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Family remembers Salinan who died at lake

5/29/2014

(MCT) — Steve Edwards spent hours and hours floating on the waters of Milford Lake, always expecting to catch the big one. Fishing was a pastime his father had taught him to love, and now that Edwards was a grandfather, he was teaching a new generation of boys in his family to float quietly on a pontoon boat, holding a rod and reel, waiting and hoping for something big.

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Steve Edwards spent hours and hours floating on the waters of Milford Lake, always expecting to catch the big one. Fishing was a pastime his father had taught him to love, and now that Edwards was a grandfather, he was teaching a new generation of boys in his family to float quietly on a pontoon boat, holding a rod and reel, waiting and hoping for something big.

"He never got excited about anything except the big fish or the 10-point buck," said Steve's wife, Glenda Edwards.

The 65-year-old Salina man apparently did encounter that mythical big catch while casting lines early Sunday with one of his grandsons.

"He had just said, 'Time to catch the big one,' and his pole shot off the boat," the grandson told family members.

It wasn't just any pole, although it may have looked like so many others he had back home in the garage, family members say.

"That pole his dad had given him when he was 14," Glenda said.

Glenda said she thinks Steve's next move was an instinct, like if a person saw his or her wedding ring fall into the drink. He jumped into the cold water after it. He never resurfaced.

Family members said they believe an underlying heart condition might have contributed to his death.

After three days of searching, officials with the Geary County Sheriff's Office, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism and Geary County Emergency Management, and the Shawnee Mission Township dive team hadn't located Edwards' body.

But on Wednesday evening, after the searchers had gone home, Edwards' grandsons asked a family out fishing in the West Rolling Hills area of the lake if they would make one more pass through Edwards' favorite fishing spot. Ten minutes into the drift, they found him, Glenda said.

Jill Alter said everyone involved in the search and the chaplains who have visited with the family have been "incredible in their efforts throughout the search and in support of the family."

A sanctuary

"Milford was his sanctuary," she said. "He loves that place."

Glenda Edwards and her daughters, Jeni Edwards-Hallock and Alter, headed back to Milford on Wednesday afternoon after having returned to Salina for a break Tuesday.

On Wednesday morning, friends and neighbors who had heard the news were stopping by to offer condolences and food, as family members reminisced about Edwards, who had worked for many years building houses for Hayworth Construction. Although Edwards worked hard, he also stayed active with other interests, and he helped create memories for his children and grandchildren, often at Milford Lake. He had been looking forward to his planned June 9 retirement.

Cooking big breakfasts

"The entire family would get together, and we'd have these big camping extravaganzas, and he'd be out there cooking breakfast," Glenda Edwards said. "How many people would he be fixing for, like 20 people? You know it's like 5 pounds of bacon, 10 pounds of sausage, hash browns. Oh my gosh, how many dozens of eggs would he fix? It didn't make any difference. That was what he loved to do. The sweat's a drippin', and he's out there fixing breakfast for everybody."

Grandson Aiden Edwards said he thought his early-rising grandpa's favorite part came next.

"The thing he loved to do was he'd bang on everybody's door, and he'd say, 'Breakfast is ready,' " Aiden said.

"He was one of those people who thought if he was awake, everybody should be awake," Glenda said. "I didn't even want to eat breakfast. I just wanted to drink coffee."

Night fishing

In addition to the early rising, the traditional campfires in the evening brought moments family members probably will never forget. Edwards loved to night fish and fish in tournaments. He had planned to compete in one this weekend, Glenda said.

It had gotten to the point that only one grandson was still willing to night fish with him, she said. Edwards never seemed to tire of drifting in the dark, and nobody else had quite as much stamina.

"You would drift and drift and drift and pray that nobody gets a bite because if somebody gets a bite then we have to do one more drift again," Jeni said.

Jill said she learned never to sleep in her parents' camper after her father and husband went night fishing, supposedly just for a little while.

"The beds are so uncomfortable, and I couldn't get to sleep," she said. "Just as I'm getting to sleep at about 3:30 a.m., they show up smelling like fish, and Dad has to take a shower. The baby was 1 1/2 years old, and he woke her up. Dad was up at 7 the next morning wanting to know if my husband wanted to fish again."

Glenda said probably the funniest fishing story dated back about 40 years, when Edwards and her father and another person were about to go fishing on the Big Blue River in a row boat near her childhood home.

"They were all getting in the boat to go out fishing when all of the sudden it was like, 'Oh my god. Snake! Snake!' and they all dove out and left him in the boat with a copperhead," she said. She said Edwards escaped a snake bite as he bashed at the stowaway with a paddle.

In the kiddie pool

A prized photo found saved on her camera brought tears to Glenda's eyes. Jeni had erected a kiddie pool for the children during a Labor Day trip to Milford last year, but Edwards and his sister, Lee Ann Sparks, had been the first ones in.

"There was this great big 200-pound man in a kiddie pool at the lake," she said. In the photo, which Jeni described as "definitely a classic Steve moment" because it was so unlike his usual serious demeanor, Edwards is sticking out his tongue.

When he wasn't fishing, Edwards was weeding and watering in one of four garden plots he tended. He'd planted vegetables on his mother-in-law's farm and in three plots off Stimmel Road that he rented from the city and visited every night after work. He and Glenda would spend long hours making tomato juice and canning tomatoes and dill pickles.

"Gardening was a passion of his, I would say," Glenda said. "I got to where I hate the garden."

Bountiful garden

"That's because you can't have five tomato plants, you have to have 50," Jill said. "You can't have one row of green beans, you have to have a whole section. He had 20 pounds of potatoes planted at the farm."

In the winter, Glenda said everyone appreciated the bounty Edwards' efforts provided when he would cook up a giant kettle full of vegetable soup or chili.

"He would have enough that we could feed the entire neighborhood," she said. "He'd make six batches of homemade noodles, and we would share those with the kids."

Edwards also had a fondness for the television programs "Antique Roadshow" and "Finding Bigfoot." While he didn't set out to hunt sasquatch, Glenda said he did go to estate sales, although she forbade it.

"He buys the box that nobody else wants for 50 cents, and then he brings that crap home and sets it in the middle of the table and expects me to do something with it," she said. " 'You know there's treasures there,' he'd say."

She said a pair of statues on her front porch were estate sale finds that she never cared for but now knows she'll never part with.

Coach Dad

When his daughters were younger, Edwards devoted hours to coaching their summer recreation slow-pitch softball teams, and, at one point, was coaching three teams at once, Glenda said. Jill's team, the Untouchables, went undefeated during that last season, and one of her teammates later told her that because of her dad's coaching, she had landed a full-ride scholarship for a fast-pitch team at college.

"He comes across as gruff, but he coached those girls, and he was always so patient," Glenda said. "He loved that team. He told them you play fair, and that's how you play the game. He always taught them that good sportsmanship came first."

In later years as he watched his grandsons' teams, Glenda said, sometimes he found it hard to turn the coach in him off and couldn't avoid critiquing the coaching.

"One time, he went back and sat in the car because he couldn't whisper," she said. "He's so grumbly. He gets so frustrated watching them play."

Jeni said Edwards was always pretty opinionated about how things should be done. From gardening to cutting up potatoes, his way was the right way.

"He was stubborn," Glenda said.

Jeni said it had been hard to pull herself away from the dock at the lake, where she had been waiting for news of her father, but one of the boys had a baseball game and she wanted to provide normalcy for the children. Before she left, she asked for a sign that everything would be OK. During the ball game that night, she said a hawk that perched on the lights sternly looking down into the dugout for the entire first game and most of the second seemed to be that sign.

"When you'd ride in a car with Dad, he would always be saying, 'Look, there's a hawk. There's a deer,' and you'd be like, 'Stop!' " she said. "He was so in tune with nature."

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(c)2014 The Salina Journal (Salina, Kan.)