Members of the Sylvan Lake community along with friends and family of Steve Dills gathered to pay their respect at a Celebration of Life held on Saturday at the Sylvan Lake Memorial Presbyterian Church.
Dills, who was born December 31, 1955 and passed away on August 29, 2016, is remembered as not only a compassionate community builder, but also a loving family man and a highly respected member of the Canadian newspaper industry.
During the service, Steve’s ‘oldest younger brother’ Mark Dills detailed he and his brothers’ early years, growing up in Milton, Ontario where they spent countless hours as children building forts and exploring. Mark also recounted how the Dills children grew up in the newspaper industry, with their family owning the local paper. He told of how Steve gained his passion for community newspapers and ‘caught the news bug’ from their father.
Dills recalled how his brother always showed great interest in their father’s work at the local paper. It was of no surprise to the family, that upon his graduation from high school Steve would choose to attend the same journalism school as their father – Ryerson University in Toronto, which was at the time known as Ryerson Polytechnical Institute.
Graduating from the highly esteemed journalism school in 1977, Dills moved west in 1979. This surprised his family and they awaited the day he would move back east assuming his western adventure would be short term. However, as his brother Mark recounted during the service, Steve never made the move and it became apparent he had found his true home on the Great Plains of Western Canada.
In his lifetime he wore many hats. Publisher, editor, general manager, father, husband; but above all, Dills was a story teller. For over 40 years stories of people, places and events were captured through his writing and photography.
Dills spent time working with a number of weekly newspapers including the Onoway Tribune, Drayton Valley Western Review, Spruce Grove Examiner, Stony Plain Reporter, Vermillion Standard, North Battleford News-Optimist, Agassiz Advance, Vegreville Observer, Eckville Echo and Sylvan Lake News.
“It would be impossible to calculate, but over the years I would imagine Steve has written millions of words and taken thousands upon thousands of pictures that kept people informed about the relevant issues and events in their communities. He did this from his belief that a newspaper was there to serve the community,” said Dills’ brother during the service. “All that he documented is now a part of history and permanently stitched to the fabric of the communities he has worked in – this is his legacy. We as a family are tremendously proud of the recognition and awards that Steve has accumulated over his very successful career.”
Dills’ contributions to weekly newspapers in Alberta were vast. His work was detailed at the service by Dennis Merrell, Executive Director of the Alberta Weekly Newspaper Association (AWNA).
Merrell regarded not only Steve but the entire Dills family for their contributions to newspapers across the country. He explained how Dills was instrumental in helping to see AWNA’s annual Newspaper Symposium come to fruition.
“Steve was respected and loved by many,” said Merrell. “He wasn’t just a great editor and a great story teller – he was a great promoter as well.
“Perhaps his greatest accomplishment was bringing in the annual newspaper symposium around 1990 – it wasn’t just training for our staff and member newspapers, it was a way of bringing students into the industry and introducing them to the editors and publishers.”
Dills also served on the AWNA board from 1985 to 1990, was president of AWNA from 1988-89 and hosted the annual Bing Crosby Memorial Golf Tournament for a number of years.
Throughout his many years of outstanding dedication to AWNA, what stood out the most to Merrell in his memory of Dills was his willingness to listen and a laugh you could pick out from across a crowd.
In 1996, Dills received AWNA’s highest honour, the Bill Draayer Award, given in recognition of outstanding personal contributions to the progress and development of the Alberta Weekly Newspapers Association.
“Respect among peers is never granted but always earned, it is most often earned by those who do not consciously seek it,” said Merrell. “If you knew Steve you know that describes him pretty well.”
While relentlessly pursuing his passion for the world of community newspapers, Dills met his partner of many years, Connie, who was described during the service as being a ‘beacon’ throughout his career. His love for his family was illustrated during the service by his two of his four children, Shanna Mcconnell and Heather Heystek.
“I don’t think Steve would’ve thought of himself as a heroic man, but he was pretty brave to take on the responsibility of four children,” said Mcconnell. “He was soft spoken, incredibly patient, caring and taught us to be better people. He was always there for us.
“As we grew and as our families grew, he captured it all on film as well.”
Heystek added through his photographs he told many stories.
“Stories of beautiful flowers, raging fires, majestic wildlife, bucking broncos and most importantly unconditional love,” she explained, “Steve will be remembered for his moustache, always having a camera around his neck, his preparedness in always having a pen and notepad in his front pocket, his secret stash of candy in his bedside table, his pile of newspaper clippings and his love of art.”
She emphasized for those who knew him, he will remembered as a man of few words, yet through his writing and photography he spoke volumes. Although he was remembered as a quiet man, the world will be a much quieter place without Steve Dills.