Memoir to Stephanie
Every once in a while around JSU, the leaves pile up and
blow around in the cool, autumn breeze. Occasionally, you will notice the summer
grasses on the curbs attempting to reach high towards the
Alabama sun. Neither the
leaves, nor the grass stand much of a chance around this campus. The faithful
yard crew is always around to blow and mulch the leaves, and chop the grass down
to its rightful size. If you have spent a little bit of time on campus, you’ve
likely seen these people hard at work. Having spent more than a little time on
this campus, you probably once noticed the hardest working one of them all,
known to her coworkers as Stephanie or Steph.
Stephanie was a petite, yet strong woman. The 2004
employee of the year was always going a mile a minute, blowing leaves, planting,
trees, and weed-eating curbs and ditches. Her work ethic was truly incomparable.
The changing seasons were no match for Steph. From cold, damp, winter winds to
the August sun, she was always working hard with a strong determination to do
any task laid before her, and to do it well.
Stephanie’s personality was as strong as everything else
about her. She wasn’t just a hard worker; she was a wonderful and completely
selfless person. Steph would do anything for anybody. There was never a time she
didn’t go out of her way for family, friends, and co-workers (who were like her
family). She would help fellow employees with work if they were behind. She
would buy you lunch. She was always there to listen, and to tell you what you
needed (but didn’t always want) to hear.
In addition to her employment at JSU, Stephanie also
proudly served in operation Iraqi freedom from 2003 to 2004. Her motto as a
soldier was the same as that of any other task she came across. She was there to
do her job and to do it well. Regardless of any controversy circulating about
whether or not our country should be at war, Steph rightfully believed that she
had a job to do and duties to fulfill. She did that and more.
Anyone who knew Stephanie will say the same thing about
her. One of the strongest people they’ve ever met. Her work ethic could drop
jaws and put anyone to shame. She was tough as nails
So, in 2005, when Steph was diagnosed with ovarian
cancer, it came as quite a shock to everyone. Stephanie was so strong. She
almost seemed exempt to life’s perils. For her to be diagnosed with cancer
seemed cruel and ironic.
Steph kept right on rolling, working for a year after
the initial diagnosis. Between long hospital stays in Birmingham, she was still
zipping around campus, and making it to her National Guard drills. Her long,
thick, dark hair had been replaced by hats, but you still knew who it was out
there. No one else worked like that.
When friends and family came to visit Steph in the
hospital, she would always ask how they had been doing. “How is the family?”
“How are the kids?” Inquiring into her well-being would result in a brisk, “Oh
I’m fine.” If you brought her flowers, she always insisted that you should be
spending that money on something instead of her. Selfless.
On February 9 of this year, family and friends met at
JSU’s Patterson Hall for a memorial service to bid farewell to Stephanie. It was
no easy task. How can anyone say goodbye to someone like Steph? I think the
answer to that question is that you never really completely say
Stephanie is reminiscent of Leslie in “Bridge to
Terabithia,” in that she inadvertently showed others how to live. In the end,
Leslie’s death is what gives the story meaning. This story is about how a person
becomes larger than life.
Life is about more than just making it through.
Terabithia is a metaphorical place. Anyone can take another person into his/her
own Terabithia. If we show just one person how to think, feel, laugh, live, or
love, we are changing the world. If we can show one person our strength and how
we obtain and keep that strength, we have made an impact. That person will share
with someone else, who then shares with someone else. The chain can continue for
generations, so that even in death, certain aspects of one human being can live
JSU has lost one its finest workers, so I thought this
memoir would end by declaring that Stephanie’s strong spirit would be missed by
many. Of course it will, but it does not end quite that simply. We will see her
legacy for years and years to come.
Her strength and selfless attitude can be seen in her
sister, Suiko Roper, who was always there for Steph. Stephanie’s admirable
traits can also be seen in her daughter, Kou Higgins, who left a high-paying job
out of state, and moved here to be with her mother. We’ll see her in the work
ethic that rubbed off on the JSU yard crew, in cancer survivors, and in soldiers
fighting for our country. The list of people that this woman has touched with
her incredible strength and selflessness is endless.
So if you happen to notice some of our JSU landscapers
hard at work beautifying our campus, just give a little thought to the wonderful
job they do. Remember that one person can show numerous people how to be “tough
as nails,” how to smile through the hard times, and how to be selfless. One
person can become larger than life. Stephanie is proof of that.