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The Steve Athan Story, continued

13 Jul

TO ANY AND ALL OF MY READERS:

I would please like anyone reading this to go back to my January 6, 2016 blog entitled “Some Possibly Interesting Stories” and read (or re-read) the first story called The Engineer who went to Yellowstone.  Go to the archived list and click on January 6, 2016 and you’ll find the story, first on the list…..

You’ll see that the story is about a man I worked with 50 years ago.  He went camping to Yellowstone NP in July of 1966 and was killed by a falling tree on a windy day.  Although it’s an astonishing and tragic story by itself, the event had a powerful impact on me at the time, over the years and then just a couple of days ago.

Regarding my story of Steve Athan, something truly incredible and emotional for me just happened…….  I write my blog mostly for myself because I love to tell interesting stories.  I never thought one of my stories would someday have such a personal impact on me and another family.

Arlyne and I were visiting our son and his wife last weekend and I casually looked at my gmail.  I saw a message from a Felice Hunter, whom I didn’t know.  As I read her message and began to comprehend what she was saying, I was stunned.  The only proper way to relate what she said to me is to put her entire message here.  (Thank you so much for your permission, Felice) As I read her message, I was incredulous and started to cry.  I couldn’t actually read her words aloud.  My son did that for me.  Here is what she wrote, an unexpected tilt of the earth:

Thank you, Bob, for Steve’s story. I was the wife who went to Yellowstone with Steve and our daughter Stacey. Yes, he was so excited for this trip to happen. We had planned the trip in January, but his father got sick; we said that if his father recovered, then come July, we would be Yellowstone bound. Well, his father’s health improved, and off we went. I thank you for your kind sentiments; he was a special person, a loving and caring man.

I remarried sometime after, and fortunately Stacey’s life turned out well. Yesterday I saw Stacey and her special husband Mike; Steve would have been proud of what Stacey has achieved, both academically and professionally and if only he had lived to see her beautiful and talented daughters.

After lawyers and botanists’ fees, I did not receive all the money you mentioned in your blog, but if the trees in the campgrounds at Yellowstone have been removed and fewer people are injured, then I’m pleased that something positive occurred on July 2, 1966, in this precedent case.

Thanks again.
Felice Hunter

I almost couldn’t speak.  I never imagined how my story could cause such a contact after 50 years.  Just days ago, Steve Athan’s daughter, Stacey, found my blog by chance on the 50th anniversary of her father’s death.  She commented on my blog and was so kind to me about my story of her dad.  Fifty years!!  I read Stacey’s comment after reading her mother’s message.  Here is her comment to me about searching for her father’s name after 50 years and finding it:

I am the daughter of Steve Athan.  He died 50 years ago today, so I googled him on a lark and found your blog.  Your writing touched me, and I will share it with my mother.  Thanks so much for taking the time to remember my father in such a lovely way.  You brought him to life.

Stacey Hunter Schwartz

I’ll never get over this.  I’ve met memorable people over my life and I remember Steve just perfectly after 50 years because he was a memorable person.  I’m nearly overwhelmed by this lightning bolt out of the distant past.  I commented back to Stacey:

I’m so glad you tried your father’s name.  I actually did the same thing a number of years ago and learned more about him.  I answered your mother’s message yesterday.  You guys brought tears to my eyes………50 years, imagine.  I am hoping to put this update of your story on my blog because of the incredible nature of our communication.  I didn’t ask your mother’s permission yet.  What a wonderful thing you both have done.

Best Regards, Bob Draper and Arlyne

This is what I wrote back to Felice:

Ms Hunter, I received your kind message yesterday and it was an incredible experience for me.  My wife and I were visiting with our son in Upland.   They had heard Steve’s story before over the years but haven’t carried it around with them for years as you and your family have.  I still clearly recall Steve and his joyous outlook on life.  I loved his colleague Nick (the Greek)as well.  (Hope I got that right)

As you know, I am 75 years old now, but I have always felt compelled to tell the story of Steve Athan to a wider audience.  My blog, which you found, is mostly about birds, but as I began contemplating posting personal stories, the story of your husband did rise to the top quickly.  The tragic nature of his death and the suddenness of it stays with me.  I don’t always get responses to my posts but I have to say that several of my really “steady” readers told me they especially liked the story of the engineer who went to Yellowstone. 

I regret having never met you and your daughter and I recall a feeling of helplessness at not knowing anything about Steve’s family, where you were from or anything.

I was only at NAA for a year and a half before moving to the SF bay area.  I met the woman I am married to in Los Angeles and we are anticipating our 50th anniversary later this year.  Both you and Steve were cheated out of a life together……a life I am careful not to take for granted.

Arlyne says we should have a cup of coffee with you one day, as we come to San Diego and LA often.  We will be in San Diego for the next three months.

I thank you so much for having the courage to contact me without knowing very much about us.

Our best wishes to you and your family,

The Drapers, Bob and Arlyne.

I suppose I’ve become an emotional man in my later years but sometimes I think it’s warranted and needed.  I asked Felice if I could relate this latest chapter of my Steve Athan story because I wasn’t going to write about it unless she agreed.  She kindly gave me permission and I wanted all of you to understand what just happened.  I never met Steve’s wife Felice and his young daughter.  I know if Steve had lived and I had stayed at NAA for just a bit longer, I would have met them.  He and I connected so well at that time so long ago.

I remember he gave me a little “test” just a few days after I began working with the Apollo Test Group there in Downey.  He showed me a diagram of a transistor circuit and asked me if the transistor was turned “on” or “off.  I looked at the circuit and told Steve of course the transistor was turned on.  He liked that the college boy was right and this was the start of a short but memorable relationship between us.  I liked him right away.  He told me about researching and buying stocks for the long term and said that his other buddy (Nick, I think it was) bought and sold stocks so often that his broker sometimes made more money than Nick did.  I laughed at that.

I am still astonished that, after 50 years, such a wonderful thing happened, so unexpectedly.  Steve, it looks like you have a great family and I know this now.

My thanks to Felice and Stacey and their families.  You’ve made this guy very happy.  I intend to look you guys up in the next few months, you can be sure of that.

Our best regards,

Bob Draper and Arlyne

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