Civic duty drove three who serve as examples

Published May 17, 2007

North Pinellas County recently lost three individuals to whom civic involvement seemed as vital as breathing. They were part of a generation that did not sit at home and watch life pass by on their television or computer screens, but got out and built their communities.

William Fred Stephan III of Clearwater, known as Bill to most, died Saturday at 81 years old. During the 1960s, '70s and '80s, Stephan was almost a household name in Clearwater because he was so deeply involved in professional and civic affairs there.

Stephan was teaching math at St. Petersburg Junior College when the school asked him to explore the feasibility of starting a satellite campus in Clearwater. Acting as both teacher and campus administrator, he started small, with night classes at Clearwater High, and expanded the program to more than 2, 000 students and almost 100 courses before giving up the administrator part of his title in 1980 to happily devote his full time to teaching.

That same year, he briefly filled a vacancy on the Clearwater City Commission, then helped found Religious Community Services' food bank - an organization he continued to serve as a volunteer until his death. He was concerned about how transportation issues would affect growing Pinellas County, and got involved in Pinellas' early efforts to create a mass transit system.

Another civic dynamo, Claude Rigsby, died May 8 at age 82. Rigsby served his beloved Safety Harbor in so many ways that upon his death, Mayor Andy Steingold described him as "the most civic-minded citizen in Safety Harbor."

A former professional baseball player, Rigsby built a career in law enforcement before entering local politics. He had been constable and chief of police before being elected to the Safety Harbor City Commission. He served 10 years, then was elected mayor and stayed in that office for eight years. He was a staunch defender of the small town's independence and protector of its special charm.

When vacancies on the City Commission led city officials to call him for help in 2006, he gladly stepped up, though he had passed his 80th birthday and was suffering from leukemia.

Don Goodall of Dunedin died May 7 at age 89. A former newspaper reporter and public relations executive, Goodall came to Dunedin in 1982 and was soon one of the busiest people in town. He was active in the Dunedin Historical Society, the Dunedin Country Club and a number of city advisory committees. He campaigned for the environmental restoration of St. Joseph Sound and for high-quality drinking water for the city.

He was retired and a grandfather when a young relative graduated from a Miami high school and was told he would have to take remedial courses at college. Wondering why that would be, Goodall asked to visit some Dunedin classrooms and said he was troubled by some of what he saw in modern classrooms. Characteristically, he got involved, soon becoming chairman of Dunedin High's School Advisory Council and even taking part in education initiatives at the state level. Goodall spent untold hours at Dunedin High working to ensure that students got a good education, their families understood the necessity of parental involvement, and teachers felt supported and valued.

All three of these individuals were busy enough to have said "no" when called upon to help, but they didn't. Even after retirement, they all played important roles in civic affairs. Even through personal heartbreak and illness, they soldiered on.

All three no doubt would wish their lives to be an example of how essential it is for every person to find some way to serve their community.