Obituary for Stephen McGinnis

Stephen Eugene McGinnis died Saturday, Aug. 11, 2018, at his home in Fayetteville, two days after his 60th birthday. He was born Aug. 9, 1958, the son of Burl Eugene and Audrey May Crumley McGinnis, who were from the Hindsville and Clifty areas.

He learned to play the fiddle at an early age and by junior high was a regular at the Arkansas Country Opry, performing weekly at the Palace Theatre on the downtown Fayetteville Square. He played country, gospel and bluegrass favorites, backing local performers such as Sarge and Shirley West as well as the visiting headliners like Jim Staggs. He also performed several times on the John Chick Show, a live variety program broadcast by KTUL-TV in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

“I recall him trying to school us in the ways of Janis Joplin when we were all into The Partridge Family and Bobby Sherman,” said Gweneth Hunter Reed, a classmate. “He was a lovely guy.”

“Steve will be greatly missed,” Bill Cunningham, another classmate, said. “He was a one-of-a-kind personality, many talents and always a friend to everybody.”

Classmate Naoto Sekiguchi recalled: “In a testament to the kind of guy he was, Stephen always treated me like I was his best friend in the times I saw him since school. He called me ‘Buddy’ and it seemed heartfelt. Even as he suffered serious health issues he always seemed to face up to them with courage and a positive mind. What I will remember him best for is his talent for music. He was always enthusiastic about cutting loose on an energetic rendition of Rocky Top.”

McGinnis grew up a member of the Immanuel Baptist Church and was baptized there. He was music director for the church and later for First Baptist Church of Greenland.

He was a 1976 graduate of Fayetteville High School, where he played in the orchestra and was president of the Library Club. When citizen band radios enjoyed a brief popularity during the 1970s, Steve could be heard many evenings using the handle “Li’l Abner.”

His interest in electronics led him to study computer science at the University of Arkansas, where he also worked as a lab technician before moving to College Station, Texas, for a job as manager of a computer lab at Texas A&M University when the university was in the early stages of establishing computing resources for students. While there, he continued his studies and also graduated from A&M’s Employee Leadership Institute in 1997. After leaving Texas A&M, Steve opened a computer repair and consulting company in Bryan, Texas. He also worked for a radio station but moved back to Fayetteville in 2009 after the death of his sister, Margaret Elaine McGinnis.

Photo of Stephen McGinnis holding a music competition trophy.
Stephen McGinnis in 1975 with a trophy for musical competition.

In recent years, Steve was confined to bed due to lymphedema, an incurable and debilitating illness that affects the limbs, primarily the legs in his case. The condition leads to swelling and creates persistent wounds.

T.O. Spicer, former pastor for Sang Avenue Baptist Church, recalled that Steve applied for disability and Medicaid after becoming disabled but that financial aid didn’t start for three months. “My wife, Martha, and I dipped into our savings and paid the three months, and Stephen paid us back every penny,” he said. “That says something about the kind of person Stephen was.” The Spicers also helped with his health care needs whenever agency personnel were not available and provided meals as well.

Steve was hospitalized for a brief period, Spicer said, and then improved with physical therapy at Katherine’s Place in west Fayetteville. He was up and able to walk short stretches when funding for the therapy ran out. Soon he was homebound again.

Sarge West, with whom Steve had played country music 40 years earlier, was one of the people who began bringing him meals, provided through the food pantry of Sang Avenue Baptist Church. Sarge would also take Steve to many appointments when he could no longer transport himself. Steve often commented on what a good friend he was.

Several of his classmates also visited and helped him during the last several years. Bill Guirl and his wife, Ampie, visited often and cooked trout dinners and vegetables for him. “He had a keen sense of humor mixed with witticisms and insights,” Bill Guirl said, adding that Steve never complained, except the one time that Guirl forgot to fillet the trout. “He told me not to forget again; please!” Guirl said.

Steve loved his cats, Princess and Sarah, but had a fondness for all animals, especially the underdogs in life.

He was preceded in death by his parents and sister, Margaret Elaine McGinnis. Survivors include several cousins.

Cremation arrangements by Beard’s Funeral Chapel in Fayetteville, Arkansas. A memorial service will be held at a future date.