Get to Know Steve Hancock

WISCONSIN TIES

  • Although Steve was born and raised in Waukesha, Wisconsin, most of his teaching career occurred outside of the Midwest. After nearly 30 years away, he and Stephanie were looking to relocate closer to home. “There’s something different about Midwest kids,” he said. “They’re just nice.”
  • Easy access to Sprecher root beer isn’t the only reason Steve and Stephanie moved to Wisconsin, but it sure helps. “One store in Memphis carried it occasionally, but we’d have to drive 30 minutes to get one little bottle.”
  • In addition to Sprecher root beer, the Hancocks also enjoy squeaky cheese curds, Kopps frozen custard, bratwurst, and being close to Lake Michigan. One Wisconsin favorite Steve has yet to try? The brandy old fashioned.

Cool Under Pressure

Was he nervous during the interviews for his dream job at USM? “Of course, but I told myself, there’s no one in that room who’s more of an expert on my opinions than me. I’m the best person to speak about what I believe in.”

Bag of Tricks

In addition to being an accomplished musician, Steve is adept at making balloon animals (he once worked as a birthday clown named Squiggy) and performing magic card tricks, and he likes to relax with cross stitching.

His Role as Chief Storyteller

  • Steve devotes one hour each day to visiting classrooms. “I love seeing the magic that happens in classrooms. I believe I’m the chief storyteller for the school, so I need to have real, authentic stories to tell.”
  • Steve is a familiar sight to Lower School parents—he helps with drop-off every morning. “My hope is that those young students who I unbuckle out of their car seats will someday be walking across the stage at graduation.”
  • Since his start in July, Steve has held one-on-one meetings with every faculty and staff member on campus—more than 150 people total—to meet them informally. “Those meetings are sacred to me. Dawn [Taylor, Steve’s administrative assistant] has strict instructions not to move them.”

Many Hats

As head of school, Steve wears many hats. Which is convenient, because he owns many hats—more than 40 at last count—including a foam cheese head, which he wore in 2008 while dressed as a formal Green Bay Packers fan for Halloween, in New Jersey.

Bridge with Billionaires

As far as card games go, bridge is not the most popular. But Steve’s love of the game led him on a wild ride—one that included a trip on a chartered plane with eight middle schoolers to play against two of the world’s most famous bridge players—Warren Buffett and Bill Gates.

In 2005, while working at The Westminster Schools in Atlanta, Steve developed Odyssey Atlanta, a six-week summer program for public school students from underserved communities in Atlanta. “Our goal for Odyssey was to break the cycle of poverty through education,” he said. Hundreds of the program’s graduates have gone on to college, but back in 2005, Steve was seeking funding for the summer classes, one of which was teaching 8th grade Odyssey students how to play bridge.

Steve had heard that billionaire bridge buffs Warren Buffett and Bill Gates were publicly offering funding for programs that taught inner-city kids how to play bridge. “I thought, ‘Well, Odyssey would be perfect for this.’” He applied, received the funding, and sent frequent updates to Buffett and Gates throughout the summer. Eventually, they invited Steve and eight of his students on an all-expenses-paid weekend trip to Omaha, Nebraska to have lunch with the billionaires and, of course, play bridge.

On the last day of the trip, Buffett realized he had forgotten to find a good-bye gift for the students and wracked his brain for what he could do. Finally, he pulled eight, one-dollar bills out of his wallet, which he and Gates promptly signed and gave to each student. “I held on to the money until I could give the dollar bills to the kids’ parents,” Steve said. “Bill’s [Gate’s] assistant told me they had never done anything like that for anyone, so I wanted to make sure the money didn’t end up in a hotel vending machine.”

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