Larry Steward’s story, the obit that he wrote himself

Note from Gary Kimsey, who edited this story: Larry Steward was a journalist and educator who inspired hundreds of students when he taught photography at Colorado State University, Fort Collins, and as the general manager of the Rocky Mountain Student Media Corporation, comprised of CSU’s newspaper, magazine, and radio and TV stations. Larry passed away March 4 after almost four years of battling ALS, a terminal motor neuron disease that gradually robs patients of their strength and control and ultimately leads death. 

Larry was shy about talking about himself to others. So, many of his friends and colleagues today know only a few details about his younger years. With that realization in mind, Larry penned the following story about himself (I added in the artwork and cutlines). He wrote this article in the style of an obituary, using the third-person voice (“he” and “his,” for instance) rather than first-person.

I met Larry in 1971 when I was editor of the Rocky Mountain Collegian, CSU’s student newspaper. He became my news editor and then, when he was editor the next school year, I was his news editor. We became lifelong friends and spent many days over the years fishing in the Cache la Poudre River in northern Colorado—and he always caught the most trout.

The following story that he wrote about himself is more than obituary. It’s a story about a remarkable life of creativity, humor, dedication, optimism, exuberance, and love at first sight, twice. Enjoy reading it!

 

Photo by Greg Luft

His given name was Lawrence Eugene, but for the first 19 years of his life everyone called him Corky. That’s because when his father, Earl, first saw his son, he said he looked like a “corker” and the name just stuck.

Corky was born on November 18, 1946, during a massive blizzard that closed roads, businesses and schools for more than a week. At that time the Steward family was living on a farm in a remote area of southeastern Colorado, so his brothers and sister did not learn of his birth until Earl flew over their farm in his Piper Cub airplane and dropped a little parachute with the message that declared the family had a new baby boy. Corky was born prematurely so he had to be transferred by ambulance to Children’s Hospital in Denver where his first month of life was spent in an incubator.

The isolation on the farm turned out to be too much for his mother, Annabelle, so the family moved to nearby Lamar in the spring of 1948.  The house they moved into had been a U.S. Post Office that Earl had moved onto a foundation from Hasty, Colorado, a nearby small town. The two-bedroom, one-bathroom home created a real challenge for bathroom time and other space for a family of seven.

But city life was marred by Annabelle’s persistent and debilitating high blood pressure and migraine headaches. To mitigate Annabelle’s illnesses, Corky and his older sister, Patricia, and brothers, Richard (Dick), John Robert, and Linden Michael, were sometimes not permitted in the house to avoid complications for their mother.

In 1953, the family’s physician urged Annabelle to have experimental surgery in hopes of reducing her blood pressure and migraines, which had elevated to dangerous levels. After much prodding, Annabelle decided to have the surgery in Denver but, after the procedure, she died from complications of a blood clot.

Larry’s self-portrait from 1972. Larry enjoyed drawing cartoons, and he was very good at it. While still in high school in Lamar, Colo., he drew weekly cartoons for the Lamar Daily News.

Earl, overcome with grief, turned to his daughter, Pat, and her husband, Bill Waldrip, and asked them to care for Mike, who was 11, and Corky, who was 7. The newly formed family lived in the Lamar area for nearly a year before moving to La Junta, Colorado, where Bill worked as an airplane mechanic. The airport was a former World War II U.S. Army Air Force base that was turned over to civilian control after the war.

The former airbase had decommissioned World War II fighter aircraft and bombers in the hangers that had been abandoned by the military after the war. Pat and Bill and the boys lived in what had been officers’ quarters. The location turned out to be a boys’ playground paradise, and the boys spent many hours playing in the old airplane and on the grounds of the airbase.

Since the airport in La Junta where Bill worked was four miles outside of town, Mike and Corky took a bus to and from school. Sister Pat loved to tell a story about the time Corky was “goofing around” after school and missed the school bus. Pat said she became quite worried when Mike showed up at the bus stop but Corky was nowhere to be found. The way she told the story, when she finally discovered Corky walking home, his eyes lit up expecting his sister to give him a ride the rest of the way home, she told him “next time, get yourself to the bus stop on time!” She then turned the car around and sped away, leaving her youngest brother to walk the rest of the way home. “He sure as heck never missed the bus again,” she liked to say with a mischievous smile.

In 1955-56, Earl courted and later married Othel (Wright) Conklin, who was widowed following the death of her first husband, Kermit. After Earl and Othel were married and with the addition of Othel’s two children, Dave and Karen, the blended family now numbered nine, but since Dave Conklin and Dick Steward were out of the household nest, the competition for resources wasn’t as intense as it might seem.

Corky and Mike moved back to their Lamar home during the summer of 1956.

 

In school, Corky participated in band, theater, and dabbled in sports, including football, track and wrestling. He also loved to draw cartoons as a hobby, and during his junior year in high school, Corky was hired as a cartoonist for the Lamar Daily News. He drew a weekly cartoon strip and, less frequently, editorial cartoons.

One of Larry’s cartoons from his days at the Rocky Mountain Collegian. He drew this cartoon in 1972 when Richard Nixon was running for re-election and the scandalous activities of Vice President Spiro Agnew were not yet widely known. Nixon, though, had plenty of problems of his own doing to deal with.

The news editor, Fred Betz, Jr., involved Corky in all aspects of newspaper operations, including photography, selling advertising, and the newspaper design.

After he was graduated from Lamar Union high school in 1964, Corky attended Lamar community college and Eastern Montana College in Billings on a journalism scholarship and worked summers as a lifeguard in Lamar and later as a swimming pool manager in Holly, Colorado.

During this time, the U.S. was becoming deeply embroiled in the Vietnam War, and in 1966, Corky faced a major decision: either join the military or be drafted. Since voluntary enlistment meant he could choose a military occupation rather than being assigned to the infantry, he enlisted and, after basic training, attended the U.S. Army photography school.

He joined the Army on the “buddy plan” with Dan Scriven, his life-long chum and next door neighbor, but one day after they entered basic training the pair were separated (so much for the buddy plan).

Once he was in the Army, Corky made the immediate transformation to Larry (or, “Hey, maggot!”) since no drill sergeant would call him “Corky.” Going forward, only family and Lamarites would ever refer to him using his childhood nickname.

Larry did well in basic training. He was named a squad leader and later selected as the outstanding trainee of his company. Following basic, Larry attended photography school in Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, where he graduated as one of the top students in the photography class.

Patriotism: Larry with medals awarded to him when he was in the military.

After photography school, he was sent to South Vietnam. He was assigned to the 1st Military Intelligence Battalion Aerial Reconnaissance service in Da Nang, Saigon, and finally Can Tho in the Mekong Delta. Within four months of his arrival in Vietnam, he was awarded an Army Commendation Medal, the Air Medal, and was promoted to Specialist 5th Class (the equivalent rank of Sergeant).

After leaving Vietnam, he was assigned as the senior television cameraman and a member of a 16-mm film crew at the Medical Field Service School television station at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, where he remained until he received an honorable discharge in June 1969 to attend classes at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

At CSU, he initially majored in fisheries biology, then graphic arts and finally journalism and technical communication. During his time at CSU, he worked at the Rocky Mountain Collegian in a number of positions before becoming the editor-in-chief during fall 1972 and spring 1973. He also worked at the student radio station, KCSU; served as a volunteer for the Silver Spruce Yearbook and made extra money as a 16-mm film stringer for two Denver television stations.

After he was graduated in 1973, he worked as a photographer, reporter, columnist, and section editor for the Fort Collins Coloradoan newspaper. While at the Coloradoan, he was honored by the Colorado press Association for his reporting.

 

He met his first wife, Suzanne Lois Hembree, while at the Rocky Mountain Collegian when she came to the newspaper office to drop off a press release. She and Larry chatted for quite a while. As soon as Suzanne left the office, Larry turned to a nearby co-worker and announced, “That’s the woman I’m going to marry.” There’s no other way to describe it: It was love at first sight.

It turned out, however, that Larry would have to wait because his roommate, Don Skitt, was dating Suzanne at that time, so he had to wait until Don and Suzanne broke up. Larry then made his move and asked Suzanne out on a date. The first date was the day Suzanne completed her finals so when he went to pick her up at her apartment, he knocked on the door several times, unaware that she had been so exhausted that a glass of wine put her to sleep. After being stood up, Larry swore he would never ask her out again. Well, love overcame stubbornness. They were married 15 months later.

Larry said he was attracted to Suzanne because of her quick wit and many puns, her sense of humor, and her engaging personality. They were married on November 24, 1975, in Fort Collins at St. John the 23rd Church.

After living in Fort Collins for the first four years of their marriage, they moved to Denver where Suzanne gave birth to the couple’s first child, Jeffrey Lawrence, in September 1980, and to their second child, Jennifer Honorine, in February 1982.

Suzanne and Larry remained married until Suzanne’s death from cancer March 8, 1985.

In December 1986, Larry returned to CSU after he was hired as general manager of the student media department. In 1989, Larry was graduated with an MBA from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

During his tenure as general manager, Larry was recognized by a number of professional organizations and served on several student media professional organizations, including being twice elected as VP and president of the Western Association of University publication managers, a prestigious organization representing large university media managers.

Larry also taught classes in photojournalism, digital photography and business communication for the Journalism and Media Communications department at CSU.

 

In April 2002, Larry met Janet Lewis-Jordan, who was working as a dental management consultant for a large national firm. They hit it off great right away and, as he had experienced almost three decades earlier, Larry knew immediately that this was once again love at first sight. Janet and Larry were married in August 2003 at the Danforth Chapel on the CSU campus, and they spent their remaining years together in love and very grateful for each other.

Larry and Janet Steward.

Larry retired from the university in August 2004 to help Janet start her own dental management consulting corporation, Steward and Associates, which eventually evolved into Janet Steward Consulting.

In 2008, Larry became the organizing executive and the president of the Rocky Mountain Student Media Corporation, a not-for-profit organization closely affiliated with CSU. The not-for-profit employed 250 students and more than 100 student volunteers in the operation of the daily student newspaper, the campus radio station, cable TV, and campus magazine. He remained as president and CEO at the RMSMC until his retirement in July 2015, when his as-of-yet undiagnosed illness began to take its toll.

 

Several years prior to his retirement from the RMSMC, Larry began to notice fatigue and weakness in his arms and hands. After many months working out in an attempt to regain his strength, Larry finally figured out that what was going on was not normal and started the medical journey to find out why. In September 2016, he finally was diagnosed with ALS, a terminal motor neuron disease that gradually robs patients of their strength and control and ultimately leads death.

The adventurer: Larry, back in his 30s, coming out of an old mine that he explored in Hewlett Gulch in the Poudre Canyon. Larry loved hiking with Janet and their two dogs, Jack and Teddy; fly-fishing; salt-water fishing; biking; and photography.

Despite the death sentence that comes with ALS, Larry maintained a very positive attitude and lived his life as someone who looked for the positive rather than the negative related to his debilitating disease. Janet was close by his side every step of the way, becoming a care-provider whose goal was to make his life as comfortable and pleasant as possible.

Larry passed away at home on March, 4, 2020. He is survived by his loving wife, Janet; his son, Jeffrey, and his wife, Thuy, and their daughter, Annie; daughter Jennifer and her husband, Jeremy, and their son, William; his stepdaughter, Lee-Ann and her husband Rick Castro, their son, Tyler, and daughter, Mckenna; his stepson, Alistair Jordan and his wife, Kimberly; and numerous nieces and nephews and grand nieces and nephews.

–30–

Note: The “–30–“ is a symbol that Larry and other journalists back in the day typed in (using typewriters, of all things!) to show that their story has ended.

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