A Tribute to Steve WorthingtonOct 01, 2022 09:00AM ● By Gabe Hakvaag
Tis a fearful thing
To love what death can touch
A fearful thing
To love, to hope, to dream, to be–
And oh, to lose
This is a story about Steve Worthington and the community he joined in 2006, a community theater company called Hamilton-Gibson Productions. Steve was a popular radio disc jockey in Tioga County, an actor, a theater technician, an advertising salesman, a husband, and father. Restless, muscular, Steve talked and moved as fast as his next joke, his next generous moment to help a friend. But mostly, he was a man born for the stage—specifically, the HG stage in Wellsboro.
It is a family story. Steve’s father, the late Tucker Worthington, was a brilliant artist, collected in museums, who drew breathtaking posters for HG and was the founding artistic director of Mountain Home magazine who designed every Mountain Home cover for fifteen years until his death in 2020 at age eighty-two. But when Steve was searching for his place, and Tucker in 2006 suggested his wildly creative second son try the theater, it was clear the artistic family Steve belonged to was Hamilton-Gibson Productions.
Steve took to the community theater with gusto. He blossomed as an actor and technician. He showed his acting talent in To Kill a Mockingbird, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Fools in Love, Wait Until Dark, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, to name a few. But his true gift was off-stage. He often did light design and sound design. A talented self-taught carpenter, he helped build sets and even the Warehouse Theatre in downtown Wellsboro. He married his third wife on the Warehouse stage. And Steve died there in 2016 at age fifty-five, brought down by addictions we thought he had overcome.
This is the story of a theater community that—like his family—will never forget him. HG is keeping his memory alive by creating the Stephen Worthington Memorial Tech Fund, which since 2018 has raised more than $50,000 to upgrade the Warehouse Theatre sound and light systems. Most of this story happened at the Warehouse Theatre. This man, this place, and this community were not inevitable. They might not have come together. But they did.
“Don’t make me sweat, man!”
Steve was a striking figure. Short, thin, and wiry.
“I got that good jiu jiu going!”
He dressed in vintage rock tees and a leather jacket. He celebrated his eccentricity. He greeted everyone with a brilliant smile and his favorite catch phrases.
“I got to poop!”
Steve Worthington was born in 1961 in Bryn Mawr. His parents, Amos “Tucker” Worthington and Mary Worthington wanted to get “back to the land” and moved Steve and his brother, Andy, to an old house in Whitneyville.
Larry Biddison, a family friend, recalls that “The Worthington’s were artists who celebrated creativity.”
Steve started working at WNBT radio in Wellsboro at age fourteen, where his nickname was Sergeant Steve Schaffer. By his early twenties he was a radio engineer and DJ, working for several stations. Steve became a local celebrity for his on-air hijinks. He married his first wife, Michele, and they began a family in a house they built themselves. When he married his second wife, Jennifer, they added a second story and more kids.
Whether Steve’s drinking, and other activities, were a problem, or just part of the “rock and roll” persona he’d created, never seemed to come into focus for many of us.
“Steve was the antithesis of the addiction stereotype,” says Kevin Thomas, who hired Steve to work at KC101 in 2004. “He worked hard and was reliable.” Home was a different matter. His marriage broke apart, and Steve moved out.
Tucker pushed Steve toward theater, hoping it might be something Steve could hold on to.
“Steve was kind of in a rough patch,” says Rob Kathcart, another HG volunteer. “That’s why HG mattered to him. It’s a community theater, so anyone can join. It’s not pretentious. If you want to do the work, you’re in.” Rob recalls working nonstop for a few seasons. “Steve was ‘all in.’ He always pushed me to do more.”
Shane Nickerson also befriended Steve at HG. Shane, who had been in recovery for many years, recognized the drinking problem. “Come as you are, Steve,” Shane told him. “Drunk. Sober. Either way. But if you want to talk about being sober, we can talk.”
The need to talk about sobriety finally came to a head. Family members approached Thomas Putnam, HG’s artistic director. They wanted to hold an intervention, where they could confront Steve about his addictions. Steve had a deep respect for Thomas, so they hoped his presence would add weight. The intervention happened in the lobby of the Warehouse Theatre. It did not go well. Steve literally ran.
But the community didn’t let him go. Over the next few months, conversations with Shane led Steve to Alcoholics Anonymous. Recovery is a slow and deliberate path. But as Steve took those steps, he also stepped back into what was left of his life. That included a return to the Warehouse Theatre.
“For a lot of people, when they get sober, life is empty,” Shane notes. “HG gives you a place to go. It lets your life be more than an empty home and church basements.”
But HG was more than that. “Steve was incredibly creative,” Thomas says. “He loved to build things. He liked going from a bare stage to a completely new world. HG became a place that he could express this creativity, and a place he could work in solitude.”
Steve earned his five-year coin for sobriety. He married Jodi-Beth, his co-star from Fools in Love, on the Warehouse Theatre stage. Shane signed the marriage certificate. Ryan Dalton, an HG actor, officiated.
Steve also worked on repairing his relationship with his children: Dustin, Noah, and Charlotte. The steps were slow, but Steve was patient. He wanted to be part of their lives. Soon he had grandchildren to babysit. Steve never forced himself, but when asked to join a family event, he was all in.
And then, everything changed.
Friday, November 25, 2016, Jodi-Beth found Steve passed out on their couch. She had suspicions that he was using again, but no one could quite see it. She asked him to stay home, but he had to run sound for a concert. He should have been home by 9:00 p.m. but wasn’t. He didn’t pick up his phone. Family members drove to the theater and found Steve dead from an overdose.
The memorial service was, of course, held at the Warehouse Theatre. And as often happens, the attendees told stories. Steve taking his pants off during broadcasts. Steve competing in the Highland Games, just so he could wear a kilt. Yehuda writes,
For your life has lived in me,
your laugh once lifted me,
your word was gift to me.
To remember this brings painful joy.
Stories kindled memories, and memories reminded us of love. Steve remains a part of the Hamilton-Gibson community, a community he loved, and which still loves him.
Phase I of the upgrade made possible by the Stephen Worthington Memorial Tech Fund will debut at Grand Horizons, a play opening October 14 and running for two weekends. Get more information at (570) 724-2079 or hamiltongibson.org, where you can still donate to the fund.