Marti Stevens’ dream come true: a gem in our community

by Katie Ouilette

Marti Stevens

People do have dreams that come true.

My dad, a shoe-cutter, had dreams of owning his own hardware store, and finally opened Henry’s Hardware, on Chestnut St., in Skowhegan. The late Herb Paradis dreamed of having a television program, and that became a reality on a local broadcasting station.

Now, I thought I knew Marti Stevens well. She had a dream that so many made fun of, but thank heaven she made her dream come true.

Marti loved the theater and became part owner of Lakewood after the Denis ownership. Her other love was education. And with those two attributes, she founded the Marti Stevens Learning Center, on the Norridgewock Road, across from MSAD #54 administrative office.

Marti is gone now, but she left us with a jewel.

A phone call to Barry Sites, the director of the Marti Stevens Learning Center for 30 years, initially about his new membership to the Skowhegan Heritage Council, opened the dialogue about the center.

Marti, who lived on Cornville Road, in Skowhegan, at the time, started the learning center in the kitchen of her home when she realized that young girls who became pregnant were not allowed in the local school systems. They earned their GED in Marti’s kitchen, and now these girls are leaders in a number of area towns. They run businesses or have learned the art of administration.

The Marti Stevens Learning Center has done so much for students that have had a “bump in the road” while growing up. Years ago, people laughed at her and her dream, but she made life “good” for so many of them.

One of only two schools of its kind in Maine, the Marti Stevens Learning Center personnel are in touch with and collaborate with guidance counselors in area schools, and by so doing, find the students who “do not fit well with the present public school system.” The learning center and MSAD #74 collaborate in scheduling graduations, so parents don’t have to miss such an important event in their child’s life.

The Marti Stevens Learning Center is being awarded a grant by Somerset Public Health. The theater will be used over a two-year period to develop an interactive improvisational theater program to create awareness surrounding health problems related to adverse childhood experiences. Sometimes children can illustrate an adverse event they experienced in childhood through acting, rather than talking. Because the same can sometimes be exhibited by a child with drawing, and that is why Mrs. Choiniere will soon be joining the Marti Stevens Learning Center and art will be an important part of the curriculum.

Graduates (about 12 a year) are introduced to professionals and trade folk to help them choose a work path for the future. Actually, like all education opportunities, a thought about the future is introduced through a guidance counselor.

The Marti Stevens Learning Center is funded through MSAD #54.

From South Chicago to Cornville, Maine

Marti Stevens, 1939-1993, was an American educator and theater director. Born in South Side Chicago, Illinois, she spent 10 years as a professional director and actress on off-Broadway stages in New York City before relocating to the rural community of Cornville. Both her parents were musicians. She earned a bachelors degree in journalism from the University of Missouri, and a masters degree at City College of New York.

In 1959, she moved to New York City, where she studied acting with professional coaches Uta Hagen and Gene Frankel. Her efforts to pursue a career in the “avant-garde theater of the 1960s” were disappointing. After ten years of work as an off-Broadway director, occasional acting gigs, and work as a teacher and secretary, she gave up big-city life and moved to Cornville.


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1 reply
  1. Val
    Val says:

    Marti played a huge role in my upbringing and I eventually landed at the Stevens Learning Center in my senior year because of my own bumps in the road. I’m now a successful 6 figure business owner in one of the most competitive communities in the country, Marin County CA. Because I was given a chance, and the amazing teachers at the school showed me that someone believed I COULD succeed.
    Eternally grateful for her vision.


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