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Incredible Dad
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J. Richard “Dick” Steffy was a remarkable man. He spent the first half of his working life as an industrial electrician. In the 1970s he changed careers. He became a maritime archeologist.

Dick Steffy helped create the field of maritime archeology. He had a feel for ancient ships and how they were built. He was self-taught, learning about ancient ship construction to further his interest in his hobby – model ships. His correspondence, with questions about construction of ancient ships led to a job offer. He was asked to reconstruct a cargo ship that sank off Cypress in ancient times. He assembled a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle – an unprecedented success at the time.

At his death he was one of the world’s leading authorities on ancient ships. Despite lacking a traditional academic background (his highest degree was an Associates in Electrical Technology), he became Professor Emeritus at the Institute for Naval Archeology at Texas A&M University, and an outstanding teacher. He was a MacArthur Foundation Fellow, winner of one of their “Genius Awards.”

I knew of him becauseI build model ships. I built a model of the ship for which he is best known – the Kinneret Boat. Also called the “Jesus Boat” because the wreck dated to the First Century, it was the type of boat used by Jesus on the Sea of Galilee. I poured over the writings of Steffy and his colleagues as I built my model. He was a committed Christian, too, something I learned listening to an interview Steffy recorded about the Jesus Boat.

When Steffy’s biography, The Man Who Thought Like a Ship, appeared in 2012, I got it. It was written by Loren Steffy, a respected newspaperman, and also Dick Steffy’s son.

Family First

One thing struck me as I read it. Dick Steffy’s career never came before his family. I sensed he must have been the best-ever dad a kid could have. He built things for and with his children. He involved them with his work, taking them with him to Cyprus when he did field work. Often, when driving with his kids (and later grandkids), he stopped by the side of the road to watch something interesting, explaining what was going on if he knew it, or puzzling out a solution with them if he did not.

Loren Steffy is too professional to make this the central focus of his father’s biography. It is a serious work centered on his father’s professional career. Yet Dick Steffy the dad, and the positive impact this had on his children leaked around the corners, adding a pleasant glow to the book. I wrote Loren Steffy, and he wrote back describing his father as an incredible dad.

Dick Steffy died in 2007. He achieved more in his life than many, things that made him famous. If you could ask him what he felt his greatest accomplishment over his span on Earth was, I suspect Dick Steffy would cherish the title “Incredible Dad” over even that of MacArthur Foundation Fellow.

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By Mark N. Lardas. Copyright © 2012 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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