Francisco Firefighters Toy Program honored Academy of Art University Chairman Emeritus Dr. Richard A. Stephens for his ongoing generosity to the non-profit, which serves 41,000 Bay Area families.
At an event attended by San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee, District Attorney George Gascon, as well as firefighters, university academic directors, friends and family, Stephens was honored with a custom vintage fire helmet bearing the Academy logo.
Danny Gracia, vice president of SF Firefighters Local 798, spoke on the Toy Program’s behalf, thanking Stephens for giving the Toy Program a rent-free home to store and distribute toys. This gesture allows the program to thrive as the largest of its kind in the United States.
Gracia presented a helmet that had been transformed into a work of art through a collaborative effort of creative local firefighters. The circa 1950s “New Yorker” model was painted red and white -- Academy of Art University’s school colors -- and embellished with the Academy logo on the shield and “Stephens” on the underside of the brim.
Dr. Richard A. Stephens, who turns 90 in April, beamed as the helmet was place on his head.
He spoke of moving to San Francisco from Paris as a young child and vividly recalled when a firefighter visited his Marina District elementary school more than 80 years ago. Stephens was an impressionable first grader and paid rapt attention to the firefighter’s safety tips and hands-on demonstration of how to jump into a fireman’s net.
“I never forgot that,” Stephens said. “All my life, I remembered those lessons.”
Over the years, he was impressed by the integrity of the fire department – including the fire inspectors he dealt with from time to time regarding safety measures for the university.
A few years ago, it came to Stephens’ attention that the SF Firefighters Toy Program was on the verge of losing its storage warehouse. Stephens and his daughter, Academy of Art University President Dr. Elisa Stephens, stepped in and offered to store the toys, as well as numerous vintage fire vehicles, at their warehouse on Jerrold Street.
The firefighters from Local 798 had been waiting for the right time to present the custom helmet, which was purchased by Gracia from a dealer of vintage fire memorabilia more than a year ago.
San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee spoke at the event, held at Academy of Art University’s Automobile Museum, and District Attorney George Gascon presented Dr. Stephens with a proclamation from the City of San Francisco.
As Stephens posed for photos wearing his new treasure, he continued to praise San Francisco’s firefighters.
“We appreciate their many kindnesses to us, and the fact they are there to save our lives. We are always here to help them by storing the toys and these precious trucks,” he said.
Local 798 vice president Gracia has been vocal in expressing his gratitude to Dr. Richard A. Stephens, and daughter Dr. Elisa Stephens, who was honored as “Community Hero” by the Toy Program at a breakfast in November 2014.
“Without the support of Academy of Art University, we wouldn’t be able to reach as many families because a portion of the money we use to buy toys we’d be using to pay rent,” he said.
Gracia added, “We fulfill a lot of children’s wishes with the Toy Program and now we are able to fulfill an adult wish – someone who very much deserves it.”