Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

About the series

Real People stories are about people volunteering, doing good deeds, achieving, performing, enjoying the outdoors ... making the most of life in Union and Wallowa counties. Do you have a story idea or photo for this feature? Email acutler@lagrandeobserver.com .

Steven Sharp knows about the depression and the frustration that comes from not being able to do even the simplest routine task.

He knows the agony you can feel in limbs even decades after they’re gone.

Sharp knows these things, but they do not define his life.

On Aug. 22, 1992, when Sharp was 17 years old, a hay baler severed both his arms above the elbow while he worked in a field near his home in New Bridge, a few miles north of Richland in Baker County. He now volunteers to help teach young people with disabilities what he learned many years ago: that you can lose your hands or your feet without losing yourself.

Sharp was never the sort to seek pity, much less to wallow in it. As his body healed, he soon came to understand that even without his hands he could still do almost everything he had done before.

And he has learned that he can help others do what they want to do. For instance, Sharp was there when Jay, a 9-year-old from Nampa, Idaho, who had both his feet amputated, harvested his first deer earlier this year.

Sharp said Jay mailed him a note after the hunt that said, “You really made a memory for me.”

That’s what Sharp is doing now — helping children create memories, children who are so much like the boy Sharp was, children who understand the depression, the frustration and the pain.

Sharp, 42, is both a volunteer and a member of the board of directors for Creating Memories for Disabled Children, a nonprofit based in Enterprise that helps children who want to hunt or fish or just to watch wildlife.

Sharp is currently remodeling his home just east of Richland to become a base camp for Creating Memories, a place where the kids and their parents or caregivers can stay during their hunting or fishing trips.

A successful lawsuit against the company that made the tractor Sharp was driving that day in 1992 has made much of this possible. In 1993 Sharp’s lawyer filed a lawsuit against the Case Corporation of Racine, Wisconsin, claiming that the 20-year-old Case 970 tractor was poorly designed. As lawsuits often do, Sharp’s lawsuit against Case continued for several years. There was a trial in February 1996, in which the jury awarded Sharp $6.3 million. Case appealed, and it took three more years of legal maneuvering until the lawsuit was settled.

During that time Sharp had earned a degree in project management and cost estimation at Northwest Technical Institute in Portland. He was living in Medford, where he worked in construction, when he learned that he had won the lawsuit.

Even though he had considerable medical expenses, the money, he said, was of secondary importance.

“There was finally justice,” he said.

After the case ended in 1999, Sharp bought a farm near Cove, where he lived for about 15 years. Three years ago, Sharp bought 85 acres of farm ground between Richland and the Powder River arm of Brownlee Reservoir.

“This is home,” he said of the Eagle Valley, where he now grows alfalfa, grass and grain.

On his new farm, Sharp drives a John Deere tractor.

“There’s nothing with the word Case on it on this whole place,” he said with a grin.

He can run every feature on this sophisticated tractor with his prosthetic hook and his right stump.

He says friends occasionally ask him why he continues to work so hard rather than rely on income from his investments.

“Work is what gives a man his self-worth,” he said. “Work is what has kept me sane.”

Sharp is just as proficient with his Dodge pickup truck as with the tractor, thanks in part to the push button starter. He steers by slipping the hook of his prosthesis into a steel eyebolt attached to the steering wheel.

Now that Sharp’s dreams of owning his own farm near his hometown has become a reality, he’s busy making kids’ dreams come true.

When he learned four years ago about Creating Memories, then more an idea than an actual organization, he helped the group achieve nonprofit status and acquire insurance. Now, besides remodeling his own home, Sharp and Creating Memories are transforming the former Boy Scout camp at Wallowa Lake — for which the Scouts have given the nonprofit a 50-year, no-cost lease — into Creating Memories headquarters.

Creating Memories is not Sharp’s sole outlet as a volunteer mentor. He also takes residents from Settler’s Park Assisted Living in Baker City on fishing trips at Brownlee Reservoir. He recently became a certified counselor so he can work two days a week at a new church-based youth center in Halfway.

As hectic as Sharp’s schedule can sometimes be, he still reserves time for the pastimes that he has loved since he was a boy — hunting and fishing.

He hunts with a customized .260-caliber bolt-action rifle built to his own specifications by a Pendleton gunsmith. Sharp said he works the bolt, which ejects the spent cartridge and slots an unfired one into place, with his stump.

The maneuver requires a certain firmness as well as precision, but he has mastered it. Living for 25 years — more than half his life — without hands has “taught me a lot of patience,” he said.