Thank you, Steve Eddy

[Originally published in the Rutland County Express on 9/16/10]. On Aug. 31, the Rutland community lost one of its best friends. Steve Eddy was a shining example of the dedication, love and enthusiasm to Rutland, to his family and friends and to life itself.

When I heard about Steve’s death late that Tuesday night, I refused to believe it. Surely, the Rutland rumor mill had gotten this one wrong.

I had just seen Steve that morning at Clem’s Cafe with his customary coffee and newspaper. It was a commonplace for us to run into each other. We gave each other a nod, said “hello” and went about our respective daily routines.

Like most people in Rutland, I first came to know Steve through Book King. As a kid, I often accompanied my parents to work at The Palms in the summertime – occasionally helping out in the kitchen, but usually being bored.

When I was old enough, I was allowed to wander downtown. Back then, that tour included Sound Barrier, Advance Music and, of course, Book King. I often stopped in to read the comics (and sometimes even buy one).

As I got older, and became an avid reader, Steve’s shop was invaluable. It was my source for burgeoning intellectual discovery – the place where I bought my first Salinger and Kerouac.

When I arrived back in Rutland in mid-2007, I was at a crossroads in my life. I had considered working for the family business, but quickly realized that it wasn’t meant to be.

Jobless and bored, I began looking for ways I could plug myself into the community. I figured if I were going to be living in Rutland, I could either complain about it or I could do something to improve it.

I landed in a group called Rutland City SEEDs, which was a small, ad hoc group of downtown merchants, community leaders and citizens interested in socially engaged economic development.

The group was thoughtful, creative, energetic and fast on its feet. Through various projects, we worked to push against the status quo to turn Rutland into the community we believed it was capable of being. (No small feat for a group of six or so volunteers.)

I soon found myself sitting across the table from Steve every week. Insightful, witty and passionate, he made those meetings both productive and enjoyable. We often joked that it was the only weekly meeting any of us actually looked forward to.

In SEEDs, I found a group of likeminded individuals, who helped me to see Rutland in a fresh light – good things really were happening here.

I eagerly immersed myself in SEEDs’ various projects, wanting to be part of something that was so positive.

Steve’s unwavering dedication to and belief in this city was the heart of SEEDs’ mission. In a community that has taken its share of lumps from within and without, Steve never allowed the negativity to get to him. He was both optimistic and practical in his approach to issues. He wanted the best for Rutland, and that desire was contagious.

My time with SEEDs was a learning experience that I have carried with me to my current job as coordinator of Sustainable Rutland. From Steve, I learned how to be patient and diplomatic in achieving my goals for the young organization.

In many ways, SEEDs was a precursor to the current incarnation of Sustainable Rutland in both initiatives and mission.

When Carol Tashie (another SEEDs member) and I first became co-chairs of Sustainable Rutland in late 2008, SEEDs became our de facto think tank.

In those early days as were finding our feet, Steve in particular was a helpful sounding board, providing both perspective and ideas.

Our “Bag the Bag” campaign was originally a SEEDs project. More accurately, “Bag the Bag” was a Steve project – born out of a conversation that started with Steve plainly stating, “We need to do something about all these plastic bags.”

So we did. Within a few months, we had designed, ordered and sold 2,000 organic, reusable canvas bags throughout the city. It was that kind of energy that Steve generated and fostered.

Since Steve has passed, I keep seeing our “I am Local” bags floating around town on people’s shoulders – quiet examples of one of the many marks Steve has left on this town.

When Steve sold Book King, he was reluctant to call it his retirement. According to him, not having the store meant that he had even more time to give back to the community.

Earlier this summer, Steve and I sat down to chat about a story I was doing for this publication on the RAFFL’s “Grow an Extra Row” program. Each week, Steve helped deliver fresh food to local food shelves and shelters, feeding hungry families throughout Rutland County.

As always, Steve’s energy and enthusiasm was palpable and infectious. He told me how happy he was to be a part of something so positive for the community.

It’s still difficult for me to believe Steve is actually gone. Making my way around town over these last couple weeks, I keep thinking I’m going to run into him – at the Farmers’ Market or in the Co-op or at Two Shea’s after his weekly volleyball games.

As I write these words at a table in the back of the newly reopened Café Terra – home base of our old SEEDs meetings – I keep looking over to the door, half expecting to see Steve walk in like so many times before. It’s a surreal feeling.

But rather than dwell in Steve’s absence, I want emphasize the ways in which he’s still with us. I want to celebrate what he has given all of us, and thank him one last time for what he has given me.

In no small way, Steve influenced my decision to stay in Rutland. Over the last couple years, I have occasionally considered moving away, but Steve inspired me to stay. Not through words, but by example.

My respect and admiration for Steve runs deep. He was an inspiration and role model. I am forever grateful for having known him, and I will always carry with me all that I have learned from him.

Through Steve, I learned that people, that even one person, can make a difference. Rutland is a community of tremendous opportunity and potential, much of which has yet to be tapped. Steve Eddy saw that potential, and in his daily life, he worked selflessly to realize it.

Thanks for everything, Steve. We’ll miss you dearly.

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