January 2016 Volunteer of the Month

Stephen Mayer

Things Were Much Simpler Then….

He was born when President Franklin Roosevelt rolled out the New Deal and a loaf of bread cost 8 cents and was raised in Allentown, PA. Both of his parents emigrated from Austria to Allentown where his mother was a homemaker, caring for five children of which Steve was the youngest. His dad worked for the WPA (Works Progress Administration) as a stone mason, the Allentown City Street Department, and as a steward of a Beneficial Society Club. In his later years he became a silk weaver.

As Steve commented, “The Mayer family had no phone and no car, but we always had food on the table that we were willing share with others.” Steve’s life of service and care for others was woven from these modest beginnings. Steve was a good student and was very proud of his Charter Membership in his high school Key Club which was a service organization sponsored by the Kiwanis.  

Life is an Adventure…
Steve’s sense of adventure was born as a result of his years in the Boy Scouts of America. In February 1954, at the age of 19, he and one of his best friends drove up to Anchorage in his friend’s 1946 Ford two-door sedan. Steve didn’t even know how to drive so his friend did all of the driving! They made it to Anchorage in the US Territory of Alaska, hoping to homestead.  Their desires were dashed and instead they worked for the Bureau of Land Management on a Survey Crew in Kasilof on the Kenai Peninsula and laid out the township.  After his share of salmon and moose, Steve returned to the “Lower 48” and took the train from Portland, Oregon to Allentown, arriving home on his 20th birthday.

Steve rekindled a romance with his childhood love – Kathryn (Kathy). They married and settled in Allentown. He became a PA-licensed blaster and worked in the testing field and development lab and even received a coveted patent. He then joined Bethlehem Steel in 1970 at the Homer Research Lab. He was to spend the rest of his career with the company in the mining department and information services. He and Kathy raised two sons – Stephen Jr. and William who is a chef in Bethlehem. 

And can end in the blink of an eye….
Steve retired from Bethlehem Steel in 1995 and one month later Kathryn was diagnosed with ALS. Steve became her primary caregiver and took her to the Chapter’s Hershey ALS Center. He witnessed the ravages of ALS first-hand and knew that he needed help to move past the sadness that prevailed.
Every Dark Cloud has a Silver Lining
Steve Mayer began attending a bereavement group at the First Presbyterian Church in Bethlehem. The bereavement minister, Judith, had lost her own husband to brain cancer and the two bonded quickly. They shared a gift of helping others during their own difficult times.  Judith and Steve were married in 1999.

Always a caregiver.
To a man who was used to giving so much of himself, he decided that volunteering would be a natural outlet. He first became a hospice volunteer, visiting ALS patients through the Visiting Nurse Association.

And Then He Met Chapter President Ellyn Phillips…
The line that generally follows is “…and the rest is history.”  “Ellyn is a lovely, lovely lady whose encouragement and dedication to the ALS cause is contagious - So much so that when she told me about a newly formed Chapter volunteer group that needed help in the Lehigh Valley, I took training classes and became a Visiting Volunteer charter member in 1999. I have had the honor of helping eight ALS patients through this program and enjoy visiting with each.  In 2007, I began meeting with ALS patient Hank Straub who has become a good friend as well. Here are Hank (left) and me in Hank’s backyard in Bethlehem.” 

ALS Strikes Again
In 2009, Steve’s son, Stephen, Jr., began to exhibit symptoms of FTD, a form of dementia associated with ALS. Once again Steve provided for his son and family which included a wife and three daughters. Sadly, Stephen Jr. passed away in January 2014. 

But Steve Mayer Continues to Give of Himself
Last year, Steve heard about a new mentoring program at the Middle School in Bethlehem. He offered guidance and extra help to eighth grade students at lunch and mentored two boys weekly throughout the school year. “Unfortunately, the program is on temporary hiatus, but it was one of the greatest experiences and I loved it,” beamed Steve. 

Sixteen Years and Still Going Strong
“To me it’s been a real privilege to be a Visiting Volunteer. I get so much out of this valuable program. Congratulations to the Chapter on our 16th Anniversary,” remarked Steve. “And, not only did I walk with Hank’s team at The Lehigh Valley Walk to Defeat ALS ® but I also sold caps and tote bags at both the Walk and at Walmart to raise money to buy generators for ALS patients. One of my Visiting Volunteer patients in Coopersburg was using a BiPAP to assist with breathing and when his house lost power, Ken developed complications which after a while took his life. I didn’t want any other ALS family to experience this horrific incident, so the money I raised bought four generators for the Chapter to loan to patients,” said Steve. Gail Houseman, the Chapter nurse who oversees our Visiting Volunteer Program emphatically applauds Steve’s efforts. “Whenever I ask him to visit with a patient, he always says ‘Yes” without hesitation,” she remarked.

“If I had to sum up my volunteer experience…
… It has been a fascinating experience to volunteer and give part of your life to others. The people I’ve met are wonderful wonderful people. All the patients and their families are great and I have become accepted into their family and become a part of their lives.”


The ALS Association Greater Philadelphia Chapter
321 Norristown Road - Suite 260, Ambler, PA 19002

The ALS Association is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and donations are tax deductible to the full extent of the law.