Steve Lake might have the longest job title on the planet: Assistant Vice President for University Advancement at Harding University. He’s also in charge of something called The Harding Fund, which sounds slightly ominous and cool all at the same time.
And, interestingly enough, Steve may be the friendliest guy I know.
Steve can talk.
And he’s funny.
And he’s distracting … in a good way.
Steve and I had another class together the next year. This time it was Dr. Garner’s small group communication class. Steve and I were learning to communicate a lot. But for some reason, our grades weren’t doing so well. We tried studying together before tests, with our friend Doug, but we’d always end up talking about really important stuff—like the assassination of JFK or Steve Perry’s latest solo album.
Maybe we should have taken a few minutes to look over our class notes.
During my freshman or sophomore year, I pulled the only all-night “study session” of my college career with Steve and a couple of other guys. I think it involved a late-night trip to Searcy’s truck-stop diner for some coffee and biscuits and gravy.
The next day, I felt like a worn-out trucker after a long haul … and I’m pretty sure I did terrible on the test.
But, if I had it to do over again … I wouldn’t have changed a thing.
Nowadays, I’m glad to say that Steve is not “an old friend.” Steve is a friend. He works to keep in touch. I appreciate that.
And now Steve is a few years into the second half of his professional life, and he happens to be working for Harding.
Steve and I recently caught up about all-things-Harding.
Well, my best friend growing up in Dallas was Brad Burt. And his dad, Dick Burt, was chairman of the board of trustees at Harding in the mid-70s. So when Brad and I got to be about 10 or 12, Dick called my dad and said, “Hey, I’ve got this summer camp I want these boys to go to.” And that was how I discovered Wyldewood and Harding.
Back then, during the middle Sunday of a two-week camp session, the big deal was to go and visit Harding. Harding would send a bus out to Wyldewood to pick up campers and bring them over to hang out on campus. We’d eat in the student center and go bowling. That was my very first experience of Harding.
Memories of his first semester at HU …
Freshman fall was just a real magical time, because you’re meeting so many people from different places and different economic levels. There was a newness to it all and a freedom to it all that I just absolutely loved. The experience of clubs and meeting all these new people .. it felt like going to a camp that never ends … and then you had to go to class occasionally. I was 6 hours from home, and I was on my own with a car, so Harding did feel like a place of freedom for me.
I remember being in the dorm and guys would be griping about the curfews and the rules and that we couldn’t wear shorts and whatever else, and I was always just, you know, an optimist and trying to defend Harding.
I can assure you that the most fun place in Searcy after [the 11pm] curfew was in the dorm. In that era, nothing was open in town after curfew, and to me the most fun place was in the dorm.
On surviving the Harding Invitational Termination Tournament (H.I.T.T) …
Oh my goodness, yes. As a student, I was the H.I.T.T champion of Harding University. It was based on a movie that came out called Gotcha, and in the movie they were playing a game on a campus and then this guy got mixed up in the spy world.
I still have my HITT identification card somewhere. I think there were a couple of hundred students in the tournament. When the tournament started, everybody went and had an ID card made, and then on a given day everyone received an envelope in campus mail telling you who you were supposed to go hunt and ‘kill.’ So someone’s hunting you, and you’re hunting someone else. It’s this big circle, and when you kill someone, they hand you the ID of the person they’re hunting. The tournament shrinks and it comes down to the final 2 people hunting each other.
We’re all using dart guns, by the way.
A guy named John Radcliff organized the tournament, and I actually shot him. He threw a can of paint at me while he was running away, and it hit me in the face and cut my lip. He didn’t mean to do it; he was just kind of running and throwing debris and one of the things happened to connect. But I shot him and killed him. That’s the good news.
On his sweet ride and sound system …
During my senior year, I had a cassette deck that was a Sparkomatic underneath the seat of my 1981 4-door Oldsmobile Cutlass. My father did not want me to mess with the factory car stereo, so I convinced then SA-president Mike Stewart to wire up a Sparkomatic under my seat so my dad wouldn’t see it and so I could play cassettes in my car.
My dad thought that messing with the factory Delco radio would cause the car value to plummet.
On his Harding heroes …
I revered Dr. Cliff Ganus, Jr. who was president of Harding when I was here. I loved his humility and his tireless work for Christian education and for other people. As a communications major, the people who come to mind are Mike James and Lou Butterfield. Lou was my dorm manager, and he very much got involved in one particular incident where I kind of got into trouble one night. He came to my rescue because he believed in me, and I’ll always be appreciative for that.
When I was a senior, I spoke in chapel during my last semester at Harding. One of the things I talked about was Harding’s goodness, and President Ganus looked at me afterwards and gave me this big thumbs up. Later that day, Dr. Ganus called my dad—unsolicited—and told him about it.
There are things that make Harding special … and mostly it’s the people.
On coming back to Harding after 20+ years away …
I reached a point in my career where I felt I was a sales guy who was making the small business owner that I worked for wealthy, but that I wasn’t really making a difference in anybody’s life. Then I read a book that my friend Blair Bryan sent me called Halftime, a book about being at the midpoint of your career and about making a difference.
I felt like coming back to Harding was an opportunity to de-emphasize money and to do something that felt like giving back. I have a passion for young people, and I have a passion for Harding. I believe when you can find something that you can do for a profession … that combines with your passion and purpose … then you can do big things. I believe that God brought me back here and that I’m lucky enough to do this every day.
Later on, Steve emailed me some thoughts about his life and ministry at HU …
I have had some major struggles in my life due to circumstance and poor choices. I lost a brother to AIDS, I went through a divorce, and my father died at a fairly young age. These events and others taught me compassion, and the true meaning of God's grace. I believe through these struggles, God allowed me to come back to Harding and to build bridges with others in a unique way.
I agree … Steve Lake is a bridge builder. He’d be the first to say that he’s lucky to be back at Harding, but I know better … Harding’s lucky to have him.
Harding’s also lucky to have Steve’s wife Edna. And his kids … Taylor, Katie, and Jackson.
So if you’re interested in learning more about Harding or the Harding Fund or how to survive a dart gun competition, just drop Steve an email anytime at lake(at)harding.edu.