Don Steider remembered for sense of humor, willingness to help others

Don Steider died Friday in an accident at his home, but his one-time colleagues at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary had many positive memories to draw from.

Posted on July 1, 2014 at 6:54 p.m.

GOSHEN — The memory of Don Steider’s big personality and knack for getting laughs is bigger than the tragic accident that cut his life short.

Steider, 69, died Friday, June 27, after he was run over by a forklift in the driveway of a home on the 60000 block of C.R. 27. 

He was remembered Tuesday, July 1, as a skilled woodworker and beloved father, grandfather and husband. He was married to Dorcas Steider and had five children and eight grandchildren. 

Steider worked for 20 years at the Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, where he was the director of maintenance. He retired in 2010 and worked part-time at Goshen College.

“Sometimes the maintenance men are the guys in the background who go about their business,” said his stepdaughter, Deidre Bias. “He made an impression on everyone around him.”

Many who remember Steider looked back fondly on his pranks, laughter and a ready-to-serve heart.

Nelson Kraybill, the former president of AMBS, worked with Steider for 13 years. Kraybill was often the target and instigator of a lighthearted prank war that went on for years between the two men. Kraybill said that they were “merrily rude to each other.” It all started when Kraybill first asked to sit next to Steider, who wore a sly smile and replied “I guess you are the 500-pound gorilla, you can sit wherever you want.” 

Kraybill would pull pranks on Steider, such as leaving fake dead flies around the seminary, making him think that there was a pest issue. Steider would likewise pull pranks on Kraybill, such as setting up a swimming pool to dunk the president. (Afterward Steider showed up at Kraybill’s house with a truck full of cherry wood as a peace offering).

Kraybill eventually passed on the “prank of the year” award to Steider for a feat pulled off during Kraybill’s retirement party. Steider had wired a tube to the podium where Kraybill would be speaking. The tube was connected to a pressurized air canister that he could control from his seat. Halfway through Kraybill’s speech to AMBS faculty he looked down to see the front of his pants were being sprayed to make it look like he had wet himself.

Kraybill felt that this prank deserved a good laugh and recognition.

Kraybill spoke with Steider over the phone a few days before he passed. “I have such good memories of our time together as employees,” he recalls telling Steider.

Among the happy stories, Kraybill was struck with the loss, saying he was “sad (Steider) doesn’t have another two decades to do more woodworking and the community service he loved to do. I miss him terribly.”

Steider was well known for hand-building his log cabin. He went out to his family farm in Pennsylvania and cut down about 40 trees to build it. He then brought the wood back to his sawmill in Indiana and carried the project through from start to finish, even going to blacksmith school to learn how to build his own hardware.

His sawmill was used to build furniture or cut wood for anyone that needed it. More than one person described Steider as “willing to give you the shirt off of his back.” 

As a matter of fact, his stepdaughter said that he literally did that at one time.

Steider even took his woodworking skills to Mongolia where he helped a remote community set up and use a mill similar to his own.

Janeen Bertsche Johnson, a campus pastor at AMBS who worked with Steider for 15 years, remembers how far above the call of duty he would go. Today visitors at the seminary can see Steider’s handiwork in the library’s crown moulding, which he carved from cherry wood.

“The woodwork is a tangible reminder for me,” said Kraybill.

Matt Thomas considered Steider to be a woodworking mentor. Steider had allowed for Thomas to set up the sawmill that he purchased after college in his barn. The two worked side by side for years.

“Don was always very ingenious about things and found creative approaches,” said Thomas. “If you visit his shop you would see all kinds of examples.”

“He could take on any project, help anyone in need and was the epitome of putting others first,” said Bias. “He had such a joy for life. He made such an impression on all of his family and friends with his joy for life.”

Above all, many remember Steider as someone who was always singing, laughing and ready to lend a hand. His personable demeanor gave him an infectious draw.

“I remember him as a storyteller, he loved to spin out a yarn,” said Kraybill. “He would put an unexpected twist on it and everyone would be laughing.”

Visitation will be for one hour prior to the 4 p.m. Wednesday, July 2, memorial service at College Mennonite Church. Pastor Pamela Yoder will officiate.

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