When I attended Brother Mark’s celebration of life in St. Louis over the Easter holidays, I was asked to fill out a name tag, including any appropriate nickname. When I scrawled BRO KEN, it didn’t hit me initially that the two words taken together were more true than I might have intended.
My newspaper buddy Jan Norris often accuses me of “burying the lede,”newspaper talk for putting the most important information at the bottom of the story where it might get trimmed off. In this case a lawyer should jump up and say, “Objection! Assumes facts not in evidence.”
I guess I should start at close to the beginning to put the facts in evidence.
For more than a decade, May 4 has been a touchstone date for me. I could always count on getting a message from former chief photographer John J. Lopinot that would simply say, “Never forget.”
He was referring to the date when Ohio National Guardsmen opened fire on unarmed students on the Kent State Campus. I covered and resurrected photos and stories of covering the protest era in Athens, Ohio, every year.
Time to move on
Covid put an end to a plan with the SE Ohio History Center to do a 50th look at the event, and John and I agreed that it might just be time, not to forget, but to focus on more pressing topics.
Mark is my new May 4 Never Forget
My Never Forget this year will be my youngest brother, Mark, who died, suddenly and unexpectedly of a massive heart attack on New Year’s Eve while on a walk with his wife, Robin.
He wasn’t supposed to be the first to go. I was nine years older and, based on family history, thought I was living on borrowed time after age 60. Middle brother David had been a smoker, had undergone multiple heart operations, so we thought he might be the first to get on the goodbye bus. Mark was active, a bike rider, and married to a vegetarian, all healthy lifestyle choices.
I’ll put his words in italic type throughout the post.
The first picture
When I first started to do this blog post months and months ago, my first instinct was to tell his story in pictures. I mean, I had the first official photo of him taken right after he was born, and I had The Last Photo I took of him working on the roof of my house days before he died.
The Last Picture
Tracking down Mark photos was a bit of a challenge because he was rarely my subject. He would show up as a random frame here or there while I was shooting something or somebody else. I had to go through hundreds of directories to ferret out the Mark gold among much chaff.
I’ve decided to take a different approach. There will still be photos, but I’m going to concentrate on things he wrote over the years. He had a real ability to turn a phrase; sometimes he was funny, sometimes acerbic, sometimes profound, and sometimes incredibly touching.
Indeed, and ironically, this showed up on a May 4 post I had done on protests in 2009
One of the coolest compliments
Me: I just have to share comment I posted on May 5 of that year, which contained an email from Bro Mark. I haven’t been to a doctor recently, so he can’t have secret information that I’m suffering from an incurable ailment (except for old age). That means he must want something.
From Mark: Anyway: I suppose I should save things like this for later, when you are dead, before I recount these stories…but then why should I be the only one who is uncomfortable?
Every morning I look at the newspapers online and then I wander over to your post and see what you have added. I of course look forward to reading about the new things you are getting into down there whether it be on a bike or off it.
Today was a special treat for me with your posting of the Kent State “never forget” story. So much so that I sent an email to someone with your link so they could see it as well. Here is the email that I sent…
Subject: And this is why I have been trying to be like my older brother all my life…
Growing up with a brother who is 9 years older certainly put some “knowledge” distance between us, but growing up I was fortunate enough to realize that he was the real deal.
Other kids had comic book figures or sports figures they idolized, I had him. He was the living encyclopedia that everyone else was out buying and thumbing through to try and catch up with the 60’s.
He didn’t have a regular job, he was a newspaper photographer and he had a police scanner in his car. He would come in and say something like, “car accident with injuries at the intersection of 75 and 25 want to go?”
Like kids who might have been asked if they wanted to take a ride in a rocket ship, we of course clambered into the 1959 red Buick Station wagon and raced to the scene of the accident.
We would sit in the car along the side of the road and listen to the scanner and try and get a look at the accident. The scanner wasn’t really a scanner at all. It was a police radio that you had to manually dial the frequencies for the fire, police and sheriff department. I can remember he had marked with a black magic marker the points on the dial where the different departments were and you still had to carefully tune in the frequency to listen.
He knew all the “10-codes” so he could narrate what we could not understand. “10-97” He would say, “they’re on the scene…” Knowing the “10-codes” was the same as understanding the Rosetta Stone as far as we were concerned.
He could interpret everything they said in code that we weren’t suppose know and tell us what was going on.
Sometimes we were lucky enough to find ourselves locked in the basement with him in the darkroom and we could watch the accident re-appear again before our eyes. It was magical and mystical and we had both front row seats and backstage passes.
The posting this morning is just a sample of what we would hear over the phone when he would call home while he was at Ohio University, or when we would go there over Thanksgiving break….
A Father’s Day post
When I wrote about Dad on Father’s Day, Mark filled in some memory blanks.
Ken, nice job of pulling out some family history that I was not aware of. A couple of those photos I have never seen, or remembered ever seeing so thanks for bringing them into the daylight.
Each time you show a construction photo I immediately smell the diesel fuel that most of the heavy equipment used, love that smell yet today.
Reminds me of sitting on bulldozer on job sites with Dad as he moved dirt around, good times…fresh dirt being turned over clouds of dark diesel fuel smoke and soggy sandwiches.
Dad and Jim Kirkwood were a perfect match for each other, friendly men who always seemed happy. I remember being at the Kingsway house and Dad was waiting on Jim to come by and pick him up. Dad said, “now watch, Kirkwood will be here exactly 5 minutes before he is supposed to pick me up, he’s never late and always early.”
Sure enough, Kirkwood pulled up early that morning, and we both smiled at each other on how prompt he was. Dad couldn’t have gone into business with a nicer man.
Dad had rules
It’s rather daunting how much a kid can pick up just by watching someone else. Like how to ‘set” a finishing nail properly, how to check the “gap’ on a spark plug and how to deal fairly with other people. Dad was good – if not smart – to always stand so I could get a front-row view of what he was doing and I learned a lot from just watching him fix, tinker and re-invent things.
But this story illustrates what I think I learned from him the most.
He had a large piece of construction equipment for sale and had found a buyer for it. They agreed on a price and it was x number of dollars. The day came for the prospective buyer to pay for the piece of equipment, the huge machine was already loaded on a 18-wheeler trailer to be delivered to the buyer.
Time came for the buyer to show up and he arrived on the Dutchtown property in his private helicopter. He got out, looked at the machinery on the trailer one more time and went inside to sign the check for it.
Once inside he said as filling out the check, “Now the amount is for $000,000. Right?” The amount he quoted was less than they had talked about. Dad said, “The price is $000,000 as we agreed on.”
The prospective buyer replied, “Yes, but I’m here now to write you a check for this amount and I see you have already loaded it up to be shipped to me, so I’m offering you this amount instead.”
Without blinking an eye, Dad reached for the intercom button and said, “Pee-Wee, unload the truck.”
The prospective buyer’s face went blank and he said, “What are you doing?” to which Dad replied, “The amount we agreed on was $000,000, no more no less. That was the deal.”
The prospective buyer apologized and offered to pay the full price they agreed on, but Dad refused his second full offer. The guy couldn’t understand what just happened. Dad broke it down for him, “We agreed on a price that both of us thought was fair. Then you came here and tried to buy it for less thinking that I would take your offer just because you were ready to write a check and because I had gone to the time to have it loaded up. We agreed on a price, I honored it, you didn’t.”
What did I learn from that? When Dad said something, you could bank on it. If he said he would go camping with us, he would go, rain or shine. At the point he said he would do something for you, you knew he would be there on time and ready to start. He honored his word.
We rarely talked about ‘personal’ things
We usually exchanged jibes, talked about crazy things at work, described neat gadgets we had run across, or figured out what our next project for Mother we’d do.
Here’s an example of one of his adventures:
When I worked for KFVS-TV I had the dubious honor of taking a ride up the elevator to the top on the antenna platform. The actual antenna was 150 feet above the tower platform. I took still photos of the antenna tower before and after it was painted and documenting lightning strikes on the tower.
You can imagine a structure that big being the largest lightening rod around would have some lightning “bites” on it.
There was an out of town tower crew there the day I went up and while I rode inside the elevator (nothing more than a cage that was open on all sides that ran up the triangle structure) and the guy who was working on the tower rode on the outside of the cage. I asked him why and he said, “if it fails, at least I will be outside of the cage and have a better chance of surviving the fall.”
The ride up took 30 minutes. It was estimated that an average man could climb the tower ladder but it would take 3 hours to reach the antenna platform. When I reached the top I was amazed at how much room there was. The platform was triangular in shape but was the size of a backyard deck and the view was everything of “2,000 feet above average terrain” that the sign-off announcement boasted each night.
While on top I asked the guy how long it would take to hit the bottom if let’s say a person did fall from the platform.
“Funny you should ask” he said “we are stringing new guy wire and we had an empty wooden spool up here and instead of lowering it down we decided to drop it off. The spool weighed 150 pounds, average weight of man. It took thirty seconds to hit the ground below.”
He then proceeded to tell me that it was not unusual for the tower to get hit by lightning on a clear day.
On the half hour ride down he said that the first trip up the tower they made they had to clear out a lot of large wasps nests before they could go on higher, and a couple of large bird nests as well. Needless to say, the experience was great. Originally when the tower was first built (and that is a story in itself) visitors could go to the tower and take a ride up to the top. Once they returned to the bottom, they were given a certificate that made them a member of the Tower Club.
How high’s the water, momma?
Our property in Dutchtown would start flood water when the Cape river gauge would get close to 39 feet. Dad’s construction company was still using the site at the time of the 1973 “100-year” flood. He donated manpower and heavy equipment to build a dike atop the highway to try to save Dutchtown, but Mother Nature is stronger than Caterpillars.
When the next 100-year flood came along in 1993, Mark and I rented a canoe to check out what the water was like in the main mechanic’s shed. We could barely make it under the door. I went in first, then Mark slid the canoe in. I was perched atop some storage cabinets while he was looking none too comfortable, particularly after I pointed out that he might represent high ground to any snakes around.
You read my face correctly. I was thinking at the time the bad thing about being in a canoe is there is a limited amount of space to begin with, add the unstable part of a canoe rocking in the water with one agitated snake trying to climb up the sides inside of a canoe and you are suddenly in a rodeo.
Plus, which, one of us would end up hitting the snake with our paddle putting a hole in the bottom of the canoe in the feverish attempt to liberate the snake with the result of ALL THREE of us in the deep oily water from which the snake had come out of…
We remembered things differently
Mark: By the way. The last time we were involved with anything to do with electricity it didn’t end well. We were installing a CB radio in the yellow truck at home. You were looking for power for it by using a circuit tester. The kind that looks like an icepick with a wire coming out of it. You found the wire that would provide us with the power the CB needed and then you thought you were sticking the icepick end into the seat cushion next to me, when actually you stuck it into my thigh. So finding something that involves batteries for power is always first on my list.
My (correct) version:
Let’s set the record straight about your electrical owie.
- It WAS the yellow truck, but it was at Kentucky Lake, not Cape.
- It wasn’t the CB radio, it was the trailer lights.
- I didn’t stick you. You asked for the circuit tester (which you DID describe accurately), and I tossed it to you.
- You were a klutz and missed it with your hand, so you thought you’d catch it by clamping your legs together, a big mistake.
So, my delivery method was not flawed. The receiver was at fault.
You should follow this link to get the full impact of one of Mark’s most masterful tales. He would tell his friends “Don’t stare at my mother’s arm. She’s self-conscious about it.”
When he was queried about that, he’d launch into a long, detailed account of how she had gone to work as a cook on a towboat, The Robert Kirkpatrick, working 20 days on and 20 off. The crew loved her, and she enjoyed her trips up and down the river.
All went well, until the day she had her arm pinched off clean below the elbow when the boat shifted going through a lock. The crew didn’t want to lose her, so the machinists crafted a couple of “snap-on” tools that were more functional than the basic hook that was all insurance would cover.
He would keep piling on details until his audience was SURE that she could switch from a spatula that could easily turn large omelets, to one with a meat fork that had two times so she could pick up meat from the grill, and one that was bent 90 degrees in the other direction so she could open and close the oven door with it.
When OSHA said she had to give up her river job because someone could get stabbed by her special appendages, she became a “Happy Hooker,” a repo wrecker driver.
The world was yours
As a kid, going to the fireworks stand and seeing all the fireworks was a cultural experience in itself. Chinese fireworks with their colorful packaging, exotic graphics and promises of “fantastic light show” was better than any candy display.
The plywood tables under a “circus” tent with all those fireworks from edge to edge was overwhelming to look at, and gazing at them while thinking of the possibilities of what they could do once you put the tip of a smoking punk to them was wonderful.
Black Cat firecrackers were the ones of choice and you hoped there was a buy-one-get-one-free offer when you went to purchase your paper bag of fireworks.
When you were old enough to be handed a lighted punk and told the simple rules of lighting things full of gunpowder and tightly rolled paper you had arrived and the world was yours…to blow up.
Mark opts out of Advance burial plot
Here’s another post with some irony. We decided to cruise on down to Advance, Mother’s home town. While we were there, we stopped at the cemetery, where Mother’s brother Kenneth Welch (for whom I was named) is buried. I didn’t know it, but Mother owned two empty plots next to my grandparents’ graves.
She told Mark that she was going to offer them to him if he didn’t have other plans. Mark decided to try them out for size, but immediately jumped up because of all the stickers in the grass. Mark decided that since he didn’t get a warm feeling from the offered plot, that he may make other long-term arrangements.
Mark’s love affair with a Spyder
We exchanged many calls and emails about his old Spyder bicycle that I rescued, mud-encrusted from many floods at Dutchtown. I hauled it all the way to Florida with the intention of having it restored. When I got the estimate, I came to the conclusion that there is a dollar limit to how much you can love your brother.
I dragged it up to St. Louis. Somewhere along the way, we discovered a guy in Kentucky or someplace along my route who had a Spyder for sale. I hauled it to Brother Land, too.
Here’s one of his Spyder stories:
I hope you find some photos worthy posting of your bike. One of the staples of growing up was seeing you leave off from the house with all the newspapers on the way to delivering them. I don’t think I ever saw you leave the house from a sitting position on the bike, you were carrying so much stuff you always had to start out from a standing position.
As a kid, the bike was my rocket ship, my race car and the thing that would let me go faster and farther each time I crossed over our gravel driveway and headed either East or West. When Dad took me to Sears to get a new bike I had the choice of getting a three-speed bike or the Spyder. I looked hard and long at the three-speed and marveled at the having three speeds to choose from, but the styling of the Spyder won out. The cost for the two bikes was identical, around $33 dollars.
“A bicycle does get you there and more…. And there is always the thin edge of danger to keep you alert and comfortably apprehensive. Dogs become dogs again and snap at your raincoat; potholes become personal. And getting there is all the fun.” ~Bill Emerson, “On Bicycling,” Saturday Evening Post, 29 July 1967
Mark on two grown-up wheels
In later years, we spent a lot of time together riding bikes in and around Cape, a 100-mile ride in the Florida Keys, a couple of MS-150s in MO, and the Tour of Southern Rural Vistas in Florida’s Panhandle and Georgia. Oh, yeah, and then there was the day when we capped off a ride to Altenburg by climbing Tower Rock, where he insisted on raising his bike above his head at the top, as was his custom.
I hated hills, since most of my adult riding was done in flat Florida. We started out on an ambitious ride from Cape to St. Louis on a route that was going to take us across the Missouri Ozarks on a day with 98-degree temps and 98% humidity.
Mark was literally riding circles around me on the hills. Finally, he took off and waited at the crest of one of them while I struggled to keep my bike upright. I looked down at my feet, and saw a turtle passing me. If that wasn’t bad enough, I heard, “On your left!” and a snail passed both of us.
Just before I blacked out, my phone rang. It was Mother. “You guys need to come home. The septic tank is backing up, and it has to be dug up so it can be pumped out.
I never thought I’d see a day when I WELCOMED a chance to dig up a septic tank.
Here’s a selection of Bike Mark photos. Click on any image to make it larger, then stroll around with the arrow keys.
We had grown-up Tonka toys
After the side yard property was bought from D. Scivally, Dad brought home a small Caterpillar bulldozer (probably a D2) to level out the wooded area. Dee Voss came over and we were playing on the dozer when Dee said, “Ah, we’d better get off this before the owner comes by and sees us.” I said, “Too late, the owner is setting on the porch watching us right now.”
Toys, we had the best toys a kid could ever wish for.
Wanting a sand pile to play in, David and I were smiles ear-to-ear when we came home from school one day and there in the side yard was the biggest sand pile we had ever seen. Dad had someone from the construction company drop off an entire dump truck load of sand.
One last one. Construction jobs that were based around the building of a bridge were the best ones to go visit because that meant there would be a dragline and water.
It was great fun to stand on the end of a hook attached to a cable from a dragline and then be hoisted up just above the water level and swung across the water laughing all the time. Dad always had that great smile on his face as he would reach for the levers and lower us closer and closer. He TOO enjoyed playing with his big toys as much as we did.
When he turned 60
I noted the occasion of his 60th birthday with a collection of photos.
He acknowledged the gesture with this comment:
I have never been this old before and I will never be this young again.
Mark and his owies
Sometimes a windstorm would roll by, peeling strips of the tin roof off the Dutchtown buildings. Mark and I would head down to nail them back on. Actually, to be honest, HE’D be the one elected to climb up on the roof. I’d wave my Medicare card like it was my 4F draft card, and claim that I was ineligible to serve.
Here’s how he outlined a number of painful mishaps on this visit:
Okay, I’ll admit that I hit my thumb four times.
The first time the hammer wanted to know if I was paying attention.
The second time I wanted to see if the hammer was paying attention.
The third time the hammer let me know who was really in charge.
The fourth and final time I let the hammer know that I was actually in control of it.
I can only hope when I put the hammer back in my tool bag it didn’t talk to the pipe wrench…
Memories sneak out of my eyes
I got a letter from Brother Mark. It was a rambling thing, all full of non sequiturs and whimsy. On the last page, in the last paragraph before reaching a photo of Mother in one of her signature red coats, he wrote, “As I find myself at the bottom of the page, I couldn’t decide which to end with, so you get both. Put it in context, if you will.
“My memory loves you; it asks about you all the time.”
“Sometimes memories sneak out of my eyes and roll down my cheeks.”
My favorite family portrait
Circumstances brought us all together in the living room. You can even see me taking the picture reflected in the mirror.
Mark noted: Dang we were certainly lucky in getting them as parents! Wonderful storybook memories thanks to them.
He could draw pictures with words
Mother lead a full and active life up until her last six months. David, Mark and I spent hours with her at home, and, later, when she went to the Lutheran Home. Mark wrote this and left it for family members the day of her funeral. I had been up all night pulling together a slide show of her life, so I didn’t see this until I got home. I was – and am still – moved by those memories that sneak out of my eyes.
I wish I could write from the heart as well as Mark could.
“I wrote the thoughts on my phone while sitting on the couch with her one night at home before she went to Lutheran Home.”
“Playing like we are happy?”
Weak as a kitten, boney as an old cat… I rub the back of my 93-year-old mother as she drifts off to sleep on her couch at home.
Her pajama top is brushed combed cotton so rubbing her feels just like kitten fur. She wakes herself up and says to me “What are we doing?” And I say “Sitting on the couch together” and then she says , “Playing like we are happy?”….”Yes, like we are happy.”
Outside the window
The sun has sunk down behind the trees and so has she, sunk, bent forward sleeping in her own lap. How is this possible? Her skin is like onion paper and tears so easily yet she is flexible enough to sleep in her own lap. Cars drive by the house outside the window on their way to someplace. While she sleeps going no place yet somewhere in her mind she is far away.
We are both sitting side by side here on the couch and neither one of us not wanting to be here at this place at all.
Damn you, time
Damn you memories. Damn you time.
Damn you Vulcan Spock for not having emotions.
Why only you?
This time is different
In the past, had the top scoop fallen off my ice cream cone, I could have gone in and gotten another one. This time, this time I can only look at the scoop on the ground and watch it melt away.
Seems like a lifetime ago when I was in the basement of this house stringing tinsel on a Christmas tree. Only slightly worrying about what I would get as presents. Who is that kid and how many trees have come and gone since then? Seems odd that I have all the original tree ornaments and they look the very same as back then and everything else has gotten older and somewhat tarnished.
Did I sleep too much?
Did I sleep too much, did I waste the days, the moments and the minutes? I want to roll some of them, actually a lot of them back, please. I want to savor them now more than I did when it was a fleeting moment.
So what happens? Like at the moment you turn off an old tube TV set and the picture suddenly disappears and shrinks to a white dot before the screen goes completely dark, is that what happens?
It’s going to be hard to “play like we are happy” very hard indeed.
I feel cheated
I think I want my money back. I want to review the warranty closer and really read the fine print. ‘Cause I think I missed something, feeling cheated is how I can best explain it. I guess I should have gotten the extended warranty.
I’m not so noble that I want to trade places. I just want to beat, if not cheat, the system a tiny bit. Not stepping on the, “…And on the third day he rose…” story, more of a “Lazarus take up your bed and walk” turnabout fair play thingy. Can you blame a guy?
Mark was the funny uncle
When I was going though the Mark photos, I started to break them up into categories: Early Mark; School Photos; Kentucky Lake; Mark & Robin; Mark & Family; Mark Portraits.
I called Robin and said, I have a category that feels wrong every time I slot a photo into it. It’s called “Mature Mark,” and I’m not sure I’ve ever applied that label to him.
Click on any photo in the gallery, then use the arrow keys to move around.
The Spitfire goes to Matt
Mark’s Spitfire was his pride and joy, even though the most recent tag on it was dated 1995. Uncle Mark had always said he’d pass the car on to Nephew Matt when the time was right.
That is an undated photo of Matt, Adam and Mark with the car in Dutchtown.
There is an unsubstantiated rumor floating around that Matt called Wife Sarah and said, “Something followed me home. Can I keep it, huh, can I keep it, please, please, please?”
Son Malcolm, thankful that his dad has scratched his midlife crisis itch, refuses to confirm or deny the rumor. The photo was taken at an undisclosed Cape Girardeau location before it disappeared southbound toward Florida.
Family at the Celebration of Life
The last thing we did before hitting the road for Florida, Texas, South Carolina and Missouri was to take a Steinhoff group photo. Mark’s neighbors and next-to-family Wally and Deeds snuck in on the right.
It’s not a bad photo for handing a camera to a random person and saying, “Please push this button.”
We were missing some key players – Dad, Mother and Mark – but I’m pretty sure they were there looking over our shoulders.
Gallery of Mercurial Mark
Here’s a selection of a few of the hundreds of images I have of my brother. There’s no rhyme or reason to the selections. I hope you find some amusing, some surprising, and maybe a few will cause a memory to sneak out of your eyes. Like the earlier gallery, click on any image, then use the arrow keys to move around.
Mark Lynn Steinhoff – 03/10/1956 – 12-31-2021
Mark’s official obituary.
Mark Lynn Steinhoff passed away suddenly on New Year’s Eve 2021, having suffered a fatal heart attack during an unseasonably warm afternoon walk with his wife, Robin.
Mark was a friend to everyone he met, sincerely interested in each person’s story and what made them tick. He counted his closest friends as family. Always curious, he was a lifelong learner, always striving to make each day interesting. Most recently, he was studying for a commercial drone pilot license.
Although he had a successful and fulfilling career, his jobs did not define Doc—his personality and interests are what made him who he was— a truly unique, fun and loving man. Thoughtful and generous, he was a do-er, always taking care of the people he loved. A devoted husband and best friend to his wife Robin, they were a perfect partnership and she is lost without him.
Born in 1956 in Cape Girardeau, MO, Mark was the beloved youngest son of Mary Lee and Louis Vera Steinhoff (both deceased), brother of Kenneth (Lila) and David (Diane), son-in-law to Maurice and Marian Hirsch, brother-in-law of Jeff Hirsch (Donna Parroné) and Tracy (Andy) Speller, uncle of Matthew (Sarah) Steinhoff and Adam (Carly) Steinhoff, Kim (Casey) Tisdale, Amy (Ian) Hawkins, Jake Speller, Anna Speller, and Caroline Parroné (Ben Maddocks), and great uncle to Malcolm, Brynn, Taylor, Emery, Cole, Graham, Elliot, Finn, Hudson, Harper, and Charlie. Mark loved his family deeply and always said that he had the most perfect childhood.
There aren’t enough words in the dictionary to succinctly sum up all that/who Mark was. He was loved like nobody’s business and he is truly missed.
Longest post ever
This has to be the longest post I’ve ever done. Maybe I just didn’t want to acknowledge that it was -30-
That’s newspaper speak for “The End.”