Portage County obituaries for Sept. 28-29

Dr. Steven W. Hook

The passion, curiosity, intelligence and joie de vivre that was Steven Wallace Hook, left this Earth way too early when he passed away, peacefully, on September 24, at the age of 63.

Steve was born at Blodgett Memorial Hospital, East Grand Rapids Michigan, June 27, 1959, the youngest of a brood of four. He was the son of James Colby Hook and Eleanor Harkness Hook.

Growing up, Steve was an avid Leave it to Beaver aficionado, an integral part of a sandlot group from the Cambridge Boulevard neighborhood that played an untold number of spring and summer baseball, football in autumn and, when it rained, marathon Monopoly games, aka loud arguments. He considered baseball as religion, always looking to the day when “pitchers and catchers reported” as the best day of the year, second only to Opening Day. As a child, he enjoyed trips to Tiger Stadium, listening to Ernie Harwell on warm summer nights, and celebrating the 1968 World Series Championship. Just as baseball was in his blood early, so too were the crystal-blue waters of Michigan. Deep in this “son of a son of a sailor” were memories of endless summers on Lake Michigan where his family had their beloved cottage in Macatawa and Grand Haven. Steve attended and was later a counselor at nearby YMCA Camp Hayo-went-ha, on Torch Lake. He graduated from East Grand Rapids High School in 1977.

After high school, Steve attended the University of Michigan, dividing his time between long nights at the Michigan Daily, orgiastic frothery in the Delta Chi fraternity house on Hill St, and trying to pass Latin. Journalism, he said, was his saving grace after his mom died, and early on fashioned himself a cross between Hunter S. Thompson, and PJ O’Rourke. Steve’s lampoonery on the editorial pages did not always win him many fans, with at least one reader accusing him of making light of nuclear holocaust; indeed, he once complained of Paul McCartney’s “II” album: “I feel so much contempt for [him] right now. I hope he doesn’t drop by my house tonight – if he does, I could very well punch him in his two-bit face.” Long after these days were over, he fondly remembered covering touring bands like DEVO, the Ramones and Jimmy Buffett.  

After college, chasing a dream, Steve packed his red Cutlass Olds to interview at far-away newspapers (stopping first in DC to take the Foreign Service exam). One such paper was the Greenville News in Upstate South Carolina, where young whippersnappers from around the country were being hired to run “bureaus,” their own little county offices. These Young Turks would work hard during the week and then bacchanale together at a common ski cabin in the nearby North Carolina mountains or at the South Carolina coast for weekends replete with bourbon and the Talking Heads. 

Steve started covering Spartanburg County, SC the same day Debra-Lynn Bledsoe was hired to cover Pickens County. They saw each other across the newsroom, so the story goes, and were immediately smitten: Steve’s skinny yellow tie and purple shirt. Debra-Lynn’s embroidered hippie blouse. A vibrant friendship began that turned into a romance that scattered across South Carolina as they each would take different jobs in different cities, eventually winding up in Columbia. Debra-Lynn’s newspaper career flourished here. Steve and his Yankee self, meanwhile, never seemed to fit it with the South Carolina good old boys, especially on the cops beat. He, ahem, left the newspaper (“philosophical differences”) and enrolled in grad school at the University of South Carolina, to study International Relations.

These became the salad days, lifelong friendships formed with journalists — “the best people in the universe.” Steve and Debra-Lynn were married in 1987, and one year later, came along Christopher Harkness, their first-born, Harkness being Steve’s mother middle name. In those first years, as Debra Lynn continued working, Steve would use the dolcet voice of Harry Caray as childcare for Chris during Cubs games. After graduating with his PhD in 1993, Steve and Debra Lynn had their second child, Emily Syracuse, and Steve got his first professorship, at the University of Florida. After one year in Gainesville, the family would then move to Columbia, Missouri in the mid-90s, before finally settling into a small house on a cul-de-sac in the little college town of Kent, Ohio.” Curbs and mailmen.” he would say, were his criteria for selecting a home. Benjamin Colby, their third and last, came along in April 1997.

In his life, and especially during the years in Kent, Steve kept his love of play. Sit at any table with Steve for ten minutes and you’d be playing a highly-competitive game, be it paper football, or hot potato, or trivia questions. He and his kids created a frisbee golf course in the neighborhood (‘three shots to hit the mailbox’). He and his tennis doubles partner Kim were the “team to beat” in the local Kent Parks and Recreation league for many years, and he enjoyed teaching Benjie and Chris to play this gentleman’s game he loved so very much. In off seasons, racquetball was his sport, as he helped form a small community of Kent State professors and staff for lunchtime games. 

Outside of sports, Steve loved quotidian pleasures: driving in a Jeep with the top down, the family’s Spaniel hanging out the window; attending his kids’ own athletic activities, however far. Pleasure was a Dortmunder after work; Jimmy Buffett’s deep cut; very competitive Scrabble with Debra-Lynn; a morning with the Sunday New York Times; listening to Cleveland baseball on WTAM; cigars on the porch. During winter, he was known to cross-country ski to his morning classes, and would stop whatever he was doing at 5 PM on Fridays to listen to 100.7 FM play the Kings’ “Switching to Glide,” his ritual to start the weekend. 

During summers, Mrs. Fuger’s “The Little House” cottage in Glen Arbor, MI became a fixture. Some of Chris and Emily and Benjie’s best memories were created there: floating down the Platte, dancing at Boonedocks, sunsets at Pierce Stocking. All the Hook kids, both Jim’s and Steve’s, attended and/or were counselors at YMCA Camp Hayo-Went-Ha and Arbutus – as were Jim and Steve themselves and the generations before them. An honorary oar is etched with the Hook names and is hanging in the boys camp boathouse.

Professionally, Steve was in a class all his own. At the end of his career, Steve was the most popular writer of American foreign policy textbooks in the English language. Debra-Lynn remembers standing at the top of the stairs leading to the basement where Steve had his office and watching in awe while he concocted complicated paragraphs out of the archives of his head. He had numerous articles published in leading journals, participated in professional associations, and was invited for extended stays in faraway places to share his knowledge, including Xiamen, China; Kerala, India; Istanbul, Turkey; Cambridge, England; and Doha, Qatar. In 2002, he was selected by the university to lead a group of students to Geneva, Switzerland, where he and his family lived and traveled for a full semester. His favorite thing about his job, though, was mentoring young minds. He taught both freshman sections of World Politics and advanced PhD level courses on political analysis, and enjoyed each for the “lightbulb moments” they would spark in his students. Students and faculty alike knew him as someone whose door was always open. Steve received the university’s Distinguished Teaching Award in 2007 and served as the chair of the Political Science Department from 2008 to 2012. Steve retired in 2019 as his dementia made teaching more difficult. The Political Science Department held a reception for him, where dozens of people – faculty, staff and students – turned out to wish him the best. In March of 2021, he received an official letter from the Ohio Senate, honoring his retirement after more than 25 years. 

Debra-Lynn and Steve were able to navigate the vagaries of marriage, career and moving around the country for 30 years. In 2017, the stressors took their toll and the two separated, never losing their propensity for intellectual conversation or genuine care for each other. Debra-Lynn continued to help manage his care until he died.

Happily, In 2018, Steve met Becky at a university reception, and they had their first date on Valentine’s Day. The two, “Shook and Beck,” hit it off right away and enjoyed taking trips to Becky’s native Louisville and Steve’s Michigan and spending a great deal of time together. Steve persuaded Becky to come out of her middle school retirement from tennis, much to his delight. He was certain that Becky’s winning shot in a tense doubles match was due to his extensive coaching. He leapt with glee, exclaiming, “I knew you could do it!” Navigating dementia meant constructing a whole new language for things. Becky and Steve  enjoyed playing tennis (“hitting”), swimming (sploosh sound), and petting his cat (kiss sounds). During this time, Steve was especially delighted to meet Chris’ life partner, Kate. As he lost even more language, the one phrase he could still get out was “I love you.” “I love you, you’re just GREAT!” he would say to the grocery clerk, or the pizza delivery guy, or his downstairs neighbor. He just wanted to bring a smile to people’s faces. We thank Becky every day for the care and love she gave him in his last years and months of life.

He spent his last year in facility care, where he had to gradually get used to receiving help. He enjoyed watching Breaking Bad and Schitt’s Creek on loop, receiving visitors, and looking at old pictures. It was especially wonderful that Chris and Kate got to introduce their first child to his Pop-Pop on Father’s Day, June 18. 

He was a lucky man for all the love he had around him and all the joy he leaves behind. Steve died peacefully, in his sleep, surrounded by his family, on Sept 24. 

Some of it’s magic

Some of it’s tragic

But I had a good life, all the way.

“He Went to Paris,” by Jimmy Buffett 

Steve is pre-deceased by his father, James Colby Hook, and his mother, Eleanor Harkness. He is survived by his children, Christopher Harkness (born 1988)(Katherine Starks); Emily Syracuse (1992); Benjamin Colby (1997); life partners Debra-Lynn Bledsoe Hook and Rebecca Chism; siblings Margie Kindel (Brooks Kindel), Betsy Armstromg (Blue Armstrong) and Jim Hook (Cappy Brundidge); and Emil Benjamin Hook (born 2022), his lone grandson.

Services will be held on October 22nd, at the United Church of Christ of Kent, OH, at 1400 E Main St. Visitation will begin at 10 AM, with the formal service at 11 AM, and a sit-down New Orleans-themed lunch at 12. 

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the YMCA Camp Hayo-Went-Ha, to inspire future generations to value play, camaraderie and environmental care. https://hayowentha.org/donations/

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