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Gentlemen of Distinction

Making a Life Together

Article by Michael Beightol

Photography by Stephen Neilson

Originally published in SW Lake Lifestyle

With Stutz the golden lab we make our way down to the lower level of the neatly kept home that sits perched on a slight rise above a street in North Barrington.

It’s a bright space with bedroom, den, bathroom and a combo laundry/workout room. Steve Alton, 61, moved in four years ago a few months before his wife, Julie, died after battling breast cancer. Several years prior, Steve had a major health crisis of his own; a fist-sized tumor was discovered on his brain.

Surgery removed the tumor but left him blind and struggling to speak. Also, the once college scholarship gymnast who loved the aggression, strength and agility required to master the high bar, found that his body was curled up in a position like a sleeping child.

After years of therapy, rehabilitation, and a year of residency training for a sightless life, Steve today is full of life with a great sense of humor.

They say it takes a community to raise a child; so, too, does it take a community to help a man recover from serious surgery and adapt to a life without sight. Whether it’s Steve’s faith family at the Presbyterian Church of Barrington, doctors, therapists, neighbors, family or friends, all have helped him on his journey.

One man in particular stands out. While grieving the loss of his wife of 45 years (Marcia), Don Bouseman, a 94-years-young retired insurance executive, sought counsel from a local clergy member. The minister suggested that Don could channel his grief by helping a church member who conveniently also lived in North Barrington. A plan was hatched for Don to meet Steve. “As soon as I got back home from the meeting, my phone rings,” Don recalls. “It was Julie who said that Steve had an appointment at Good Shepherd Hospital. So, the next day this stranger – me – shows up at his door.”

So began a 16-year relationship that’s still going strong.

When it was clear that Julie’s cancer was terminal, she was determined to find a place for Steve to live without her. The search narrowed to one place, but it was in Gurnee, far away from his church, family and friends. In his heart, Steve knew where he wanted to be.

“I just felt because of how our relationship had grown that it would be good for both of us if I moved in with Don,” Steve says. “But it was never anything I could ask him to do… I just prayed on it for a solid month.”

Don continues: “One day I was thinking about what Julie and Steve were going through and it just hit me—‘Steve should live here’.” Prayers answered.

“I’ll say this - we have a 50/50 relationship,” Steve says. “Don has given me a new life and in return he’s gotten companionship and involvement with my family and four kids.”

The life that these gentlemen of distinction share is full. Whether it’s Don’s exercise classes at the Barrington Park District, Steve’s bible group or judo classes (he has a Black Belt) or trips with other families with a blind person to places like Steppenwolf Theater, Oriental Institute Museum at the University of Chicago and the Art Institute of Chicago, these two are always on the go.

They are a pair of foodies and enjoy having coffee at Stompin’ Grounds, Pepper Park and Cook Street Coffee, as well as dining out at Ambrosia, Clarke’s Bakery & Deli, Tacos El Norte, Brunch Café, First Watch, Taste of Paris, and many other local restaurants.

“We have this neat relationship,” Steve says. “We’re great friends. We’ve only argued like two times in four years. We get along really, really well.”

“I tell people that there’s nobody I’d rather have living here than Steve and Stutz,” Don adds.

It’s inspiring to see how they have moved on from the losses of their spouses and health challenges. It’s all about faith, resiliency and how a community rises up to help with life’s toughest challenges.

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