VANCOUVER — I just shared with friends recently that two of the best things I watched on television this year we’re the memorial services for Muhammad Ali and Arnold Palmer. Both rewarded my faith in humanity by illustrating in such a glorious way the incredible impact a mere mortal can make on those that he or she touches during one’s lifetime.
One of the blessings of my lifetime is that I have met so many people, some still with us and some who are not, who seemingly lived their lives for others while seeking no credit or fame for themselves. At the time I shared those thoughts, I said it was my hope that we all take the opportunity to honor those people not only by memorializing them in death but also by showing our appreciation while they are still alive.
Clark County lost a great man last week when Steve Runyan passed away on Thu., Oct. 6 after an infection led to pneumonia and other complications. Runyan, who was 77 at the time of his death, was the third or four generations of Runyans to operate a jewelry store in Clark County. The store, Erik Runyan Jewelers, is now operated by Steve’s son Erik and is located at 900 Washington St. in downtown Vancouver.
“We’ve all taken a swing in the wheelhouse,’’ said Erik, referring to the business that will soon celebrate its 100th birthday and was started by Steve’s grandfather William Leonard Runyan in 1917. “Gerald, my grandfather, did a great job bringing it up to a mainstay business, giving it the legs. The decades of the (19)70s, 80s and 90s were dad’s primary run. I got involved in the later 90s.’’
Erik said he worked with his father in the family business his entire adult life and that Steve continued to have a role at the store until about “two or three years ago.’’
“He came in as he wished,’’ said the 50-year-old Erik of Steve’s role at the store in recent years. “He was a very social person. He was very hands off with me and kind of let me do my own thing. He offered guidance and support as needed. He was a great source of knowledge. We were lucky that one of his great attributes was how he treated people. I was continually reminded how to treat people and that’s not a bad reminder.’’
In addition to being known prominently in Clark County as a businessman, Steve was also known for his service to the community. He would often eat lunch with students at low income schools as a member of the Lunch Buddy mentoring program and his role in the Junior Chamber of Commerce, the Miss Washington Pageant, and the Rotary Club of Vancouver touched many lives, according to long-time friend David Madore.
“I think he pulled together some 23 organizations that he had been a part of over the years,’’ Erik said. “His days were very active. He was a very committed community person. The stories I hear most often are about the Boy Scouts and Lunch Buddies, mostly involving younger people. I think he found some great pride at a young age to be able to influence some people to have a longer, better life.’’
Steve kept some of his Lunch Buddies all the way through their high school educations and several of those students returned as adults to thank him for his support in their lives.
Erik said his father also had many hobbies, such as an appreciation for premium cars, and that most were designed to “bring people together.
“If it wasn’t food and wine, it was cars or pets; he loved dogs,’’ Erik said. “He found certain hobbies and used them as a tool to gather people together. As time went along, cars were one of those passions he was use to associate with people with a similar interest in cars. He was a master at creating events, making something out of nothing.’’
Erik said the car “that sits in the garage now is a yellow 2000 Corvette.
“He enjoyed that car so much,’’ said Erik, who also pointed out that his father also cherished a former car, a two-door 1955 Jaguar XK140. “He loved them and left them.’’
Madore, and his wife Donna, are among the many friends that Steve gathered for weekend outings. The group often met at Dick Hannah’s dealership in Vancouver and would turn plenty of heads as they headed out on their drives.
“He would love to be able to pull together a trip; he would call Donna and I and say ‘let’s get together’,’’ Madore said. “He was the nicest guy you could ever imagine. He loved life and he loved to make it fun for everybody else. He was a soft-spoken guy and fun and cheerful to be around. He didn’t have a mean bone in his body.’’
Steve is survived by his wife Penny, son Erik and daughters Jill and Julie, as well as five grandchildren (his sixth was expected this week).
“Steve’s smile and warm soft voice was ever present wherever he went,’’ Madore said. Steve’s life was a model of friendship. My wife and I were blessed to have Steve as our friend.’’
Another member of Steve’s car group was long-time Clark County businessman and resident Terry Phillips.
“I always looked at Steve as somebody who was a great advocate for Vancouver, a real proponent for getting people involved in the community,’’ Phillips said. “Some people are just so polarized. They don’t want to see if there is any common bond between you. Steve was beyond all that. He thought it would be good to bring together people with different points of view to see if they had something in common.’’
Phillips said Steve’s wife Penny often said, “Steve would talk to anybody, even a parking meter if it was there.’’
“I will always remember that Steve brought people together; he didn’t separate them,’’ Phillips said. “He had a way of wanting to put people from all walks of life together. It didn’t matter if you were one of the wealthiest or one of the poorest. He wanted to bring you together.’’
Phillips also remembered Steve as a tremendous chef who also loved bird hunting with his nationally-ranked German Shorthaired hunting dog.
Erik indicated that a public Celebration of Life will be held soon to honor his father, but that a date hasn’t been selected yet.