Bill Althaus: Losing this 'glue' guy really hurts
As I pulled into the parking lot at Tim’s Pizza this week, and saw owner Tim Pace behind the counter, I was struck by the realization that the greatest team in Independence has lost a man so beloved by the community that hundreds of cards, flowers and notes fill the quiet restaurant that has been a beehive of activity the past 32 years.
I have been a part of all those years, eating at Tim’s Pizza the first day it opened back on Dec. 31, 1987. And on most of my visits, Tim’s brother Steve had already torn open a packet of lemon juice and added it to my large Diet Coke before I even entered their iconic eatery.
Someone else will now have to take care of that special request as Steve passed away Aug. 19, leaving a legacy that touched everyone from bank presidents and Cy Young Award winners to Little Leaguers and high school athletes who made Tim’s Pizza their choice for all their postseason banquets.
“Everyone knew Tim, he was kind of the face of Tim’s Pizza, but Steve was the behind-the-scenes guy who made it work,” said Van Horn High School graduate, former Cy Young Award winner and ESPN baseball commentator Rick Sutcliffe, who called Tim’s “my second home.”
“When I grew up, my grandpa got all the attention because he taught me how to pitch. And I love my grandpa so much, I can’t even begin to tell you how much I love that man,” Sutcliffe added. “But it was grandma who fixed my lunch for school, who washed my clothes and made us dinner every night.
“Everyone knew Grandpa, and very few people knew Grandma. Tim is my grandpa, and Steve is my grandma – they were both so important in my life, but they went about things in a different way.”
Sutcliffe, batting his emotions, added, “Tim and Steve were the greatest team ever – a hall of fame team who touched more lives than they can ever imagine. And, man, we’re all going to miss Steve. It’s still hard for me to talk about him being gone.”
Allen Lefko echoes those comments, as the chairman of the board of the Bank of Grain Valley has known the Pace brothers for more than three decades.
“The hardest working, most dedicated guys you could ever be around,” Lefko said. “And so generous. I just wonder over the years how many baseball and softball teams they sponsored? I bet it’s in the hundreds. And they loved doing it.
“Everyone loves Tim and Steve. But it’s going to be a little bit different going in there without Steve’s friendly smile and handshake from behind the counter.”
It’s early Friday morning and Tim is busy making hundreds of pizza crusts in the flour-filled room that he now uses as his sanctuary.
“It’s still hard for me to talk about Steve. I mean, he wasn’t just my brother, he was my best friend, my business partner and as much a part of Tim’s Pizza as I ever could be,” Tim said.
“After Steve died, we never shut down this place. And that’s what Steve would have wanted. And I can promise everyone who knew Steve, or who has ever been to Tim’s, we are staying open. We planned for this, and we are going to be fine, just fine.”
Randal Stevenson, who has worked at Tim’s since that first year back in 1987, will now take a more prominent role in the business.
“Steve was the glue,” Stevenson said. “Everyone loved Steve, just like they love Tim. I have so many great Steve stories, unfortunately, they wouldn’t really fit in a family newspaper.”
My favorite memories come from late night visits as Steve and Tim closed shop, to memorable events like my wife’s 50th birthday party.
When my boys were young, Steve would always grab a handful of quarters so they could play video games while the dynamic duo were working magic in the kitchen.
And I can’t tell you how many times I saw Steve do the same thing when a Little Leaguer would enter the restaurant with his parents.
Many area high school sports programs are going to benefit from Steve’s generosity as he asked that a trust be set up to give scholarships to Eastern Jackson County athletes.
“That’s what Steve wanted, and that’s what we’re doing,” Tim said. “And it’s a sizable amount of money. But that’s a story for another day.”
Also, in his obituary, they asked for donations to the Blue Springs South High School wrestling program in Steve’s honor as well as Animals Best Friends. Steve was an avid wrestling fan, regularly supporting local high school programs and regularly attending the NCAA Championships with his friends.
This is about a celebration of life for a man who made an impact on someone every day of his 59 years on this planet. Steve, we’re all going to miss you, but I am so honored and privileged to call you my friend. Those are the memories that last a lifetime.
– Bill Althaus is a sports writer and columnist for The Examiner. Reach him at email@example.com or 816-350-6333. Follow him on Twitter: @AlthausEJC