Steve's Early Years
Steve was born in Cleveland, Ohio, April 9, 1958 as the second son to Peg and Jim Connors. Steve was born into a lamily of four children. Steve’s mother Peg was one of six children and his father Jim was one of 8 children so there were always plenty of Aunts and Uncles around.
Steve's early childhood was quite mobile. Steve spent kindergarten in Westport, Connecticut and Encino, California. Steve's first memory is as a kid exploring the house in Lakewood, Ohio when Jim worked as head of Public Relations at Alcoa. Before Steve was 10 years-old, he had lived Ohio, Connecticut, California and Ohio again. When Steve turned 10, Jim took a job with Boston Gas and the Connors family moved East, but not until, as Steve pointed out, all the children learned how to speak proper English without a Boston accent. In Boston Steve attended Needham High School and worked an impressive array of jobs with the Star Market deli, delivering newspapers, sorting packages for UPS, building architectural models and dioramas for an engineering company, working in retail at Heritage Hobby selling models, and working as a camp counselor at Camp Union in New Hampshire. Steve painted a waterfall mural at the Needham High School. Peg describes Steve as "a good kid, very handsome, extremely polite, and curious. I don't recall any instances of Steve ever getting into trouble. Steve spent hours in the basement making dioramas." Many of these were exhibited including a diorama show in Chester Pennsylvania during High School. Steve's dioramas were covered in the Needham Chronicle and a few still exist today.
Steve went to college in 1976 at U. Mass Amherst where he studied Physical Anthropology. In May 1980 Steve received his B.A. Magna Cum Laude with concentrations in economic development, technology and change, and applied and biological anthropology. After the Peace Corp, Steve returned in 1983 and decided to get a BS in Mechanical Engineering at U. Mass Amherst where he graduated Cum Laude in February 1986 with a concentration in energy systems, solar, wind, hydrogen, water, thermodynamics, and fluid mechanics.
In all my 38 years at UMass, Steve was one of the very few students who became a regular visitor at our house and with our family. And all four of us love him dearly. I recall meeting with Steve in Niamey and then in Malanville Benin back in the summer of 1980. He was in Niamey on vacation from his Peacecorp assignment working with local folk to experiment with and build efficient wood stoves from local materials. We met with John Curry, one of my PhD students doing his dissertation research in Niger. We knew that we were part of a rare breed of Americans who actually relish living in arduous circumstances. Steve's experience as a volunteer was central to his decision to pursue a second bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering once his Peace Corps days were over and I suspect they were also formative in his initial career choice to bring together erstwhile adversaries to seek out and then build on common ground to develop long- term electric energy planning strategies.
In my career as an anthropologist/professor at UMass, I often used the example of Steve as someone who while majoring in anthropology, did not become a professional anthropologist, but let it be the heart of a liberal education that positioned him to take on and do, very effectively, many good things, far away from anthropology. I recall vividly a time in 1983 when I was in Niamey as part of a design team for a big development project. Up to that point, USAID had been funding a research project to make sense of the agropastoral economy of central Niger. It was a big research project with a half-dozen field researchers on the ground and they were compiling an enormous quantity of data that they were convinced would, once adequately mined, show the development project how to be structured from 1983 onward. There was one important glitch, however. They were having a hard time getting the data analysis organized. A variety of (incompetent) people had tried, without much success, to get on top of the programming task. In a meeting of the development project design team, I heard the plea that we had to get someone—anyone, anywhere—and fast to get this work done.
I said I knew someone who could program in Extended Basic, and within a few minutes, I was on the phone to Steve, asking him to fly out to Niamey on short notice and solve the research project's programming problems. And he did. Once Steve was on-site, I recall the initial hostility from the programmer saying that there was no way he could be of any help; it was simply hopeless.
Anxious that my exuberance about Steve's programming prowess might have been just so much hype, I found Steve and asked him how the work was going. I still remember his response: "There is a reason why the language is called BASIC, Ralph!" His skills and his self-confidence were crucial to his success. It sure made me look good. It was on the strength of Steve's programming success at some lab on an island in the Niger River in Niamey that I secured an $83,000 contract from USAID to clean up all the Niger Range & Livestock research project files. Steve did all the work. I thinks that was during 1983. Steve would work all morning and all afternoon, staring at a computer monitor in Machmer Hall. Then for a lunch break, he'd walk over to the Student Union and play video games for an hour.
We always felt that Steve would make some woman very lucky, with his good looks, his passion for problem solving, his incredible integrity, and his great dead-pan sense of humor.