It appears the only person in the county not sure Stoddard is deserving of the honor is the man himself

The naming of new public facilities, especially in a public school district, is generally met with some conversation and at least a little discussion over many different options. However, when the name “Stu Stoddard” was mentioned a few months ago in Atascadero, all conversations about the building’s name ceased and were instead replaced by story after story of Stoddard’s grace, knowledge, and uncommon kindness.

The citizens’ advisory committee and the Atascadero Unified School District Board of Trustees were in unanimous agreement. On Feb. 2, the Black Box Theater officially changed its name, in its new home, to Stu’s Studio: The Stoddard Center for the Arts.

It is rare to hear of someone spoken about with such reverence by all, but after just a few seconds absorbing his preacher’s cadence and basking in his glowing warmth, it becomes clear why every face at the Board of Trustees meeting donned a smile while presenting the prestigious honor to a man that worked in the District for 29 years.

Stoddard began his illustrious career for the Atascadero Unified School District in 1989 as a maintenance and trades worker, mostly building cabinets, after finding himself out of a job in Geology due to the oil crisis.

For the next eight years, Stoddard worked around the District, wherever he was needed, with expanding levels of responsibility. In 1997, Stoddard was named the Director of Facilities and officially became the man in charge of fixing a school going through some very tight financial years. Over the next 20, Stoddard would hold a couple of different titles, including the Director of Support Services in 2007 and eventually Executive Director of Bond Projects in 2016.

For most of Stoddard’s tenure, he was forced to be the harbinger of bad news regarding leaky roofs and decaying facilities. Yet, everyone left his office feeling better than they did when entering it, even if they didn’t receive the answer they were looking for.

“For years, we just struggled to get through, and that’s a great training session, you know, hardship develops knowledge, and we should be blessed for the hardships we go through, and we have plenty in Atascadero,” Stoddard said. “But there was always this kind of goal in the back of our heads that this place could look like a college campus when we were done, something that we could be proud of. I think we got there to some degree, and I think that a testament to what a whole lot of people were able to accomplish.”

In 2010, the Atascadero voters overwhelmingly passed Measure I-10, a 117-million dollar bond allowing the District to finally do more than just maintain. The bond was designed to be spent to “expand vocational education programs and facilities; upgrade classroom computers and technology; construct a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics facility,” and to even rebuild and replace the broken roofs Stoddard had been dealing with for two decades.

While it was undoubtedly the will of the taxpayers to bring Measure I-10 to the Atascadero School District, Stoddard played no small part in educating the Board of Trustees and thus the public on its merits.

“I really think that the bond that we passed, you inspired us to get that passed,” Board Member Tami Gunther said at the Feb. 2 meeting. “And so I can’t thank you enough for everything, and you’ve been such a tremendous supporter of the arts. So, I feel it is so appropriate we get to honor you with something that I know is important.”

Stoddard stayed true to his word as Atascadero High School has recently finished a number of upgrades, with most of the money coming from his guidance and the support of Measure I-10. Not only does the high school campus have a new studio for the arts that is complete with a green room, staging area, dressing rooms, closed-circuit television, and room for 100 attendees, but also a new science department with 42 student lab stations, new tennis courts and a renovated girls locker room.

Stu Stoddard with his wife JoAnne and son Cam (Cameron) stand in front of Stu’s Studio: The Stoddard Center for the Arts. Not pictured daughter Gwen who is an ICU Nurse in San Luis Obispo and their son Cy who passed away in 2007 but there in spirit. Photos by Hayley Mattson

Improving the campus tenfold will surely be the crown jewel of his achievements while at the District; however, it is only a small part of what made his time so enjoyable. Above all that he accomplished, Stoddard values the relationships he made along the way.

“It is this extended family of people that made my career from the get-go. When I was working with the crews and maintenance department as one of them, which was grand fun, to get to know those guys,” Stoddard said in his poetic manner of speaking. “Then, as we progressed, getting to know the business department and all the wonderful attributes Jackie [Martin] brings to the table to keep that District running smoothly. Working with Tom Butler, I have worked with numerous Superintendents, and they are all wonderful in their own way.”

Stu’s Studio: The Stoddard Center for the Arts was functionally finished in December of 2020 but has sat empty due to the pandemic and now waiting, yearning for students to return to campus and begin filling its walls with knowledge, laughter and memories.

Stoddard retired front AUSD in 2018 but is still yet to enjoy his retirement as he has spent time helping both Templeton, San Miguel, and Paso Robles School Districts over the past two years.

The classroom inside ‘Stu’s Studio: The Stoddard Center For The Arts.’ Contributed photo

It appears the only person in the county not sure Stoddard is deserving of the honor is the man himself because his grace and modesty will simply not allow it.

“I don’t know that it is deserved, but it is an honor to be associated with some of the work that we have done and to hold some level of respect with people that I think very highly of,” He said. “To win over some level of respect with these august people is wonderful; I don’t know that it is deserved, but it is appreciated.”

Getting through this together, Paso Robles