Steve Willis, a native of Paris, known as “Steve Bo” to his friends, is a veteran of the U.S. Army, an amputee and, above all else, a person who goes out of his way to share kindness and goodwill with everyone he comes across.
Willis lived in Paris until he was 18, attending local schools before enlisting in the Army. He served seven years while stationed at Fort Lewis in Washington state and later at Fort Campbell in Kentucky. He would eventually move to Davenport, Iowa, where he began attending St. Anthony Catholic Church in 2013. Willis began dedicating his time to spreading faith by helping people.
“We run a meal site five days a week at St. Anthony’s where we feed people, we had kind of a ministry of presence that went along with that. People would sit with patrons who came, and who were down and out,” said John Cooper, pastoral associate at St. Anthony’s. “Steve would come on his motorized wheelchair and he would often bring fruits and that sort of thing that he would find from the farmer’s market down the street. And he would talk to folks and he would give them advice.”
The kernel of that advice is now displayed on a banner next to the meal site. The sign sits next to a sliding window similar to that found at a fast food drive-through — jokingly dubbed “the McAnthony Window” by church members, Cooper said.
The text was given to him by Willis, Cooper said.
The message to people who were struggling and questioning God, was one of reassurance and love, asking them to “trust the process.”
“I thought it was so profound and what the patrons of our meal site needed to think about,” Cooper said. “So we put it on a long banner and hung it up.”
Willis is now at Winning Wheels, a rehabilitation facility in Prophetstown, Ill., where he has been recovering from an unfortunate sequence of injuries and surgery.
Willis broke his right ankle in October 2018 and the doctor entrusted with the surgery and the following procedures was a good friend of his. The two had a personal friendship outside of the hospital and their only disputes were about the college football rivalry of their favorite teams, Alabama and Clemson. Over time, the screws that were placed in Willis’ ankle became infected and procedures had to be done to adjust them. Then, in May 2019, a problem during surgery led to more issues.
“He (the doctor) just walked in with tears in his eyes and he told me that he had broken one of the screws. I just told him everything was going to be alright. We’ll stop … for breakfast tomorrow and get this done,” said Willis.
The next day, his right leg was amputated. Following the procedure, Willis said he had several people tell him he should file a lawsuit and collect compensation for the doctor’s error. Willis said he very well could have made his friend accountable for the misfortune and sought reparation. Instead, he met the doctor at his home. They spent quality time together talking about football and life. In that moment, he made a crucial decision to not pursue retribution but to choose forgiveness.
“I prayed during that conversation. I prayed for God to give me the strength to do the right thing. After that day, I never thought of it again. The statute of limitations passed and I didn’t even care. I chose to keep my sights ahead,” said Willis.
WAITING FOR NEW LEG
Willis continues to stay at Winning Wheels as he awaits a new prosthetic leg. He has spent his time there building relationships with the other patients. Many of the people there are paralyzed or cannot speak because of physical or mental disabilities. This doesn’t keep Willis from treating them like any other person in his life.
“You gotta talk to people. They maybe can’t speak or can’t move anything except their eyes and mouth but they want to be around people,” said Willis. “There’s one guy who will smile at me and blink a certain way and I know what he’s saying. One day I was talking to him and he had this big ole grin, the nurses asked him why he had such a big smile today and he just pointed at me. There’s another guy who can talk but he’s paralyzed everywhere else. I helped set up an Amazon Echo for him and he does all sorts of stuff with it. He’ll even play trivia with it. He’s one of the smartest people I know.”
Willis has continually delivered sermons and shared his faith to others at the rehab center, the same way he had done with the homeless people he’d give fruit to. He believes in doing the work of God outside of church walls. In doing so, he has impacted countless people just with simple conversation.