Scouting for ways to serve: 'Hometown Hero' Tom Steuber of
By Lou Fancher
By the time Tom Steuber first went camping, he was an adult. He was put on "suspension" for bad behavior by his family and warned he wouldn't be included in future trips if he couldn't be a good sport.
That's not exactly the launching pad you would expect for a man who's been the Scoutmaster for Lafayette Troop 204 for 10 years, tied for longest duration in the troop's 82-year history.
Nor is impudence characteristic of Steuber, 50, a father of four children ages 13 to 24, married to his high school sweetheart Virginia and president of Associated Services, the family-owned office coffee delivery company started in 1972 by his parents, Hal and Diane Steuber.
Private to the point of being enigmatic, Steuber says he's simply been lucky, both in and outside of Scouting.
"We have 30 dads who volunteer for the 50-miler (hike), we have active, supportive parents," he insists, trying to deflect attention.
But what he doesn't mention, others do. Christian Mirner, an Assistant Scoutmaster with Steuber for six years, said Steuber's gracious modesty and reverence for service "make everyday appearances."
Steuber has taken the Boy Scouts of America motto, "Do a good turn daily," and put it into play in the greater community, personally and through his business, helping with everything from material donations to charities to cash donations to school programs.
Steuber says he was active in sports growing up, but wasn't particularly Scout-like, rarely exploring the outdoors as a boy.
"I first went camping when we had children, and Virginia decided it was important that we spend time outdoors," Steuber said. "She has a high tolerance for chaos, but with two kids under age 4, a new puppy and a big group of her family's friends who I didn't know, I took off for three hours and sat in a cafe because I couldn't take it."
That's what earned Steuber his "suspension."
Some may call such an escape "compartmentalizing," separating one's physical self from an emotional situation that can't be controlled. Whatever the term, it's a quality Geoffrey Saunders. Associate Services' general sales manager, has appreciated for the 30 years he's worked with Steuber.
"He's not reactive," Saunders says. "If he gets upset, he keeps it confined. He has the ability to get to know a person's strengths and find the right spot for them, so he's a great strategic planner."
Leading Boy Scouts ages 11 to 17 on outdoor excursions -- and on the more precarious and profound journey from boyhood to young manhood -- requires hours of planning. Claiming he was "roped into leadership" when other leaders realized his sons' ages meant he had potential to be involved for 16 years, he admits the bi-weekly meetings, communicating with parents, once-a-month weekend outings and eight-day, 50-mile summer trek add up to a big-time commitment.
"I expected that, but I didn't expect how much I enjoy working with boys this age," he says. "I like the way the organization is structured: the boys work together and I'm like the ringmaster."
Ironically, his favorite part -- the part that cracks his staid demeanor and reveals an underlying exuberantly boyish spirit -- happens indoors, standing next to an Eagle Scout during a two-minute presentation in front of hundreds of people. As the boys describe what they gained from Scouts, he says he's proudest of the Scouts who aren't known to be star achievers: "This might be the biggest moment in their lives," he said.
Chris O'Keefe, a Troop 204 Eagle Scout now attending UC Davis, didn't immediately like Scouting.
"I dreaded each event, but then I'd go and have a great time," he said. "Tom isn't Superman; he just inspires people to do something for other people."
Unrelenting devotion to the boys doesn't mean Steuber never allows them enough rope to make mistakes. "But he always, always jumps in to help before they hang themselves," former Assistant Scoutmaster Mirner said.
Barb Pelletreau has a son she said was among a group of boys who, on a required 20-mile hike prepping for a 50-miler, took a short cut to shave off a few miles.
"Tom's higher calling is doing things right and helping," she said. "Sure, he was furious, but he just sat those boys down and told them it wasn't setting a good example for the younger boys. Then he made them go out and do (the full 20 miles), this time without cheating."
A program Steuber initiated at Associated Services is similarly under the radar. Asked by Saunders if an unused apartment-sized refrigerator could be donated to a friend's Allendale Elementary School classroom in Oakland, Steuber agreed. Today, the one-time gift to teacher Janet Jackson's classroom has turned into an all-the-time program for employees. Any employee or their children can apply, on behalf of a school or teacher they know, for funding for school supplies and field trips.
Jackson says Steuber has paid for school supplies and field trips for her students and has come to the classroom to talk about being a businessman.
"He sees the connection between hard work and our responsibility to be generous to those less fortunate or different than ourselves," Jackson says. "(That's) important for fourth-graders to learn, and I am exceedingly grateful for all he has done for all my students, year after year."