It was almost as if we are all endowed with a set amount of energy, and our dear friend Steve Charak burned his up earlier than the rest of us. My fellow artist Garn Turner called Steve "a force of nature." But man, what a show!
Steve arrived in Olympia from Chicago about 1976-77, I'd guess. I first met him shortly after he landed here. He was behind the counter of some fish and chips place on the Westside, with a ridiculous fast food hat floating a good foot above his cranium thanks to his wild hair which he called his "Jewfro." Most who got to know him later in life when his head was shaved find it hard to believe he had such a mane. He was a human blur in constant motion, his energy level was so intense I got tired just watching him. The only time I ever saw him move like a normal person was whenever he had the flu or a cold or something that would slow him down.More on the flip...
Not long after that meeting, we were classmates in an Evergreen program and became friends. Steve quickly became one of the great networkers in the group. Getting to know everyone and bringing up topics we could all relate to. The class was a microcosm of what he would do in the larger Olympia community in the future.
He is the only person I ever knew who enjoyed trivia as much as myself, particularly about the U.S. Presidents or the Beatles (a rather strange combination, say what?) and we tried to trip each other up in rapid fire.
Steve was involved in all kinds of campus activities and causes. He was a prolific writer and musician. According to legend, when Steve left his job at KAOS, they had to find three people to replace him.
One of the qualities I always loved about Steve was his ability to be a social activist with a great sense of humor. He took whatever cause he was working for seriously, but that didn't mean he had to take himself seriously (He would've really enjoyed participating in OlyBlog). Perhaps that is why he was drawn to the field of education, working with all that magical kid energy. For awhile he was a classroom teacher in the Olympia School District, but Steve being Steve, he went out on his own and became a one-man school.
His creation of Young Voices a magazine that gave children an opportunity to see their writing and art in print was pure Steve. He also earned a strong following through his writing workshops.
His knack for publicity was almost magic, and shameless! I swear his picture was in the Olympian at least 4 times a year. When Dan Evans' photo appeared in TESC promotional material, there was Steve next to the former Governor.
During 1977 or so, we were near neighbors in ASH (now called Cooper Glen or something like that). He had always been real encouraging about my comix, and had a wall in his dining room plastered with my work called "Willis Wall," after the rock feature on Mt. Rainier. Being the coordinator that he was, he managed to rope me into several projects, including drawing the cover for his final book, Making Mistakes.
After Steve's death at age 51 in Dec. 2004, the memorial crowd was remarkable not only for the sheer size, but also for the diversity. The mixture of old Olympia and the Evergreen community, not to mention the large percentage of children, was a true testimony to Steve's gift of energy and finding common ground with everyone in the local area.