Diamond in the Rough

February 24, 2022

Steve Duncan poses with three women holding gift bagsSteve Duncan poses with three women holding gift bags

For the past eight years, jeweler Steve Duncan has embraced his role as one of the hardworking, talented men who have long put the “jewelers” in the name David Gardner’s Jewelers. And while many begin their interactions with Steve because of his vocation, it is clear that there is so much more to Steve than meets the eye.

A Houston native, Steve grew up in rough areas and “the projects” of Houston. At 12 years old, his mother was murdered and he and his sister went to live with his grandmother who had already been a strong, central figure in his life and upbringing. Steve credits his work ethic to his grandmother who at one point worked three jobs to support him and his sister. She put Steve to work helping around the house with the yardwork and at 13 Steve began mowing yards and doing landscaping. Like many teenagers, Steve loved fashion and jewelry and spent his hard-earned cash on high end sneakers and unique jewelry pieces at the store next to the neighborhood barber shop.

Life changed dramatically for Steve in 2004, when, at the age of 22, he was caught in the crossfire of a shootout. Although no part of their disagreement, the shooting left Steve with a bullet lodged in his spine, paralyzed from the waist down. After two weeks in the hospital and a month in rehab at TIRR, Steve returned home to adjust to this new way of life.

“I never went through the ‘why me,’” said Steve, “I just had to focus on this new reality and how to keep going.”

“Steve’s overcoming attitude is one of the reasons he is a DG customer favorite,” said Julia Gardner. “Our sales staff enjoys pulling him into jewelry repair consultations with customers for his expertise, innate problem-solving skills and his ability to attentively listen and discern the issue.”

In 2010, Steve learned about the Texas Institute of Jewelry Technology (TIJT) program. “It seemed like something I could do,” said Steve. “So I went out on faith, and I loved it.”

Steve lived on campus and quickly took to the program. He soaked up as much information as he could, even attending Saturday classes and attempting techniques his classes had yet to cover. At the beginning of the three-year program there were 25-30 students. By the end, Steve graduated with four.

“The reality is that being a jeweler is hard work, I don’t think people get into it expecting that,” said Steve.

Steve met David while attending a pavé setting seminar that David was leading at TIJT. One of the most fascinating and tedious of all the jewelry techniques, Steve stuck around to ask questions and quickly hit it off with David. After a short interview, David invited Steve to visit the store in College Station, Texas. 

On his first visit to the store, Steve was intrigued by the positioning of the shop in the center of the store, a far cry from most jewelry stores where the jewelers were placed in back rooms Steve likened to dungeons. Secondly, the workshop and the store were already laid out and set up for someone in a wheelchair, thanks to David’s longtime business associate Dean Wile. For Steve the opportunity was exciting both to put years of schooling to work and to learn from Dean.

Steve Duncan working with tools on jewelrySteve Duncan working with tools on jewelry

Steve joined the DG team in 2013, learning from and working alongside mentor Dean Wile. In 2014, Steve experienced a devastating health setback, the amputation of his right leg due to an infected sore he could not feel. The loss of his limb brought him down even more than being in a wheelchair. The support he felt from his family and friends, customers and co-workers helped Steve to rally and keep going.

The following year, in the spring of 2015, Steve experienced a loss felt throughout the DG family as David’s longtime friend Dean Wile passed away. “I had so much more to learn from Dean about life,” said Steve. “That loss was hard on everyone.” But light came the following year as Steve moved out of his Bryan apartment into his first home, custom built for his needs. The move was part of the legacy he had seen Dean build on his 22-acre farm. “Dean had made his own space, a big garage to work on his cars. He opened my eyes to what could be,” Steve said.

Customers often come in and tell Steve how much he reminds them of Dean. The gentle whir of the wheels on the concrete helps, but Steve’s laid back demeanor and positive attitude are more likened to Dean’s than anything. Several years ago, David gave Steve the nickname “Super Steve” because of how he persevered through trials.

His current trial puts his nickname to the test again with Steve’s weekly dialysis treatments for kidney failure. Taken to the hospital in the fall of 2020 for what he thought was potential COVID-19 diagnosis, Steve was short of breath and incredibly fatigued. He was soon diagnosed with kidney failure due to high blood pressure, a common issue for those in wheelchairs. Kidney failure weakened his heart so much it was operating at just 35 percent. Thankfully, with excellent care and support and Steve’s “keep going, keep trucking” attitude, he is feeling much better and has been recently placed on the kidney transplant list.

Steve takes being an involved member of this community seriously, serving for 6 years on the Brazos Valley Center for Independent Living (BVCIL) and participating in local and statewide 5k and 10k races in his specially designed racing chair. And yes, he still sees his grandmother every chance he gets! An inspiration to many, he continues daily to live up to his nickname, “Super Steve.”   

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