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.