When Woodstock North High School student Dylan Martinez, 17, got to know Steve Rick, it was through the assistant principal’s work on extracurricular projects.
“I couldn’t tell you one day that I saw [Rick] and he didn’t have a positive attitude,” Martinez said. “He inspired me and mentored me. I was not going down a great path, and he sat me down in his office one day and we had a long talk. It really turned my life around.”
The WNHS community and Rick’s family are mourning the loss of Rick, 39, who died of cancer Feb. 4. Surviving him are his daughters, Evie, 5, and Harper, 3, and his wife, Cindy Rick, of Woodstock.
“I was never going to get married. Then I met Steve, and I got why people spend the rest of their lives with one person,” Cindy Rick said. “He was the best human being I have ever met and could make me laugh so much that my cheeks hurt.”
“He was so excited to be a dad. He was always on the ground, their jungle gym,” she continued. “The girls were his love, his heart. Looking at both of them, I get to see him every day.”
Rick, a former Prairie Ridge High School science teacher, had been an assistant principal at WNHS since 2014. Colleagues remember him for his constant smile and his ability to defuse a tense situation with ease. They said he would join the students in the gym’s bleachers, leading them in cheers — and he wasn’t afraid to wear an adult onesie for spirit week.
“He was very disarming, and that made it easy to grow a strong friendship with him in a short amount of time,” said Jeff Schroeder, a WNHS administrator and coach who was one of Rick’s good friends. “He was always so interested in you than the other way around. He never felt sorry for himself. He was high-fiving kids in the halls, he was always smiling. He was just a champion.”
Jacqueline Adler, an English teacher at WNHS, was one of Rick’s students when she was a student at Prairie Ridge.
“As a teacher, he had the ability to make you feel welcome, that you were his favorite student. He did that every single day, with every single student,” Adler said. “Everyone has that same opinion about him.” In college, she decided on teaching as a career and reached out to Rick for guidance. The two both began their careers at WNHS in 2014, where he continued to be a mentor to her. “From a teacher’s perspective, he always had an open door with anything we were struggling with,” said Adler. “My first year, I would go down and talk to him and there would be a line. There were so many teachers that felt comfortable talking with him honestly about their struggles, with no fear of being judged.”
Rick initially was diagnosed with melanoma in 2010. After surgery to remove the cancer and affected lymph nodes, he was given a clean bill of health. But when the cancer returned in 2016, he documented his fight on a public blog tinged with hope and humor.
“Welcome to my, ‘Oh crap, I have life-threatening cancer’ blog,” his website read. “Diagnosed with Stage IV metastatic melanoma on June 2, 2016, this blog is an opportunity for me to share, process, and hopefully accept my new reality … my new existence … my war against cancer.”
Cindy Rick said she hopes people will see her husband’s cancer diagnosis and death as a reason to be checked out by an oncologist who specializes in melanoma, something Steve Rick didn’t do at his initial diagnosis.
She said she is a better person for having had Steve in her life.
“He was so positive and strong during this cancer battle. I am so proud of how hard he fought,” Cindy Rick said. “Cancer never did take him. It never took his positivity, it never took his loving spirit, it never took his ability to always want to pay it forward and help someone. He defeated cancer. It never stood a chance.”