The 'Keith Steptoe Classic'

Written by Kay Hubbard.

 Golf Tournament: 25 Years of Fun, Friendship, & Generous Giving

On the Saturday before Easter for 24 consecutive years (in sunshine, in rain, or even in snow), the family, friends, and community of Keith Steptoe have gathered at Carthage Country Club for a golf tournament to honor his memory. On March 31 of this year, they will gather again to celebrate the event’s Silver Anniversary.

Twenty-five years of close camaraderie among workers and volunteers in a tournament that some have described as “more like a reunion than a golf tournament.” Twenty-five years in which several generations of a large, tightly-knit local family have worked together diligently behind the scenes, as well as at the scene, to make sure the event flourishes.

Twenty-five years of raising money for causes near and dear to Keith’s family—the Leukemia-Lymphoma Foundation and the students of Carthage ISD. (Members of Keith’s family have provided a student scholarship in Keith’s memory every year since he died. They were also responsible for starting and continuing to run the golf tournament until the Carthage ISD Education Foundation, also great benefactors for CISD students through grants and scholarships, took over that responsibility in 2013.

Cynthia Harkrider, Executive Director of the Education Foundation, says that the Foundation’s Golf Committee, which includes some members of Keith’s family, as well as others who have been involved with the tournament from the beginning, is planning some special activities to celebrate the Silver Anniversary.

“Of course we will still have the regular Saturday morning and afternoon tee-offs, with goodie bags for the players and a delicious lunch in between,” she says. “and we will continue the very popular children’s activities, including an Easter egg hunt, bounce house, and other fun. However, for the Silver Anniversary, we are also planning a Friday afternoon scramble followed by some fun entertainment and food. We will also have our annual raffle with MANY great prizes, and this year the grand prize is a condo/golfing trip package in Ruidosa, New Mexico valued at $2500. Amenities will include five nights of lodging, theater tickets for country and western performances, several meals, and two rounds of golf.”

Keith Steptoe was a member of the CHS Class of 1983. His sister, Stacie Steptoe Smith, says he loved the outdoors and was an avid hunter, fisherman, and golfer who also enjoyed playing and watching football. He was active in the FFA program at the high school and raised animals for the annual livestock show. She also recalls two of his proudest moments: one when he became an Eagle Scout and another when he fulfilled his lifelong dream of being a Volunteer Fire Fighter.

She also says that Keith was a big believer in the value of vocational-technological programs for students who did not want to go to pursue a university degree. He attended Paris Junior College in a two-year vocational degree program in jewelry and watch repair. The Keith Steptoe Memorial Scholarship is always given to a student who plans to attend a vo-tech school.

Keith was diagnosed with very aggressive acute myeloid leukemia on March 10, 1992 at the age of 27 and passed away on June 10 of that same year, three months to the day from diagnosis. Stacie shares a sweet story about the significance of the date. “At the very first Steptoe tournament,” she says, “Chris Smith came to play in it. I had not seen him in years. We went on our first date a few weeks later. A month later we were engaged, and we married one year later on the third anniversary of Keith’s death. We have always said we believe Keith had a hand in getting us together!”

Stacie says that the idea for the golf tournament came from her cousin, Mark Roberson. “This was Mark’s baby,” she says. “He and Keith were very close, and he wanted to do something to honor his memory. The rest of us in the family were all on board and willing to help with the huge amount of work, and I am so glad that we did. I love that it has grown into the biggest tournament in town and continues to keep his memory alive and to give back to the community he loved.”

She adds, “Keith was such a fun person! He was always smiling, laughing, and joking, and when he walked into a room, the room just lit up! I have never once heard anyone say a negative thing about him. I am also constantly amazed at how many people still tell me how much they miss him and tell stories about him after all these years!

Mark recalls how the idea for the tournament began. “My sister Stephanie won the Keith Steptoe scholarship in 1993, and I asked my Aunt Wynell and Uncle Bill (Steptoe) where the money for the scholarship had come from. They said they just paid it out of their pocket as a memorial for Keith. It started me thinking of how we could honor his memory and raise money for good causes at the same time. I had worked at a golf course while I was at A&M and had seen all the fundraising opportunities that can happen at a tournament. Keith and I had grown up playing golf together all the time, eating Honey Buns out of our golf bags and loving the game. So it just seemed like a tournament would be the perfect event. It’s a lot of work to do it right, but we have a large family, and we were willing to put in the hard work. Keith’s cousins, who all graduated from CHS, also continue to fund the Keith Steptoe Memorial scholarship every year. We choose the recipient from applications turned in, and one of us presents it at the school’s scholarship event. We also do tracking and follow-up; if the recipient’s scholarship account still has money left, we contact them and let them know.”

Mark adds, “Even though it has been very hard work, it has also been very fun and very rewarding to see it growing and growing. We had 15 teams the first year and made about $1,000. Things are a lot different now; for the past few years, we have had to turn some people away because there is a limited number of people who will fit on the course in the time we have, and the tournament has now raised over $250,000.”

Another thing that impresses Mark about the tournament is its longevity. “If you look around, you won’t find too many big charity events around here that continue as long as this tournament has; they come and go, usually because they are just too much work. Our family kept it going for 20 years, but it was really getting too big and too much for us to continue handling alone; we needed another organization to take over the management of it. My friend Tate Barber had been helping me and knew we were looking for someone. He was also a member of the Education Foundation Board, and we felt that the Foundation was a good fit because they already had a program in place to provide both student scholarships and grants for programs that benefit CISD students. A big fundraising event like this could add a lot of money to the amount they raise from their faithful donors. They were also happy to continue our practice of sharing the proceeds with the Leukemia-Lymphoma Foundation. The family has also continued to help every year, so it has been a win-win situation for everyone. I don’t think anyone sees any end to it!”

Mark shares a story about Keith that he believes is one of those things-coming-full-circle ironies that we find in life: “In my 1983 CHS yearbook, there is a picture of Keith just after he had given blood at the Senior Day blood drive. He has his elbow bent like they have you do after you give blood, and he is sporting that big smile and blonde hair and big 1980s hairdo. Around his neck he has the sweatband the blood bank had given him that says, ‘Giving Blood is No Sweat.’ For him to have died like he did, and for us to now have an annual blood drive during his memorial tournament is just so ironic!”

Longtime family friend Pat Dorman, who has helped with the tournament since its inception, laughs about how far the event has come in 25 years. “For example” she says, “in the beginning all the signs for the tournament were poster board and very unprofessionally made by us! When it rained, all I kept thinking was, ‘Oh, no! That ink’s gonna run!’ What a fun ride this has been, this 25 years of non-stop commitment by so many! Definitely a challenge and lots of hard work, but also so much fun. I love the consistency of it, too. People know it’s always the Saturday before Easter and reserve the date, and many have been there every year. It’s sad that we have lost some of our precious ones who have died, but it’s great that lots of new people are now making it a tradition, too!”