Robert R. “Bob” Stonoff, 89, died Dec. 9, 2019, at his daughter’s home near Sequim, WA, after an extended illness.
Stonoff taught high school biology in Phoenix for 30 years, but teaching doesn’t begin to describe his interests or impact.
A descendant of the Hatfield clan through his mother, Stonoff was born in Logan, WV, the son of Nola Perkins Baisden and Pete Stoynoff, a Bulgarian immigrant. He grew up roaming the mountains, hunting and fishing, and shot his first deer at age 12. He remained an avid outdoorsman his entire life, committed to sportsmanship and fair chase standards.
He was an executive officer with the Boone and Crockett Club, a long-time member of the Arizona (now Phoenix) Varmint Callers Association, program director of Outdoor Sports for Youth, and a trophy animal measurer for Boone and Crockett, the Arizona Wildlife trophy book, and the Arizona Big Game Award. Stonoff was the only measurer in Arizona for Rowland Ward, a firm based in London that focuses on African big game.
An early conservationist, Stonoff was co-founder and past president of the Desert Bighorn Sheep Society, which restored a healthy population of wild Desert Bighorn Sheep to Arizona, and he contributed a chapter to the society’s history book, Borrego: The Fall and Rise of Desert Bighorn Sheep in Arizona. In 1970, he was named the Conservation Educator of the Year by the National Wildlife Federation and was presented a statuette of a whooping crane by President Richard M. Nixon.
Stonoff was an environmental consultant to the Arizona State Department of Education in the 1970s, and served on the Arizona Conservation Education Advisory Council (1969), Tonto National Forest Advisory Council (1973), Arizona Water Resources Executive Committee (1973), Arizona Water Commission (1989), and Arizona Wildlife Federation Trophy Book Committee (1971), among many others.
He was chairman of the Arizona Big Game Award committee, and one of the first hunters to earn that coveted award (originally presented by the Arizona Varmint Callers Association and later called “Big Nine”) by taking nine of the “Arizona 10” species, legally and without the help of a guide or dog: bighorn sheep, elk, mountain lion, mule deer, javelina, wild turkey, whitetail deer, bear, and pronghorn antelope.
In 1968, Stonoff co-authored (with Fred Farnbach) a copyrighted booklet called Field Handling of Big Game. He made the Boone and Crockett Club record book with a Coues whitetail deer he took on Mount Graham, AZ, in November 1962 (currently ranked #195). His most unusual trophy is a shoulder mount of a Mexican whitetail deer called “El Silbador” (“The Whistler”), a subspecies of the Coues Whitetail. Stonoff’s Whistler is a mature buck the size of a young fawn, with a brow tine and three main points on each side. Among his other trophies (many taken by bow) are three of the four North American bighorn sheep, nine of the North American Big 10 mammals, two mountain lions, bears, bobcat, wolf, two species of wild boar, birds, elk, caribou, moose, countless whitetail and mule deer, and several non-threatened African deer species.
At the age of 14, Stonoff committed his life to God and joined Pilgrim Holiness Church in Cherry Tree, WV, near Logan. He remained a staunch Christian his entire life. He served on church councils, tithed faithfully, supported countless missionaries, and with his wife completed many foreign, work missions where he built hospital wings, schools, and churches. The do-it-yourself skills learned in the mountains as an impoverished young man served him well in places like Zambia, Nicaragua, Belize, Costa Rica, Mexico, Papua-New Guinea, Panama, and Guam where a construction supervisor cannot just call for a cement truck.
After graduating from Logan High School, Stonoff attended Frankfort Pilgrim College in Frankfort, IN, where he met a lovely young woman, Anna Mary Snow, who sang in the college’s touring trio. Her vocal, piano, and accordion skills were a fine fit for his tenor voice, but first he had to win her.
Stonoff served as a pastor for a few years, first in Avon Park, FL, and then in Jerseyville, IL. During his time in Illinois, Stonoff worked full-time at Sears during the day and another full-time night shift at a steel mill, in addition to pastoring. When he got off work Saturday morning, he would drive seven hours one-way to visit Anna Mary, and at midnight, he’d drive seven hours back to preach a sermon Sunday morning. Anna Mary did agree to marry him, and their blended voices have brought joy to thousands of people. When they sang harmony on their song, “Let the Rest of World Go By,” everyone in earshot fell in love. The young couple spent the first decades of their marriage traveling to revivals and camp meetings across Indiana and then Arizona. Anna Mary accompanied hymns, and Bob preached. Together, they also provided special music, and all four of their daughters were on the dais singing with them by the age of five.
Stonoff attended Indiana University Bloomington and in 1957 graduated magna cum laude with a master’s degree in botany and ecology. After teaching one year at Bedford (IN) Junior High, he moved to Tempe, AZ where he remained for 58 years, living in a ranch-style house he built himself. He taught 30 years in Phoenix, first at North Phoenix High, then East High, and finally Camelback High. He was named Outstanding Science Teacher for Arizona in 1972 by the Arizona Academy of Sciences, and Arizona’s Conservation Educator of the Year in 1969 by the Arizona Wildlife Federation. Stonoff taught at East High from 1964, the year it opened, until it closed in 1982, and served as chairman of the science department. In addition to forming a Conservation Club, he established a commercial horticultural greenhouse that gave graduating inner city students employable skills. He also taught at several Phoenix-area colleges and universities as an adjunct professor, and gave countless workshops, teacher trainings, talks, and clinics on conservation and ecology, gun safety, wildlife scouting, tracking and calling, wildlife photography, and many other outdoors topics.
Never content teaching only in the classroom, Stonoff always looked for ways to take students from the city into the wilderness. In 1969, he was the program director for Project OUTREACH, a series of workshops and classes designed to teach conservation in the field. As the executive director of the Arizona Environmental Education council, he ran a summer class for underprivileged teenagers that included two weeks on the Mogollon Rim; it was the first of its kind in Arizona and one of the first in the entire country. Later, he ran a weeklong ecology class at Mormon Lake that gave students a semester of biology credit, and a similar trip to Hawaii where teenagers earned science credit learning about island ecology.
In the early 1970s, Stonoff started a summer travel camp originally named Wagon Trail Travel Camp but which became Wilderness Institute. As “Wagon Boss,” Stonoff took urban boys throughout the western US, Alaska, British Columbia, Yukon, and Mexico, teaching them ecology, fishing, backpacking, canoeing, photography, and other wilderness and camp skills. He was fiercely proud to have his camp accredited by the American Camping Association. In addition to his teaching and outdoors interests, he usually had a hobby or business on the side. For several years, he mounted trophy fish. He built a camper for his 1962 Chevrolet four-wheel-drive pickup that served as a summer home for his family. He learned artisanal furniture making and built himself an executive desk as nice as any CEO’s. He built an articulated prototype ATV that could crawl over virtually any surface.
Stonoff also was a gifted writer and storyteller. Anyone who ever met him spent time with a dropped jaw over his stories. He told of saving lives, including his own: once he shot a wolf in mid-air as it jumped for him. He also told of risking lives, for instance by venturing onto a four-wheel-drive road so narrow that his drivers’ side mirror scraped the canyon wall while the edge of his thick tires hung over a 100-foot drop on the passenger’s side.
Though he started by writing short fiction, Stonoff was best known for his nonfiction articles in magazines like Field & Stream, Sports Afield, Outdoor Life, and Arizona Wildlife Sportsman, usually illustrated by his own professional photographs taken with a twin lens Mamiya. He was offered full-time positions several times as a travel writer and once as a photographer for National Geographic Magazine, but he was committed to Maricopa County and teaching (and probably his own independence as well). He turned to writing grants because it was considerably more lucrative, and he never wrote a grant that was unsuccessful.
When he began buying antique cars, though, he found a new passion. In the 1950s, Stonoff and his brother Staton built a custom hot rod that started as a 1936 Ford roadster and ended as a minor legend among hot rod fans. The Stonoff brothers reshaped the roadster with parts from Ford, Buick, Chevrolet, Pontiac and Plymouth vehicles manufactured over a 20-year period. More than 10 years later, Stonoff found and bought another 1936 Ford roadster, planning to recreate his hot rod, and it sparked a collection. He took to driving back roads all over the western US, looking for more old cars. He brought home several Model A’s; a rusty Model T that his buyer drove away; a mint-condition, long-nosed black gangster car with suicide doors; and a mint-green-and-white 1953 Mercury with leather seats that he let his daughters drive to high school.
His long suffering wife eventually put down her foot and insisted he remove his cars from the backyard because she could no longer get to her clothesline. So he bought five acres of cheap, vacant, county land in 1975, squeezed between the Salt River and the Pima Indian Reservation. It had been used as a construction dumpsite, and he and his children cleared chunks of concrete the size of his antique cars before he could park them there. He wanted a shop to work on his vehicles, so in 1985 he built a small industrial building and rented out the other three bays. He called it Bighorn Industrial Park and later added a second building. Bob’s Old Fashioned Cars & Parts became an Arizona icon for project car enthusiasts because Stonoff often had exactly the obscure 75-year-old car part someone needed. When the City of Tempe built Tempe Town Lake, Stonoff’s five acres became very attractive, and the city tried to annex the county island where Bighorn Industrial stood.
Stonoff spent 20 years as president of both the County Island Business Association and a non-profit property owners group called Citizens for Ethical Government, fighting for the right to remain county property with an industrial zoning and low property tax.
Through his lifetime, Stonoff contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to mission work, outdoor programs, and other non-profits, but he was equally generous to individuals, often giving more than he had to spare. He collected a large family of informally adopted children who called him “Dad,” and he leaves behind hundreds of grieving souls.
Stonoff is survived by Anna Mary, his wife of sixty-six years, from Tempe, AZ; four children: Anita (Michael) Puckett of Sequim, WA, Katrina (Louis) Florence of Fairbanks, Alaska, Lenore (Peter) Swanson of Homer, Alaska, and one who requested anonymity for security reasons; brothers James (Janet) Stonoff of Anderson, IN, and Melvin (MaryAnn) Sheppard of Talkeetna, Alaska; sister Velma (Donald) Smith of Belton, Texas; twenty-one grandchildren and twenty-nine great grandchildren. He was preceded in death by both parents, two brothers, and two sisters. Memorial services have not been set.
Anna Mary suggests donations in memoriam may be made, if desired, to Wesleyan Church Global Partners to support Stonoff’s nephew Fred Cromer (https://www.globalpartnersonline.org/missionary/wm04- 0172/).
To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Robert R Stonoff, please visit our floral store.