Homecoming is a special, solemn time for Alison Amy Stephens. That’s why she chose Friday, Oct. 11, to kick off a scholarship fundraising campaign.
This year’s Pine River-Backus homecoming marks the 40-year anniversary of the homecoming day accident that claimed the life of Stephens’ brother, Steven Chester Amy, in September 1974. As a true homage to his memory, Stephens plans to make 2013 the start of a year-long celebration of her late brother’s life.
“Because it was the 40th anniversary I thought it would be appropriate this particular year,” Stephens said.
In 1974, Stephens’ parents began the Steven C. Amy Memorial Scholarship for what is now Central Lakes College. The scholarship has been offered for 40 years to a Pine River-Backus student who demonstrates financial need and through his or her application and references reflects the “qualities and values Steven Amy held true.”
“I wanted to do a one-year kickoff campaign to try to increase the amount of the scholarship fund to either increase the amount that could go to one student, or possibly, depending on what it increases to, we might be able to do two scholarships,” Stephens said. “So, that was my goal.”
The celebration of Amy’s life will begin at the end of the Pine River-Backus homecoming coronation Friday morning, Oct. 11, when Stephens will tell her brother’s story and introduce the campaign. The celebration will continue at the homecoming football game Friday night where a freewill donation will be accepted for the scholarship.
“I want to get in there and say, ‘Go win this game.’ I want to make sure they win it,” Stephens said.
“There is a caring community out there that values our students and these people have taken a tragedy and turned it into 40 years of benefits for Pine River-Backus students,” said PR-B High School Principal Trent Langemo in a meeting with Stephens.
Stephens’ and Amy’s parents are the late Clark and Amanda Amy, founders of the Pine River Journal. It is no surprise that, raised by the owners of the hometown newspaper, they inherited a sort of pride for their country, and their school and community.
“I’m a proponent of Pine River and this town. There’s a lot of smart, brilliant people and accomplished people that have come out of here,” Stephens said.
For this reason, on Sept. 20, 1974, though Stephens was teaching in Hopkins and Amy was registering for classes at Bemidji State University, both siblings planned to return to Pine River for homecoming.
“He had been with me at the school in Hopkins on Wednesday. He had come down to read poetry and his writing to my English classes,” Stephens said. “I told him I would be home on Friday afternoon for homecoming, and he was coming home from Bemidji. It didn’t happen.”
Amy and his fiance, Gail Coufal, were a quarter mile north of Hackensack when Amy lost control of his vehicle and was struck by an oncoming pickup truck. Coufal was transported to Park Rapids in a coma; Amy was transported unconscious to Brainerd.
Amy died Sept. 24, at age 22. His fiance regained consciousness after his funeral. He had led a short, but surprisingly full life starting right after he graduated from Pine River High School.
“Steve went on his own to register for college at Brainerd Community College and duty called. He came home a Marine in 1969 when everyone was trying to figure out how to get out of the draft. He would have never considered that,” Stephens said.
He served in Okinawa for two years and returned home safely. He attended Brainerd Community College where he met Coufal and graduated. He was an emcee and lead singer of a musical group called The Reality. He specialized in writing and drama, and was known to be so funny that he had all of his teachers cracked up during his graduation ceremony.
Shortly after graduating, Amy went backpacking across Europe. Back home he championed prisoners of war and wore a bracelet for Maj. Glendon Perkins, brother of Lowell Perkins, and personally presented Perkins with the bracelet upon his safe return to Minnesota.
Amy was known for his writing, his singing, his sense of humor and his depth. In a column after Amy’s death, his father wrote that Steve had left a “legacy of solace” behind in his writing as if he knew the tragedy that was coming. A line from one of his poems comforts visitors to his grave.
Past recipients of the Steven C. Amy Memorial Scholarship have included children of Amy’s best friends as well as many other PR-B grads. The current scholarship is about $650. Stephens said the next scholarship is being awarded, by coincidence, on May 21, her brother’s birthday.
Donations can be made at Friday’s football game, through the Central Lakes College Foundation or through counselor Mary Sigan at Pine River-Backus High School at 218-587-8015. Donations will continue to be accepted after homecoming.
Travis Grimler may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Facebook.