In a cluttered shop behind his home on North Kentucky Street the Rev. Steve Traw, 65, whiles away making birdhouses and other crafty things.
It’s an avocation punctuated by fate.
Traw has difficulty getting around, although he is confident that soon he will be able to trade a walker for a cane. Once a strapping fellow, Traw has undergone three back surgeries, one for cancer, and at the moment is restricted to a shuffle.
Six months ago his wife, Sue, died.
Despite the adversity his faith remains strong.
“God has been good to me,” Traw said.
CARPENTRY first piqued Traw’s interest when he was growing up on a farm near Americus.
The family had a carpenter come to work, a short fellow, who took advantage of Traw’s height to position new boards in a ceiling project.
“I learned from him,” Traw said, including how to cut pieces so precise they could be installed “with a tap.”
Traw pursued math and science at Emporia State University and earned a teaching degree. While there he added to his construction expertise working part-time on converting an old plant for Iowa Beef.
“I built forms for concrete pads,” he said, which included setting bolts for air compressors. “They were surprised that the bolts were exactly right. It was just a matter for measuring from a common point, doing what I learned in math class.”
After graduation, he and wife Sue, also a teacher, were hired by the district in Seneca.
“We wanted to start a family, which meant Sue would be at home and I didn’t understand how we could get by just on my salary,” he said. “What I made teaching wasn’t as much as I made working summers at the Iowa Beef plant.
Although “I loved the classroom,” the Traws decided a different career path was needed to provide for family. Traw joined the Air Force and qualified for officer candidate school.
The next seven years, including one in Thailand after hostilities had waned in Vietnam, Traw logged about 1,300 hours as a navigator in C-130s, including some time in AC-130 gunships.
Many of his early experiences navigating low-level flights were flown from Forbes Air Base in Topeka.
“It was my old stomping grounds,” Traw chuckled. “I never told any of the others (crew)” that he was intimately familiar with map points used to guide flights in exercises around Topeka.
HIS YEAR in Thailand was a turning point.
“I felt closer than ever to Sue and young Mike (their first child) and I also felt the call of God” to the ministry, Traw said.
When he told Sue he wanted to enroll in seminary, she was prepared. “In junior high she told the Lord she wanted to marry a minister.”
Four years of seminary in Dallas — Traw likes to kid about crowding it into five years — preceded his first pulpit experience at Post, Texas, a position he had for five years.
Then came 22 years at Iola’s First Christian Church through 2009. Health problems cropped up about 10 years ago with upper back cancer and then unrelated lower back problems, which affected his legs.
“All through the years both of us worked,” he said. “I don’t know how Sue did all she did, working all day teaching (at Jefferson Elementary) and also keeping the house and the kids going.”
Two daughters, Judy and Rebecca joined Mike, to make the Traw family a fivesome.
“I miss her so much,” Traw said of his wife. “She was taken back to the Lord, and I’m thankful for all we had. I’ll be seeing her again before too long.”
Traw lives alone in a small house where he admits to being domestically challenged because of mobility issues.
“I think some of my friends at McDonald’s (where he has coffee each morning) are a little embarrassed for me having to struggle in with a walker, but I’m not,” Traw said. “I’m getting better.”