NMU Trustee and alumnus Steve Lindberg may be familiar for serving as Michigan's 109th District state representative for the maximum three terms, from 2007-2012. He also gained international media attention more recently for his retirement hobby of wildlife photography, by capturing a rare image of a three-antlered deer that was widely circulated. But Lindberg's previous and primary vocation was in education. He taught briefly in Wisconsin and at the former women's Job Corps Center at NMU before embarking on a 28-year career as a teacher and guidance counselor with Marquette Area Public Schools.
Lindberg earned a bachelor's in business administration/accounting from Northern in 1966, and quickly followed that with a teaching certificate. His first job in the field was at a high school in Sheboygan, Wis. He even remembers his starting annual salary: $6,200. Lindberg only lasted a year before he felt compelled to return to his beloved Upper Peninsula. A federal Job Corps program had been established a short time earlier. It offered no-cost academic and vocational training at centers across the country to help low-income young people improve the quality of their lives by empowering them to secure good jobs and become independent.
“Northern had a group of young women staying in Carey Hall,” Lindberg recalled. “The teaching facility was in the former Birdseye Building, now home to Public Safety. It was pretty spartan—like a warehouse. I may have been the teacher, but I learned a lot from those students. About 70% were Black women from the inner city. I grew up in Carlshend, about 20 miles south of Marquette, so I knew very little about Black culture. But they educated me. All of the students we worked with got jobs when they were done with the program. I was there for a couple of years before shifting to the public schools.”
While teaching at Marquette Senior High School, Lindberg completed a master of arts in education (MAE) in 1978 and became a guidance counselor. He said it was occasionally heartbreaking to learn what kids were contending with outside the classroom, but mostly rewarding to interact with and learn from them, and to see many go on to achieve great things. Lindberg joked that he doesn't miss teacher/staff meetings, but he still misses that connection to students. One girl in particular stands out in his memory.
“I had a student who grew up in a hard place. She didn't come to school like she should. At the end of her freshman year, she had two credits. I told her she needed 20 to graduate and she told me she would graduate on time. At the end of her sophomore year, she had six credits and I heard the same thing. After her junior year, she had 10, and I told her I had bad news: she's not going to graduate. She assured me she would and she did by taking correspondence and night courses. I called her my ‘miracle child,' and they gave her a special Kaufman Award. She still keeps in touch. She's working in law enforcement, has a family and is doing well.”
Lindberg's first foray into politics occurred after his retirement, while he was working part time at his wife Paulette's travel agency. It was prompted by a request from State Representative and former NMU Trustee Stephen Adamini. The two had met in Ann Arbor, where Lindberg briefly attended college before returning to Northern, and became friends. Adamini asked “Lindy” to serve as his district aide, appearing on behalf of him at events. When the former was term limited, Lindberg successfully campaigned for his seat.
“It was an interesting place in terms of how things get done. You could say I've been to Oz and seen what's behind the curtain. It's sad how much money controls so many things. I'm delighted to see that education is now getting some recognition that was lacking for quite a while. My basic philosophy on public policy is that a civilized society is one that educates the young and takes care of the old. If you don't educate people, it's a lost cause.”
Since his February appointment to the NMU Board of Trustees, Lindberg has been on a learning curve to comprehend all of the “moving parts' involved in the university's operation. His early impression is that Northern is headed in the right direction under new, energetic leadership.
“It's an exciting time, and I think President Tessman will take Northern places it's never been before. I really like the student-oriented approach of taking care of the total person and extending that beyond the coursework and classroom. Students aren't customers, they're clients. We want to make sure they're treated as individuals, taken care of and that their needs are being met. Whenever I've been on or off campus and run into students, I can't think of anyone who didn't report having a good experience. That's a testament to the institution and its faculty and staff.”
Lindberg is a well-respected wildlife photographer. As a U.P. native, he had embraced the hunting and fishing culture from a very young age. He eventually stopped pursuing deer with a rifle when he realized he enjoying being at peace with himself in nature and closely observing what was around him more than the hunt and harvest. Now Lindberg captures a variety of animals with his camera instead.
“Wildlife is here, but it has adapted to being around humans and is so compressed, there aren't a lot of places for animals to hang out,” he said. “We need to respect the fact wildlife don't want us too close. They're doing what they need to do to stay alive, and we don't want to put them in peril. If I know of an owl's nest or fox den, I keep a respectful distance and don't stay too long. I only share these locations with photographers or other people I know will respect the animals, because too much human traffic can agitate them.”
Lindberg searches for potential subjects based on their preferred food sources and environments, but part of the lure is the lack of certainty of what he will find. He might discover a species that is not supposed to be in this area, like the Mountain Bluebird he spotted in a tree near Founder's Landing. He can hit the jackpot one day, photographing a menagerie including a fox, mink, Townsend's solitaire thrush and several deer, yet come up empty on other days. Birds, red foxes and river otters are his favorite subjects. Lindberg is often accompanied on his combination “driveabout/walkabout” urban photo safaris by his beloved Shih Tzu, Max.
Other spare-time pursuits include attending great-grandchildren's athletic events and theater productions with Paulette. Lindberg also works out at a gym a few days a week, bikes occasionally and reads often. When interviewed for this piece, he had just finished Demon Copperhead, a fictional account of the opioid crisis in the South by Barbara Kingsolver. Before that, it was the Pulitzer Prize-winning G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century by Barbara Gage. He also is “a big fan” of Stephen King.