Some things change.
Isaiah Ephraim, Nathan Harris and Seth Hunt are no longer the third-graders that found in businessman Steve Runyan a friend, mentor and weekly lunch buddy for three years. Now in their late teens and recent high school graduates, they’re bound for college and beyond.
But some things never change.
Nine years later, Runyan still is available for a meal with “his boys.” To them, he’s still “Mr. Runyan.” Cellphones and social media may have replaced board games and Patrick McManus books (see sidebar), but they trade laughs and stories as easily as ever.
Back when the boys were students at King Elementary, lunches with Runyan were about having fun. Having fun and eating special meals: pizza, hamburgers, barbecued ribs. Sometimes the group expanded to as many as six members.
Amidst the fun, Runyan also taught them things about life. Said Harris, “He showed me what actual success is: Working at a young age to get where you want to be, and then helping others.”
The lunch meetings made school more enjoyable, said Hunt. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Being a lunch buddy was just one of Runyan’s many mentoring activities, but he felt it had the most impact—on the students and himself. “When you leave the school, you’re thinking about it constantly,” said Runyan, who was a buddy at several other schools as well.
He joked, “My wife thought I might bring [the kids] home with me.”
But then the boys finished elementary school and headed to different middle schools. All lost touch with Runyan temporarily. “It was a time for me to find myself,” said Harris.
Gone were the weekly lunches, but not Runyan’s influence. Hunt was inspired to participate in the Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps at Prairie High School, which led to teaching leadership skills to middle-schoolers.
Harris, who graduated from Fort Vancouver High School, and Ephraim, who graduated from Camas High School, started a track club at King. Just as they were mentored, Ephraim and Harris passed on messages about the importance of school and of working hard.
They never forgot Mr. Runyan though, and all three boys eventually reconnected with him. Ephraim’s mother, current King Principal Janell Ephraim, called him after her son posted a picture of Runyan and himself on Instagram. The caption read, “Throwback at least eight years ago to like fifth grade with my lunch buddy Steve Runyan… I don’t know where he is now but he deserved all the thanks in the world.”
On June 19, the quartet once again met over lunch.
“After this many years, the bond still lives on,” said Runyan.
Now that bond is being paid forward. In the fall, Ephraim will head to Eastern Oregon University, where he’ll play football and study music and education. “Steve inspired me to become a coach or a teacher,” he said.
Harris will attend Clark College to obtain an associate degree. He hopes to earn a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and join many of his family members among the ranks of law enforcement.
Hunt, who graduated from Summit View High School, also will attend Clark to study welding, followed by further studies in Oklahoma.
An injury withdrew Runyan from the Lunch Buddies program four years ago. But now, in retirement, he’s thinking about starting up again. Said Runyan, “It’s nice to have a reason to get up in the morning.”
The Lunch Buddy program, coordinated by the Foundation for Vancouver Public Schools, pairs adult mentors with elementary students for weekly lunches during the school year. Approaching its 22nd year, the program is 300 mentors strong who visit 19 elementary schools across the district every week.
However, there are still approximately 100 students waiting to receive Lunch Buddies. If you’d like to learn more about becoming a buddy, please call 360-313-4725 or email LunchBuddy@vansd.org.
(The following story originally appeared in the June 2008 issue of the Report to the Community.)
Hold the pizza. We have books to discuss.
Sometimes they laugh so hard, tears run down their cheeks. It takes some deep breaths before someone in the group can stop chuckling long enough to continue reading the story. We’re talking about “the boys” at King Elementary School—Nathan Harris, age 11; Seth Hunt, age 10; Isaiah Ephraim, age 11; and Steve Runyan, age 60-something.
“The boys” have discovered an author, Patrick McManus, who tickles their funny bones and has them tackling chapter books and writing. Books were never so much fun.
For 13 years Steve Runyan has been a “Reading/Lunch Buddy” at King Elementary, a mentor who comes to the school once a week to meet a student for lunch, reading and conversation. This year, his “buddies” expanded to include the three fifth-graders: Nathan, Seth and Isaiah.
Runyan had long enjoyed McManus’ outdoor tales and quirky sense of humor. The two had met when McManus traveled from his home in Spokane to Portland for a book signing. When Runyan brought a McManus book to school to share with his reading buddies, the book was an instant hit that led to more reading, discussions, hilarity and writing their own stories.
For one Lunch Buddy day, Runyan arranged a conference call between the author and his lunch buddies. McManus had sent books for the school’s media center and, for the boys, personally signed copies of his latest book, “Kerplunk.”
Piping hot pepperoni pizzas arrived, ordered by Runyan for the special day. As the aroma of pizza filled the room, Runyan suggested, “We’ll eat first, then make the call,” but Nathan, Seth and Isaiah were too eager to talk with the author. After Runyan suggested three times that they eat first, he gave in to the boys and made the call. The pizza sat in the boxes while the students talked with the author.
“What inspired you to write, and when did you start writing?” Seth asked McManus.
“You guys are way out ahead of me. I didn’t get excited about writing until I was a freshman in college,” replied McManus, whose books have sold millions of copies.
Seth: “How many stories have you written?”
McManus: “I’ve written about a thousand of them. I should go back and read them. Are they really good?”
“YEAAHHH!” replied the boys in unison.
Nathan: “Is Rancid Crabtree a real person?”
“Over the years I have expanded on the truth a little,” admitted McManus.
Isaiah: “Are these stories true?”
McManus: “A lot of these stories are pretty true, Isaiah. I even have Mr. Runyan in some of them … and those are especially true.”
As Nathan, Isaiah and Seth asked questions and laughed over stories and characters, the pizza sat in the boxes getting cold. Fifth-grade boys choosing book discussions over pizza? It’s just the sort of implausible tale that McManus writes. In this case it’s true, but who would believe it?