Program Spotlight: Steven Howard
Nov. 28, 2011
Raleigh, N.C. - Taking the field at Carter-Finley Stadium for the last time this past Saturday, Steven Howard stands as more than just your average departing senior.
Some would say he's a hero.
Having graduated last spring with a degree in arts applications, Howard is a faithful husband to his wife Shakira, who he met in class as a freshman at NC State. They are the proud parents of a young daughter, Shaniya, who Howard counts as the greatest blessing in his life.
But to the Cornick family, it's Howard that is the blessing.
"I just can't even tell you what he means to our family," said Gina Cornick.
Gina's husband, the late John Cornick, was diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease, in June 2009. He went from being a very active physically healthy 50-year old who competed in 5K runs and was a very good golfer, to being in a wheelchair in a matter of months.
Roughly seven months after John's diagnosis, the family needed help around the house to aide him with everyday tasks. They made a listing on the NC State website's student jobs opportunity board for assistance, and Howard responded quickly.
At first the family wasn't sure what to make of Howard. Here was this football player - a sophomore at the time - with no medical experience and no relation at all to their family. But Howard informed the family that he had a cousin with special needs that he had helped look after, and it was obvious from the beginning that he was as polite as college kids come.
"We asked him in the beginning - `Why do you think you can do this," said Cornick. "He said 'I just like to help people.'"
And what a help he was.
When Howard first started assisting the family he would help John get in the shower. Over time he began to help him bathe, shave and brush his teeth. He would also help the family by running errands, cleaning the yard and even cooking dinner.
Cornick recalls one night in particular where the family was hungry, but normal tasks around the house kept delaying dinner for the evening. Howard decided to step in, ran to the grocery store, and came back to prepare fried chicken and macaroni and cheese for the household. "Let me tell you, the man can fry some chicken," said Cornick.
In time, Howard became less of an employee and more of a member of the family. He grew extremely close to the entire household, especially John, as the disease progressed. He spent countless hours at their home sitting with John, just talking sports and trying to lighten the mood. He always stayed positive regardless of how tough the situation became.
"I tried to stay positive," said Howard. "I knew there was nothing that he could do about it, so I tried to stay positive to make him feel better. I was never down around him. I stayed positive, joked around and talked sports."
"John and Steven bonded immediately," said Cornick. "We had had some helpers, and they were fine, but Steven played football and John played football. They just had a bond that was special. He would come and they would watch football together, and the smile on John's face would just say it all.
"Steven would help John with exercises at times, and he was so strong that he could just lift John with one hand when he had to."
John was as proud of a Tar Heel as you'll find in Raleigh. He graduated from UNC - Chapel Hill with a degree in accounting and was a member of Phi Delta Theta fraternity. Howard, however, never let him forget that State was taking care of its archrival on the gridiron.
"Every time we beat them, you know I talked trash," said Howard. "He thought it was hilarious."
Last season the Cornick family made it out to watch Howard and the Wolfpack play at Carter-Finley Stadium. After the game, Howard and the Cornicks posed for photos on the concourse and outside the Murphy Center. The entire family, John included, came dressed in special-made red shirts with `85' in big, bold white numbers on the front.
Towards the end, things got much more difficult for everyone involved. Howard knew the situation was getting dire the last time he saw John.
"I went to visit and John couldn't talk," said Howard. "I knew what was going on. Gina told him that I was there, and somehow he managed to smile. I'll never forget that for the rest of my life."
"ALS is a tough thing to watch someone go through, and here is this 21 year old kid," said Cornick. "I was worried that this was going to be too emotional for him, because John got a little bit worse every single day. Steve stuck with us until the end."
John Cornick passed away in May 2011, leaving behind a strong wife and two talented daughters. He also left an impression on Howard that will last the rest of his life.
"He was a strong man," said Howard. "To watch him go through what he did, and remain the person that he was until the end, that's a lesson for anyone to learn from."
To this day Howard remains close to the Cornick family. He still helps mow the grass, works on the cars and lends a hand when needed.
"It's really special," said Howard. "Gina considers me a son, and her daughters still talk to me. She knows that she can call me at any time for any reason.
"For people to trust you with their family like that makes you feel good as a person. They want you to be around them, and you can make a difference in their life."
It's clear that John Cornick and his family made a lasting impression on Howard that he will forever treasure in his heart. But what he gave John and Gina Cornick, and their daughters, is more than friendship. It's a blessing.
"You go on a journey like this with a terminal illness, and you just don't know the angels that God will put in your path," said Cornick. "Steven was one of those angels for our family."
By Brandon Yopp