William Steptoe’s ‘My Dexter Memories’ From the Dexter High School Alumni Association

This article was previously published in the Dexter High School Alumni Association newsletter. These profile interviews and articles are typically conducted and written by DHSAA member Donna Fisher, which is the case with this first entry published on WeLoveDexter.com.

William Steptoe, the subject of this profile, recently passed away. DHSAA member Jim Smith submitted this as the first entry in what is intended to be an ongoing series to share the voice of an association member and well-regarded member of the Dexter community who loved celebrating his time in high school and staying connected with those who shared that experience with him.

It is the hope of all association members who actively manage the organization in an ongoing effort to find and maintain the ties between the numerous students who span the decades that others will find the value in the high school experience and those who they may have shared it with.

“My Dexter Memories”

A Conversation with William “Bill” Steptoe, Class of 1947

Interview by Donna Fisher

It was on a lovely spring Thursday, when Bill Steptoe was kind enough to spend some time with me, just before he left to celebrate his birthday. Bill was born in 1928 and has lived in Dexter his whole life. His father ran the local hardware store where Bill worked in the summer and on Saturdays during the school year.

Bill has two sisters that are also Dexter alumni, Jean Steptoe Drinkwater and Mary Lee Steptoe Kimmel (both of whom are also deceased). Bill was the middle child.

It was on a “set-up” that Bill met his wife Mary Ann. She had come to Dexter to spend a day at DHS visiting her friend Janet French. Janet had a date that evening with Cecil Cobb. Mary Ann says, “Bill was stuck with me” so Janet could carry out her date with Cecil. One date saw the four of them walking up to Copeland School where they purchased tickets to a traveling Grand Ole Opry show.

W. Steptoe 1997 DHS Hall of Fame photo 001

In 1950, Mary Ann was 19 years old and Bill was 22 years old when they were married at the Methodist Church in Dexter. Together they raised their three children, Bob, Bonnie and Dave. Not only did these three Steptoe children graduate from DHS but also so did four of their grandkids. I found it interesting to note that the year Bill celebrated his 50th birthday, his son Bob celebrated his 25th birthday and his son Dan graduated from high school. That made for quite a year of celebration for him.

Bill’s educational journey began at the Union School. He walked from his family home on C Street (Central Street) and came home for his 1 hour lunch period.

I asked him about favorite classes/teachers and he mentioned gym classes. He further explained that he never liked his academic classes very much and it was gym and sports that kept him in school. Bill was a fine athlete and played football, basketball and baseball. He remembered having cheerleaders for the teams but not what they wore, for which Mary Ann winked, patted him on the arm and praised him. He remembers practicing for basketball in the Copeland gym and hiking out to Gordon Hall on Island Lake Road to the football and baseball fields that Bill told me “were located on the Dexter Property across town.” He seemed pleased to tell me that DHS athletic teams were “pretty good” in those years and during his senior year, school year 1946-47, no one scored against the Dreadnaught football team. I was pleased to learn that Bill was skilled enough to try out for a pitching spot on the Detroit Tigers baseball team and that his father had taken him for the audition.

While pitching for the Tigers was not to be, Bill really wanted to follow his calling to the military. Though he was under-aged, his brother-in-law, Bill Drinkwater drove him and a couple of friends to Ann Arbor to enlist in the US Navy, but his father would not sign his papers. Later he was drafted into the Army and served in Korea. When he returned to the States, he and Mary Ann built the home in which they currently reside, on the property on Dan Hoey Road that Bill had acquired before he went into the military.

Bill has some fine memories of his early life in Dexter. His favorite candy bar was a chocolate bar shaped into a rectangle approximately 12 inches long and 4 inches wide, that he purchased at Mrs. Nichols shop, located next to the Detroit Edison building on Main Street. It only cost him 5-cents! He also loved to buy an ice cream sundae at the soda bar at McLeod’s Drug Store as the proprietors made their own chocolate sauce. As kids they rode their bicycles, and played “Kick the Can”. They used the yard of the First Congregational Church (facing 5th Street) that adjoined their back yard, to extend their play area. To this day, Bill’s younger sister, Mary Lee, accuses him of telling her to hide during “Hide and Seek” and that he didn’t come and “seek her”. “He just tried to get rid of me”, she laughs.

As Bill got older he and his friends “hung out” at Joe LaRosa’s Confectionery. He recalled putting a nickel in a great big jukebox to play a favorite song. When he went to dances, the fox trot and waltz were popular dance steps.

Bill’s face beams when he thinks of his old friends, Tom Bennett, Duane Devlin, Dick VanAken and Chuck VanAken. They were especially close and could really count on one another.

W. Steptoe Troop 448 year unknown 001

However, there is another subject that made Bill’s face beam even brighter, that of his years of service to the youth of Dexter and the Boy Scouts of America organization. Bill started as a Cub Master with his son and then moved up the scouting ranks. But his boys completed their Scouting experiences long, long before Bill completed his. Bill Steptoe, has given 35 (no, this is not a typo) years of service to the youth of Dexter.

“What kept you going in this direction?” I wondered.

“I liked doing it,” he simply stated.

“You touched a lot of lives.” I marveled.

Bill’s expression was sincere and his voice cracked slightly, “It was good for kids. Some have gotten into trouble but have been able to straighten themselves out.” As former Scouts, “many have called me and said that those years with me and scouting were the best years of their lives.”

“So, I can say you believe in the Scouting organization?” I asked.

With a firm nod of his head, without hesitation and with strong voice, he emphasized, “Yes.” Thirty-five years of caring for kids.

With a firm nod of my head, without hesitation and with strong voice, I say, “Thank you, to this DHS graduate, William Steptoe, for your years of service and for taking time to interview with me. It has been a genuine pleasure.” – Donna

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