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Jeff Manes: He’s a straight talker and the real deal(er)

Steve Stanfel 57 retired from his job as mechanic ArcelorMittal has worked more than five years Ameristar Casino East Chicago

Steve Stanfel, 57, retired from his job as a mechanic at ArcelorMittal, and has worked more than five years at Ameristar Casino in East Chicago, Ind. He started in security and, for the past 15 months, has been a dealer. | Photo provided

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Updated: February 21, 2013 6:12AM



“... And when I hear millionaire ballplayers whine or think of St. Jude and lost causes, I think of him vaguely. And he never retired. And he went and died in the mill.”

— Jeff Manes,
from the short story
“Appalachian Apologia”

Steve Stanfel graduated from Griffith High School and has lived in Portage for about 25 years.

He’s single and has raised two adult children.

Stanfel, 57, is a die-hard Cubs and Notre Dame fan. I interviewed him two days after his Fighting Irish got trounced 42-14 by Alabama in the BCS national championship game. Stanfel admitted Notre Dame was overmatched, but he still was thrilled by its outstanding season.

Stanfel is retired from ArcelorMittal, where he worked as a mechanic. We worked together for many years at the No. 2 Coke Plant. Today, Stanfel works as a dealer for Ameristar Casino in East Chicago. He doesn’t run distance races anymore, but still likes to ride his bicycle.

When Stanfel still was sowing his wild oats, he could imitate Bob Dylan and recite every lyric the legendary folk-rock singer ever penned — great entertainment at Super Bowl parties, smokers and such.

***

Childhood memories of Griffith?

“We played a lot of sandlot ball,” he said. “I still ride my bike to Griffith. It’s one of my regular bike rides. I go right by the house I grew up in and next to the old sandlot where we played.

“A couple of my good buddies with whom I played ball have passed away in the last few years.”

You were the same age as our mutual friend, Rick Garvey.

“Yeah, Rick and I went to St. Mary’s (School) together.”

Your father died young.

“He was killed in an automobile accident when I was 15; my youngest brother was only 10.”

That had to be tough. Steve, a few years ago, I interviewed an interesting man for this column — George Bunce.

“Mr. Bunce was my science teacher, I believe, in the ninth grade. I’m sure he was an extremely intelligent man, but it wasn’t one of my favorite classes.”

Life after Griffith High?

“At 18, I was hired by Midwest Steel, but got laid off that November. I hired in at Inland (Steel Co.) in January of ’75. I retired with 32 years’ seniority.”

Do you miss the mill?

“Just the money and the guys. After the Coke Plant disbanded and we went to various departments, it wasn’t quite the same. The camaraderie wasn’t there. We did find out how much better workers we were than ... the other departments.

“The mill was dreary and dangerous. When most people are on their way to work, they don’t anticipate the possibility of somebody getting killed. There was always that possibility in the mill.”

You have a point.

“When I was working security for the (casino) boat, some pro football player had gotten in trouble for some reason, and I had this guy say, ‘You know what these guys go through; they should cut ’em some slack.’

“I’m thinkin’: ‘Wait a minute. What about ironworkers, steel workers, firefighters, police officers ... . Who cuts them slack when they do something wrong? They don’t have more dangerous jobs than playing in the National Football League? How many guys die playing in the NFL? Granted, they might get hurt, but you can get hurt working in the mill, too. Steel workers lose arms and legs.’ ”

Those pro athletes are well-compensated, too.

Steve, I saw a political cartoon in the newspaper several years ago; it was a couple of guys wearing hard hats while hanging from an I-beam about 300 feet in the air. One guy said to the other: “I’ve been working from this iron for 37 years. Cal Ripken Jr. plays baseball 2,000-plus games in a row, and my kid calls him an ‘iron man.’ ”

“Jeff, I wrote a letter to Nike asking: ‘Why don’t you give the average guy a chance to advertise your products? I’ve run a lot of miles in Nike shoes. Why not give me a shot at a TV commercial; throw a few bucks my way. I’d do it a lot cheaper than Michael Jordan.”

Did Nike reply?

“No. I still see Archie Abatie at the gym once in awhile. He did some kind of an ultra-insane 50-mile backwoods run in Michigan about a year ago. He did like the last 38 miles of it on a sprained ankle.”

Archie was a tenacious competitor, that’s for sure. You and I took up running when we were in our 30s. What got you started?

“Bein’ fat.”

You mostly ride the bike now.

“Yeah, my hips, back, knees — everything hurts when I run.”

We used to run the Indy-Mini every year. Remember our first one? I spotted those two guys in the car next to us and said, “Hey, Steve, check out these two weirdos; they’re rubbing Vaseline all over their nipples and putting round bandages over them.”

“Yeah, we were laughing our (behinds) off at them.”

Then, after we finished our first 13.1-mile race with bloody nipples rubbed raw from cotton T-shirts, we sat in our car whimpering and wishing we’d followed their routine.

“A couple of summers ago, I rode my bike from Portage to the house of my buddy, Ronnie Fisher, in Lowell. I was going to take the back roads, but I messed up somewhere around St. John and ended up on U.S. 41. It was hot, humid and windy. I was almost there when I rode over those bumpy things that let you know you’re driving off the road.”

And?

“I took a bad spill and gashed my knee. There was a guy driving a tractor-trailer who actually stopped to see if I was OK.

“I peddled up to Fisher’s house, and he sees me all bloody; he was eating a watermelon in front of his garage. I didn’t tell him I was coming over to visit him.”

That must’ve been a surprise.

“His wife came out and cleaned me up. It was a miserable ride home.”

Steve, lets switch gears. Politics and the state of the union?

“What’s going to happen when the U.S. goes bankrupt? The fiscal cliff was all (baloney), but we’re still going to borrow $4 trillion this year.

“In 2006, that’s when things were still pretty good, but that’s also when the Democrats took back Congress and everything started going to (heck).”

I didn’t think “things were still pretty good” in 2006, but it’s your interview. Talk to me.

“I hate liberals.”

But, I’m a ... .

“When I was in Catholic school as a kid, they told me the communists would take over from the inside without ever firing a gun. Our own government would do the job of demoralizing this country for them.”

I think those nuns might have borrowed that from Nikita Khrushchev.

“The liberal Democrats are all about big government controlling everything. Guns, health care — everything. By the time our grandkids are old enough to vote, we’ll be a communist country.”

Socialist, maybe.

“We’re a socialist country right now. We have a government we can’t afford. I mean, how much more socialist can you possibly get?”

I opened a can of worms. Dealing blackjack on a casino boat in East Chicago?

“I’ve been at Ameristar for more than five years. I switched from security to dealing about 15 months ago.”

Do you like dealing cards better?

“Not necessarily, but the money is better.”

What games do you deal?

“Three-card poker, Mississippi stud and blackjack. The poker players are more rational than blackjack players. They realize they are gambling and there’s a high percentage that they’re not going to win. Blackjack players seem to have this anticipation that they’re going to win all the time.”

What are the best odds at the casino?

“Baccarat.”

***

Steve Stanfel tells it the way he sees it. I’ve always admired him for that, whether or not I agree with him.



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