Maj. George Stelljes has dedicated 21 years to the mission of St. John’s Military School and its cadets. For the past nine and a half years, he has served as commandant of cadets. As Stelljes approaches retirement from the institution at the end of the academic year, he reflects on over two decades of service and friendships that will never be forgotten.
The Right Man for the Job
Paula Lambert has served as Stelljes’ assistant for the nine and a half years he has served as commandant, however their working relationship dates back to Stelljes’ initial years serving as senior army instructor of the school’s Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC).
“I’ve known Maj. Stelljes, basically the whole time he’s worked here,” said Lambert. “When he joined St. John’s he was fresh out of Kansas State University. He had worked there previously with their ROTC program. He would come to St. John’s for formal inspections. I could tell right away that he was very compassionate and very people-oriented.”
After working at St. John’s for twelve years as a military and academic instructor, Maj. Stelljes was presented with the opportunity to take on the role of commandant, a position that is essential to the success of the school, and the personal development of its cadets. It is the commandant who holds the cadets responsible for following the school’s code of conduct, and helps to guide them to excel personally and academically, and turn mistakes and transgressions into opportunities for improvement. The role requires not only an individual who holds himself and those around him to the highest standards, but who has the compassion to help young men become better, more effective leaders for having erred and learned from their mistakes.
“I saw it as an opportunity to help make a positive impact on the lives of the young men attending St. John’s during that time,” said he said, reflecting on his decision to accept the role of commandant. “I enjoyed working with the cadets and the Military Department. There were so many super people there. I’m particularly appreciative of three people that I worked closest with during that time.”
Members of the St. John’s Family
At the time he was offered the role of commandant, Maj. Stelljes’ wife and consummate supporter, Janice, encouraged him to accept the position and the important challenge of leading the school’s Corps of Cadets.
“I knew it was a key position,” said Janice. “I saw it as something that would be good for him. His dedication to the school and the cadets and his natural leadership made him the right man for the job.”
At St. John’s, not only do faculty and staff dedicate themselves to the cadets, their spouses become extended members of the St. John’s family as well.
“When they hired me 21 years ago, they did not know the gem they were getting in Janice,” said Maj. Stelljes. “She’s done a lot for me, and she’s done an awful lot for the young men. During my tenure as the commandant, she organized all the dances for the school, including the military ball. She did a lot of important volunteer work and was always available to talk to, and support the cadets.”
Paula Lambert reflects on the influence that both Maj. and Mrs. Stelljes had on the hundreds of cadets that passed through the school’s doors over the past two decades.
“Maj. Stelljes and Janice are both extremely giving people. If someone needed help, they’d always find a way to help them.”
The Compassionate Commandant
It is Maj. Stelljes’ compassion, empathy, and caring nature that has made him such a successful commandant over the past decade. According to Paula Lambert, Maj. Stelljes served the role of Commandant with the perfect combination of discipline and compassion.
“If he needed to be tough, he’d be tough, but he would always explain what the consequences of their actions were, and why,” she said. “The cadets never wanted to disappoint him. They respected him and knew he respected them in return. He taught them about honesty, and that they needed to care about their fellow cadets even before themselves.”
Janice echoes Lambert’s words, adding, “I believe the cadets learned from George that they can make a mistake and get past it and start over. As long as they are honest and sincere and want to start over they can reach great heights.”
A Lasting Legacy
As the Stelljes begin to make plans for their pending retirement, they reflect on their time at St. John’s with the type of sentimental nostalgia that marks the most impactful moments in our lives.
“Over the years, the cadets mentored me on how to be a better commandant,” said Maj. Stelljes. “Every year they taught me something new.”
Janice agrees, adding, “They taught him to be more patient and understanding of all the things that can happen in someone’s life. They made his world richer.”
As a true indication of the impact that he has had on their lives, a large number of cadets who were mentored by Maj. Stelljes still keep in touch with him today. They are proud to reach out to their former commandant and share with him the important achievements in their lives.
“These kids keep in contact with him, and I know it’s because they know he cares,” said Lambert. “So many cadets have been successful and they want to share their success with him. I can’t tell you how many hundreds of kids he has helped and counseled and encouraged. Our cadets have learned to care because they know he cared.”
Even after Maj. and Mrs. Stelljes leave St. John’s and begin the next phase of their lives, they will always hold close the memories and relationships they have built.
“St. John’s is a wonderful place,” said Janice. “We’ve seen so many boys come here and become great leaders and go on to do wonderful things. When you’re at St. John’s, you get this family that just keeps growing. I can’t describe it. The boys have a brotherhood, but there’s also this extended family and they’re all so supportive of each other. It’s been an interesting and rewarding experience that we’ll never forget. It will be part of our lives forever. It’s been a wonderful journey.”
Maj. Stelljes agrees, and as he talks about the cadets that have influenced his life he speaks with the caring and compassion that will be his legacy at St. John’s.
“To me the boys were like my sons. I saw myself in a role as a father figure, and a mentor and a guide to them, and I really appreciated the opportunity to do that.”