Memories of Steve Harper, Professor of Computer Science

Friday, September 9, 2022

Steve Harper passed away on September 1, 2022 from stroke-related injuries. The beloved computer science professor taught at Carroll for more than thirty years, and his presence was felt across a diverse cross-section of campus life. Here are a few memories from Steve Harper's colleagues at Carroll College. Learn more about Steve and the impact he made at Carroll College here.

Memories of Steve


Every year in early February, I'd come in to work to find Steve dressed up in a full Abraham Lincoln costume.  And of course Steve wouldn't just look like Lincoln, he'd have the full Abraham Lincoln persona.  He'd visit local grade schools on (or around) Lincoln's birthday and tell the students all sorts of stories about Lincoln, and in between the school visits he'd visit Carroll classrooms, too!  I always loved the days when Mr. Lincoln would visit my math classes and somehow find a way to share a historical story or anecdote about Lincoln that tied directly into what we were doing that day.

I was fortunate enough to take classes from Steve when I was a student here and later to work with him as a colleague.  He was one of the most genuine and joyful people I've ever met.  From his constant stream of observational jokes to the sound of his singing drifting down the halls of Borromeo, he was always a source of positivity.  Where there was Steve, there was light.

Ted Wendt, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Math

Carroll has a tradition where faculty and staff serve students a late night breakfast the Sunday before finals week and Steve and I would often find ourselves "working" the same station. Over the years, we perfected the art of razzing one another over who had the better serving skills and oftentimes the teasing would extend to follow up emails or a ribbing in the hallway in Borromeo Hall. He was always in a good mood, ready to share a laugh, and cared deeply about all things Carroll. I hope others will follow in his footsteps and volunteer to serve in some capacity - perhaps at the next late night breakfast! I will miss my serving buddy.

Shannon Ackeret
Director, Global Education

Steve was a great supporter of women in the field of CS and CIS. One of his support activities was to coordinate Carroll's hosting of the NCWIT Aspiration Award. (National Center for Women and Information Technology) For this award, high school teachers nominate a student at their highschool for the award. Steve contacted highschools to let instructors know about the award and arranged for an evening on campus for the awardees.

Another item was Steve's sense of humor which was always showing up in unexpected ways and places. Last spring I confirmed that I would be able to attend the NCWIT event and received the following from Steve. "I tell all the new faculty 'If you go to all of the free meals, you can double your salary.'"

Mary Keeffe, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Engineering

I will remember Steve's sense of humor.  Many times the only reply back I would get to an All Employees email I sent out with yet another warning about Phishing scams was one from Steve.  He would usually respond with something to the effect of "how can I know that I can trust your emails?" In person, he delivered his "funnies" with that twinkle in his eye. He will be missed.

Loretta Andrews
Director of Technology (retired)

My best and lasting memory (memories) of Steve include the following:

Seeing him up on LeGrande Cannon (road) at least three times per week during the Spring and Fall months, speed walking.  I would be running and he would be walking.  He would always have a positive comment about one of my kids, a play he had seen or just about the weather.

My last communication with him was this summer after the Governor's Cup Marathon.  He emailed me and congratulated me on the performance of my sons.

Just his smile, positive words and happy demeanor are the things I will remember.

Annette Ryerson, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Marketing

I think it’s worth noting that Steve was active in the theatre. His mother was the long-time director at Carroll, and I know she regularly wrangled him onto stage. In my time at Carroll, Steve played the kind and empathetic father of Matthew Shepherd in The Laramie Project and Jesus in the Putnam County Spelling Bee.

He was beloved by his student cast mates. No one could have been a better fit for the role of Jesus, appearing from an upper window in the theatre to reassure an uptight girl that Jesus doesn’t need us to win a spelling bee in order to be proud of us. Steve (who was hiding his crutches from a speed walking injury because he didn’t think Jesus should be portrayed by someone on crutches) had the kindly smile and characteristic jovial eyes he had when working with his colleagues on a difficult problem or shepherding a struggling student through emotional upheaval.

Always empathetic, always looking at the bright side, always an advocate for the overlooked and downtrodden. He was our friend and mentor. And always willing to jump in when we needed him.

Kim Shire
Associate Professor of Theatre

Steve radiated happiness and wanted to spread that happiness to the rest of us. Sometimes that came in the form of puns, even visual puns. I remember him walking down the Borro hallway with a dollar bill hanging from each ear at Halloween, demanding that we figure out what his costume was. After I admitted I was stumped, he announced he was a "buck-an-ear" (pirate). He was quite pleased to make us laugh (or groan) at his puns.

Steve reminded me to have fun at my job and to find joy in all the silly little things.

Jodi Fasteen, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Math

I found Steve to be a quirky, but caring individual with a great sense of humor. When I first arrived at Carroll in 2012, Steve was the faculty assembly chair. While our meetings did not run as smoothly as they do now, they were entertaining nonetheless with Steve's commentary, which often provided a segue to the next topic. In one instance, an English colleague provided a quote from Shakespeare when giving the faculty council report to which Steve responded "once we start quoting Shakespeare, it's time to move on."

Later that year, I had a personal interaction with Steve when he entered my classroom on President's Day in the guise of Abe Lincoln, fully equipped with a top hat and nineteenth-century humor. I think I was knee deep in some chemical equilibrium calculation so the brief aside was a welcomed interruption. As I came to know Steve over the years, I found him to be a great role model for younger Carroll faculty such as myself. From providing his expertise in computer science with our Chemical Inventory database to interacting with him in an advising capacity during his many years as an alpha instructor to freshmen, his compassion and generosity for his colleagues and  students were certainly traits to be emulated.

David M. Hitt, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Chemistry

When I remember Steve, I just smile because he always had a smile on his face. I had him as a professor, and as a student and he just made everything "exciting."  His positive attitude was contagious!

Janet Riis
Director of Financial Aid

Just a few of my memories include Abraham Lincoln, I mean, Steve...

  • chomping on nuts and fruit during meetings - he was always hungry!
  • speedwalking with Dr. Jonathan Matthews on and off-campus with his big, floppy sun hat.
  • appearing in my office each semester asking for project ideas for his senior seminar students.
  • bobbling up and down in laughter with his shock of curly hair as he cheered on theatre students during performances.

But more than anything, I'll remember his infectious smile and positive attitude. Whenever he saw me, he made me feel like I was the most important person in the world. I miss him already.

Jeff Wald
Senior Designer and Web Manager

Professor Harper was an outstanding professor who left a lifelong impression on the students, faculty, and staff of Carroll and the broader community. His approach to teaching in computer science led to many graduates' success during and after Carroll. Databases and the Senior Project classes were the most fun with Steve because he worked alongside each of us and it felt at many times that we were learning together, but you could always fall back and ask him for guidance. Senior project - "How would you grade yourself?  What grade do you think you deserve?" Self evaluation with a little bit of humor went a long way.

He was great at sharing experiences with NASA and sabbaticals in Helena State Agencies to ensure we knew what the real world was working on and the problems we would get to solve upon graduation. He was someone I would talk to every two to three years to catch up with and we would see where each other were in work and family life. Steve was a friend who's kindness and compassion were trademarks of Carroll and his personal influence and support through the years was what I shared with my kids. He will be missed but his memory will live on in my family and everyone that he has touched along the way.  Thank you Professor Harper for supporting me through Carroll and beyond. You are loved and God bless you. I'm sure Father Peoples will have a couple of new jokes waiting for you.

With love,

Jon Tomsu
Class of '99

I have, what I consider, a unique perspective on Professor Harper.  I started at Carroll in the Fall of 1989 as a Political Science Major.  By the Fall of my Junior year, it was clear that my Major would be wrapped up that spring and that I had enough Philosophy credits to bump my minor in Philosophy to a (double) major.  One hitch... I needed to get to either an intermediate level of a foreign language, or a computer science route that included taking either the 101 or 102 level, and then taking either Fortran or C... each of which was offered only in the Fall Semester on alternating years.  I took the 102 class in the Spring of my Junior year and signed up for Fortran the Fall of my Senior Year. 

As I like to tell it, I knew I was probably out of my league when the best of the Sophomore Engineering Class were the only other students in the room on that first day.  I worked hard that first quarter and had a nice solid B going into the mid-term.  When we came back from our Fall Break, Professor Harper called me into his office.  With the kindest eyes, he looked at me and said "You had a B going into the mid-term, but your mid-term exam brought you all the way down to a D."  To be honest... I wasn't surprised.  Those last couple of weeks before the mid-term, I was starting to feel out of my element.  He then said "I'll let you drop the class and not let it affect your record."  We chatted a bit.  I thanked him for his kindness.  In just a little over a month, it will have been 30 years since we had that conversation.  I remember it like it was just last year.  I promptly went down and withdrew from the class.  I knew a double major was no longer a possibility, but I was ok with that.  And for that reason I have a 29 credit hours in my minor.

For as much as he impacted this non-CS/Engineering student, I can only imagine how my fellow alumni who trained in their discipline by him must feel.  My thoughts and prayers go out to Steve's family and close friends in their time of grief. 

Mark Daspit
Class of '93