One of the most joyous days of my life was about 3 years ago from today. I was wearing this suit and standing on a beach like this one. Stephanie and Steven gave me the honor and privilege of presiding as they exchanged their wedding vows. Steven was so happy and so proud that day. It was unimaginable then that we would be gathered for a memorial service at the UC Annex.
The UC Annex didn’t exist when Steven and I both started working at UNCP in the fall of 2003. I don’t really remember when we met, but he was soon to play a huge role not only in my life, but the lives of my wife Amy and our 5 children.
In many ways, Steve and I could have starred in a modern version of the movie the Odd Couple. Steven was single. I was married and a father of 5. He was toned and shredded with perfect hair. I’m, a little pudgy and bald. He was an Ohio State fan. I grew up in the SEC and ACC land. He is in his high school’s sports hall of fame. I, um, went to a high school.
We both had a great love for UNCP and its students, and I think our friendship grew from there. Our odd couple relationship had many dimensions. Sometimes he was my mentor or I was his. Many times we were brothers. But I think the dimension of our relationship that he would agree with the most if he were here, is that often he was my children’s big brother, which, if you think about it, also means sometimes he was our 6th child.
Before Stephanie came into his life, several times we would get a phone call long after we had gone to bed. Steven would be on the phone complaining about a stomach ache or ailment and asking what we would recommend. He would usually say he didn’t feel well enough to get out of bed, so Amy would go to our medicine cabinet, find a remedy and take it to him. Sometimes I thought he did that because he didn’t want to miss out on any part of being in our family.
It wasn’t any trouble for Amy to nurse him because since 2005, Steven started living in a detached apartment at my house. My children thought we had a celebrity living in our backyard. My son, Alec, for awhile even kept a log of when Steven drove out of our driveway and when that beautiful black 700 series BMW returned. They monitored his every move. He lavished love and attention on them.
Many times he would stop at Dairy Queen on the way home and buy dilly bars for all of them. Anytime he went out to eat, he always brought something back for us. He had a way of charming the waitress at Outback out of an extra 4 loaves of brown bread that he would bring home for us.
Steven was the most generous and thoughtful person I ever knew. He had such a big heart. He took so much into his big heart that it was both his gift to the world and his inner torment.
Every year he created a Dent family March Madness bracket and he put up the prize money. He won his own money many times, but each of the kids won at least one year and were so thrilled when he gave them their prize.
Steven was also incredibly dedicated and loyal. He was very careful about making commitments because when he made one, that was it. He would keep it forever. When he first became my backyard neighbor, I didn’t realize we were making a long-term commitment to each other that was only broken when I moved to Florida. He would attend our kids’ tennis matches and swim meets, especially if I wasn’t able to be there.
In my remarks at their wedding, I reminded everyone who knew Steven well that he engaged in exhaustive analysis before making a commitment. He spent more than 30 years of adulthood making absolutely sure that he had found the right marriage partner, and in you, Stephanie, he had.
Stephanie, there are so many great positive memories of Steven like that and those are the memories that I’m going to cling to and will inspire me for the rest of my life.
May God give you, and all of us who grieve Steven’s passing, a special measure of His grace, and a clear memory of what made him so special.