2024 Difference Maker: Inspired by grandfather's legacy, Steven Lee becomes a pillar of support in Cape Girardeau

(Photo by Aaron Eisenhauer)

Steven Lee’s care for the elderly at Ford And Sons Funeral Home — and Cape Girardeau as a whole — is spectacular. His inspiration? None other than his grandfather, Shannon Eulinberg.

Eulinberg’s Place, located on U.S. 61, was well-known for its stellar barbeque and inclusion in the 1961-1964 editions of the Green Book, a safe travel guide for Black people navigating the dangers of segregation.

Under the inspiration of Wib Lohman, founder of the locally renowned Wib’s Drive-in, Eulinberg created his barbeque restaurant and relied on his family, Lee included, to help him run it.

“My grandfather was handicapped. So every Saturday morning at 7:30, he’s in the yard, honking for me,” Lee said. “And he said, ‘Well, boy, I'm gonna run up here to Laflin for a minute. Don't let that fire go out.’ Now I'm running the restaurant and the gas station and doing the cooking.”

The unpaid labor was a given. Anybody who has spent time in a family business or on a farm understands the sentiment. For Lee, the lessons he received from his grandfather are priceless. Working all day became second nature, and Lee described this service as “paying it forward”.

“When he told me, ‘You got to help people and not expect nothing in return’, it just got in my head and stayed there,” Lee said.

As a young man, Lee spent time in the U.S. Navy for three years, as a firefighter in the Philippines. Upon his return, he attended Southeast Missouri State University and became an employee of Procter & Gamble for 25 years. His latest venture, working at Ford and Sons Funeral Home, has left a lasting impression on the surrounding community.

“I gotta get a job at a funeral home,” Lee recalled telling Jack and Joel Olsby, “‘because every time I see y'all, y'all just standing around, not doing nothing.’ And I kept saying this over and over and over.”

Of course, Lee didn’t stand around, diving headfirst into serving the community via the funeral home. His ability to liven the mood, regardless of circumstance, is a gift. By threading the lines of courtesy and comedy, Lee helps elderly citizens, children and everyone in between to enjoy a day intended for mourning.

Lee’s care for senior citizens in the area goes beyond the funeral home. He cuts at least seven yards a week — three yards one day, two yards another, two yards another. Eight, when counting the lot he trims in the neighborhood where he grew up, which he keeps “looking neat”. He only charges for one cut, wary of the fixed income many of his clientele are on.

On top of the mowing, Lee receives numerous phone calls a day requesting his services, or at the very least, his presence. In a recent query from the nursing home, they asked, “‘Will you buy us a flyswatter, we’ll pay you.’ And I said, no. I’ll buy you a flyswatter.”

With Lee, no payment is needed. He gives and requests nothing in return. He advises others to do the same. “It don’t matter what you do, as long as you offer.”

Lee’s main focus is the realm of provision, not promotion. At least, until Lee mentions Derreck Robinson's Ed Solomon Green Machine Football Camp. Lee coaches 4-year-olds up to second graders, teaching skills, drills and anything in between. The why is obvious for Lee: It’s his family and community, and both have always intertwined.

Despite his insistence that he’s “not a spring chicken anymore,” Lee’s internal motor is admirable, and his connection with the community is tangible. Go to the local Hardee’s off Williams Street, bright and early in the morning, and listen to the banter. The barbershop-adjacent back-and-forth conversation masks true love, care and connection. The patrons won’t admit if asked, but Lee holds a special place in their hearts.

Lee’s goal for his life is simple: “Every day when I get up, I say ‘I gotta help somebody.’ I’ve got to give someone a blessing. It doesn’t matter what it is. My day is not fulfilled unless I help somebody.”