IREDELL COUNTY, N.C. -- Stephen Wanner lived every day like it could be his last, until he lost the fight of his life.
“Stephen was a good man, and I miss him,” says Stephen’s wife, Susan.
Hospice nurse Pierette Hayes says, “His spirit just sent so many rays of light to people.”
Stephen lost that battle with lung cancer early last month at the age of 71.
“He was a very good man who unfortunately got a very bad disease,” Susan says.
But it’s what he’d do in those final days that would touch many for a lifetime. South Iredell won the school’s first ever state title back in December, and Stephen became one of the team’s biggest fans.
“Steve related to their struggle,” Susan said, “They kept fighting, they never gave up and that was Steve’s concept in life, never give up.”
But after winning that trophy, the team struggled for funding for championship rings. And that’s where Stephen stepped up. He donated $27,000 to buy the entire team and staff a ring.
South Iredell head coach Scott Miller says, “He was taking time away from his struggles to try and make other people happy.”
South Iredell senior David King said, “It was a true blessing for someone to just come up and donate money to us. I’ll never forget it.”
“It made him happy,” Susan says, “Donating those rings brought him a lot of happiness.”
In turn, the team wanted to return the favor, and a special ring was given in his honor with the engraving “#1 fan”.
“They’ve really become a part of our family,” Susan says.
“She was very touched and we were touched,” Coach Miller expressed.
“It made me feel good to know that he was a part of our history,” King said, “Him doing what he did, it can never be replaced.”
Now football seasons will come and go but the memories of this season, before and after, for South Iredell will never fade away.
Coach Miller said, “It’s amazing how this game can bring a community and a team together; whenever they look at their ring, they’ll always know.”
They’ll know that Stephen Wanner had their so-called blind side protected.
Nurse Hayes said, “The care and compassion for others, he had it. Mr. Wanner had it.”
“He realized at the end, it’s not how much you make, but how you live the moments,” Susan recalled.
It’s a moment that will certainly live on forever in South Iredell.