By Alvin Settles
This is a belated tribute to a former colleague and friend Roger Steele. Roger passed away suddenly over four years ago. At the time of his passing the opportunity did not present itself to make a public acknowledgement of Roger’s contribution to Laurel Bay Schools and the story behind a special portrait that he gave to me over 20 years ago.
I first met Roger over 40 years ago when we were hired at the Department of Defense Schools at Laurel Bay. I was hired as a speech pathologist and Roger was hired as the art teacher. I don’t know why the Lord has placed it on my heart and mind to make a tribute to Roger at this appointed time. My pastor, Pastor Kenneth Hodges of Tabernacle Church, has always said that the Lord has a season and a reason for everything, and for whatever reason the appointed time is now. Also, it’s as if Roger is saying, “Tell them something about my time spent at Laurel Bay”.
When I first met Roger, we were very young and this was the early 1970s. This was the era of 8-track tapes, afros, bell- bottom jeans and platform shoes. I specifically remember when Dr. Donald Barton, the superintendent of schools at the time, called all of the newly hired male teachers to his office. Dr. Barton basically told us to shape up, get a haircut and put on some regular looking shoes.
I had a large afro at the time and wore plat-form shoes ( I think I wore a green pair). The physical education teacher had long blond hair down his back. The classroom teacher had a black beard and long black hair and Roger actually had curly hair that resembled an afro, wore sandals and a small strand of beads around his neck. The next week all of us had a new haircut and had on new shoes except Roger. Dr. Barton just looked at Roger and shook his head and said I guess that is just Roger being Roger.
I am pretty sure a lot of us who worked with Roger at Laurel Bay have a lot to share about him, likee the time he placed a huge ceramic pig in the hallway and the kids just absolutely loved it, or like the beautiful Christmas programs that he and Cynthia Chapman, the music teacher would collaborate on each year.
Almost every year Roger would teach the kids about Dr. Martin Luther King. In his art room Roger would often make this huge portrait of Dr. King and have the kids draw and make copies of the portrait as they learned about Dr. King.
What Roger and I started noticing is that over the years a few of the students would say that I favored Dr. King but most of them would say that Mr. Steele and I looked a lot alike. At the time we both wore large wire rim glasses, both of our last names begin with S, both of us had a mustache, and we both had a great sense of humor- loved to laugh. In other words they saw our similarities and not our obvious difference of
One day back in 1995 Roger came in my room and said, “Hi, Mr. Steele I have something for you” and he signed a huge portrait of Dr. King, rolled it up placed it in a carrying tube and gave it to me. I have kept the portrait of Dr. King that Roger gave to me for over 20 years.
When Roger passed I asked Pastor Hodges, who is also the owner of Lybenson’s art gallery in downtown Beaufort to place the portrait of Dr. King in a frame for me.
The portrait that Roger gave to me of Dr. King is presently in Lybenson’s gallery. It is not on any special canvas, as a matter of fact it is on stock paper and it is not mounted in any special frame.
I know that Roger has special pieces of art all over the United States, but this piece of art that Roger produced I think is special as well, because it touched the lives of so many young students for so many years in such a positive manner.
I pray that Roger’s family and friends receive this tribute and small token of appreciation about Roger’s work and time spent at Department of Defense Schools in Laurel Bay, with the love and respect that it was sincerely intended.
I am sure that I speak for all of us who had the opportunity to work with Roger at Laurel Bay, that he was really a great guy, and that by knowing and working with him all of us have been blessed.