Living with purpose: the story of Stephan Putnam

Like every housemate at The Mooring, Stephan Putnam came to us with a story of a life well lived. Steve, who was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease more than 15 years ago, was one of the first to call The Mooring home. Together with his partner, Mary Lou, Steve acknowledged that the disease’s impact on short-term memory was making independent life increasingly challenging. So he approached his move to The Mooring like he had approached his entire life: with focus, curiosity, and a commitment to making the most out of every moment yet to come.

By Steve’s own admission, adjusting to life at The Mooring took time. “It was hard, at first, to accept that this was where I should be,” said Steve. “Over time, I’ve grown more and more comfortable here by staying engaged. After my diagnosis, I learned that the best way to slow Parkinson’s progress was exercise, so I continued to live an active life – and I still do.”

It’s a commitment that’s readily apparent. Steve, who measures well over six feet tall, says he’s lost 40 pounds since he arrived, relying on careful eating and regular exercise to stay in shape. Even today, it’s clear that Steve has never been comfortable with the notion of sitting still. 

A teacher.

Throughout his lifetime, Steve followed his passions. A lover of language and literature, he earned his Bachelors, Masters and PhD in English, gradually inhabiting his calling as a teacher. In the process of earning his degrees, Steve worked for the United States Air Force, where he was able to combine his commitment to service with his love for teaching. Both independently and as a civilian Air Force contractor, Steve taught on the college level at Old Dominion University, the University of North Carolina, Eastern Washington University’s Tokyo satellite program, and the University of New Hampshire. 

During the course of his studies and his early teaching career, Steve joined NTL Institute (National Training Labs). With NTL, Steve led “labs” for large corporations, including Boeing and American Airlines to help leaders learn how to give meaningful feedback and encourage staff openness and self-disclosure. Steve continued his work with NTL for 43 years, and integrated their methods in classrooms throughout his career. 

In 1980, Steve brought his young family to Maine, where he joined the English department faculty at Yarmouth High School. He was motivated in part by a desire to teach his own children – Matthew and Jay – as they pursued their primary and secondary education through the Yarmouth school system. During his 20-year tenure at Yarmouth, Steve served as English department head. In addition, he founded the still-thriving Yarmouth Playmakers theater program, which continues to earn accolades as one of the state’s finest.

A family man.

While academia and teaching defined much of his life, Steve’s greatest passion was – and still is – his family. In addition to his boys, who are both happily married with children of their own, Steve’s family grew when he met his life partner, Mary Lou, in 1993. He welcomed the opportunity to share life with her children, Dana and Josh, who, with their spouses and children, continue to enrich each and every day. 

Over the years, Steve found satisfaction in athletics. An avid swimmer, runner and basketball player when he was young, a hip replacement at age 55 encouraged him to try SCUBA, which led to years of adventures and an endless archive of wonderful stories. 

With Mary Lou, Steve also decided to become a trained hospice volunteer in 2005 and found the next 5 years rewarding as he visited with people and families in their homes and care facilities.  

…and an author. 

Throughout the course of his active life, Steve nurtured a quieter, more personal passion. Like any self-respecting English major, he was, at his core, a writer. As his life progressed, he tinkered with fiction, ultimately finding more time as career and family obligations lightened. By the time he joined us at The Mooring, he had completed a fiction manuscript – one he intended to publish. 

For care partners at The Mooring, nothing is more satisfying than learning about the passions of our housemates. So when we discovered there was an author in our midst – with publishing aspirations – we saw opportunity. Over the course of several weeks, Steve joined forces with Mooring staff members to research publishing options, and identified the necessary resources to bring his dream to life. 

Steve’s book – When We Were Young Together– borrows elements of a high school yearbook to share a series of “lost” senior essays drafted by members of the fictional Rupert P. Jackson High School class of 1961. The class members come to life through Steve’s imagination, each with a distinct personality, background and anecdotes of formative experiences and influences . By the end of the novel, we have a clear sense of the characters, their experiences, and the school – all drawing on universalities that are thoroughly credible, satisfying and compelling to read. 

Once finalized, the manuscript was published, and plans were made for a publishing party at The Mooring – attended by Steve, his family and friends, his eleven housemates and the entire Mooring team. Following the party, Steve took his book on tour, sharing his story in a series of readings and Q&A sessions throughout southern Maine. 

By Steve’s own admission, his experience at The Mooring has been unique, but it exemplifies our commitment to recognizing and celebrating the individuality of each housemate we come to know. And while Steve was able to realize his dream of publication, the benefits of his work extended far and wide. For our housemates, sharing Steve’s success provided an opportunity to participate in a friend’s excitement. For our team, the project was a chance to bring joy to the life of a friend. And for Steve’s family and friends, publication of When We Were Young Togetherwas a moment to witness his intellect, his dedication and his passion, creating memories that would last forever.