Nearly ten years ago, it was announced at a spring faculty meeting that our headmaster, Julie Robinson, would be stepping down from her position at Greenville Christian School, and that the search for a new headmaster would take place over the summer. The first decade of the new century had been a tough one for our school. We'd gone through four headmasters, shrinking enrollment, a tough economy, and some personal conflict between the school board, families, and teachers. We lost two faculty members, one student, and one recent graduate to tragic deaths. All of us faculty members were a bit nervous, wondering what lay ahead for us and for our school. Then in July we got word that a new headmaster had been hired from out of state - one Steve Bowers, from Peoria, Illinois.
I had no idea who this guy was or what kind of boss he was going to be, so after he sent out a "get-acquainted" email to our faculty, I wrote him back and introduced myself. I invited him out to lunch with me and my wife, so we could get to know him. And then I posed one question, just to kind of get a feel for what sort of fellow this new Yankee headmaster might be. It wasn't a deep, theological question, and it had nothing to do with secondary education, classroom management, or personnel policies. It cut to the heart of the critical issue of personality - would this man be someone I could get along with or not?
What was the question, you ask? Simple: "How many lines from MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL can you quote from memory?"
He came back with six, off the top of his head: "It's only a flesh wound!" "He's just a harmless little bunny!" "Your father was a hedgehog and your mother smelled of elderberries!" "Now go away or I shall taunt you a second time!" "I fart in your general direction!" "You silly English kunigguts!" (He also said he could send a few more if I wanted them.)
I knew we were off to a good start.
Over the next nine years, I came to know and treasure Steve and his wife Stacie. They were the best thing that ever happened to GCS during my twenty-three year tenure. Steve was funny and personable, but also professional. He had a great relationship with the kids, his teachers, the board, and our parents. It took a few years for the changes he made to take hold, and some of those changes were initially were painful. I didn't envy him some of the decisions he had to make. But they were good changes overall; the decline in enrollment slowly ceased and new growth began. We raised $100,000 and built a brand-new science lab, then added something our school had long needed, a multipurpose activity center that became a lunchroom, reception hall, auditorium and stage. We added a beautiful new brick sign out front that exponentially increased our curb appeal. We went through our ACSI re-accreditation and received the highest marks in the history of our school. Our graduating classes set new records year after year for scholarship offers; culminating with this year's senior class - 17 students who received over $2.4 million in combined scholarship offers!
But the changes weren't just in terms of brick and mortar construction. GCS became a happy place, where teachers enjoyed their jobs and kids enjoyed learning. Certainly we were not without drama - no place that has teenagers will ever reach that state! - but things got better in so many ways. The traditional April Fool's prank that had been limited to my room grew to a phenomenon that encompasses the entire secondary building and leaves staff and students laughing and shaking their heads every year. We instituted international mission trips to the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica, and domestic ones to a mission in New Orleans. We launched a secondary retreat to begin each school year with fun, games, and a time for bonding. Our in-service days came to include fun team building things like going to escape rooms and doing scavenger hunts.
Steve always treated his staff members like professionals. If there was a problem in the classroom that merited intervention, he would step in and try to set things straight, but other than that he respected our expertise and let us do our jobs in our own way - and the school was a better place for it. No one flinched when Steve Bowers walked into their classroom - you knew he was always there to support and help you, not to "gig" you for something. If we merited correction, it was done in private, with a spirit of grace and brotherhood. He prayed for our kids, worried over them, and loved them, and nearly all of them came to love him back.
Steve's family had some wonderful moments with us, and some very tough ones. All three of his boys, Rue, Brady, and Ike, graduated GCS. They were great kids that I loved teaching, and have each become remarkable young men! But then in December of 2015 Stacie noticed a painful lump in the roof of her mouth. It was cancer, a rare, malignant, and rapid spreading cancer centered only two inches from her brain. As all of us prayed and worried, she underwent radical surgery and chemotherapy and months of painful rehab. Through it all, Steve continued to come to work, even as his haggard expression and red eyes gave mute testimony to the pain he was enduring. Our faculty, school families, and student body united to cook meals, chip in money for bills, and to pray without ceasing for this family we had come to appreciate so much. Stacie beat that horrible disease; she not only recovered but came back on staff the last two years, first as a long-term substitute, then as a faculty liaison. Her grace and infectious smile were a daily picture of God's incredible love and healing power, a life lesson that she and Steve taught to all of us, students and faculty alike.
One personal story, just to show what kind of man Steve Bowers is: In the spring of 2016 I was given a wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go to Israel as part of an archeological field school. It was an expensive trip, and I was incredibly blessed when so many of my former students, faculty colleagues, GC parents, and church members contributed to my expenses. Steve and Stacie were hip-deep in their cancer fight and the enormous medical bills were piling up left and right. But a few days before I left, he took me aside and handed me an envelope with a hundred dollar bill in it. I protested that I couldn't accept money from them in their hour of need, and he said: "So many people have stepped up and blessed us while we have been hurting; Stacie and I talked about it and we want to share some of that blessing with you. Spend it on the trip, or to take your wife out to dinner before you leave if you like - but this is our blessing to you."
Steve is going on from GCS now, feeling his work here is complete. None of us wanted to see him leave, but we know that his new school - a Christian school in a small Kansas community - is going to be richly blessed by his leadership, and by the wonderful, nurturing atmosphere that he and Stacie create wherever they go. He leaves with the love and best wishes of all of us who work for him and with him for the kingdom of Christ, and in educating these wonderful young people who come through our doors. God be with you, Steve and Stacie - you WILL be missed!