Steve Hopkins of Mount Horeb died last week, and in case you missed his obituary in Sunday’s Wisconsin State Journal, I am including great swathes of it here. Written by his children, it was one of the loveliest eulogies I have ever read.
“Our dad, Steven Eugene Hopkins, passed away on Friday, July 26, in his opinion a little past his expiration date and probably not in the way he envisioned his exit would be.
“In his mind it probably went something like this ... walking the Wisconsin hills with a diamond willow stick or a flyrod in his hand, his wife Frances by his side and perhaps a dog running ahead, and of course humming an old tune while walking into the reddish orange sunset of the heavens.
“He was born on Feb. 17, 1929, in a red brick hospital on Main Street in Mount Horeb. He had many jobs that shaped his character. We heard the most interesting stories about his days as a Cave of the Mounds tour guide, soda jerk at the drug store, cab driver in Madison, working the railroad, and painting houses and barns.
“He was an airplane mechanic for the U.S. Air Force, stationed in Alaska during the Korean War. He loved music and was in a group called the Trumpet Trio that played around town in his youth …
“He graduated from the UW-Madison School of Journalism. He worked for the Wisconsin State Journal for more than 35 years. He was a copy boy, a reporter, a feature writer, the state editor, a columnist and wrote a weekly outdoor column.
“He would like to be remembered as a newspaperman. We asked him one time what was the difference between a journalist and a newspaperman and he said, ‘If nobody showed up for work, newspapermen could get the paper out.’
“His life in his words was pretty great. His work allowed him to travel, fish, hike and ‘bum’ around with some of the best Wisconsin had to offer.
“He had a loving family, great adventures, stories, appreciation for the outdoors and travel. He always saw the beauty, wonder and humor in his surroundings. He often was crafting a story in his head. At 90, he was still editing the newspaper from his recliner. He’d be editing this if he could …
“So, Dad, as we carry on – taking the road less traveled – ‘We’ll just see where it goes ... then we’ll have lunch.”
Steve was my first boss at the Journal when I went to work there in 1978. “State” meant everything outside of Dane County, including Milwaukee, but Steve had no use for Milwaukee. To him, the “State” was the small towns, the dairy farms, the rolling fields and forested hills of rural Wisconsin.
He valued lyrical writing and humor more than facts and figures, charts and graphs. But I remember one story he broke:
In 1984, Chuck Martin and I started dating. We deliberately kept our office romance on the down-low for some months. I’m not sure why – we were both single 30-somethings – but it was kind of fun to sneak around and act like nothing was going on.
Anyway, one day when Chuck was staying over at my place, the phone rang at 3 a.m. It was Steve Hopkins.
“Shoobie,” he said, “a tornado hit Barneveld in the middle of the night. I need you to go to the hospital in Dodgeville and see if you can talk to any survivors.”
“OK,” I said.
I hung up and started getting dressed.
Chuck was beside himself. “I want to go to work, too!” he said.
“Well, Steve probably tried to call you at home. But you’re not there,” I pointed out unhelpfully.
Then the phone rang again. It was Steve.
“Shoobie, do you know where Chuck Martin is?”
“I could probably put my hands on him,” I said.
“Well, tell him to call the office.”
So, I hung up, looked at Chuck and said, “Call the office.”
Chuck went into work that morning wearing the same company softball team uniform he’d been wearing the night before, which pretty much blew our cover.
One last Steve story: One of my Facebook friends, who had also worked for Steve, commented that Steve had no enemies.
Not true, I said. He had one: Wausau Dave.
Wausau Dave was a nutcase who called the newspaper every day with conspiratorial tips and lunatic theories. Most of us would just hang up on him, but Steve was too kind for that.
But eventually even Steve’s legendary patience wore out.
“Dave,” he said, “I’m done.”
“Don’t ever call me again – because if you do, I’m gonna send two guys from Circulation, Guido and Max, over to your house and they’re gonna deviate your septum with a pair of pliers!”
He was a newspaperman to the end.
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