Steve Fox has counted turtles in Minnesota, taught school children in Australia and the Cook Islands, and he’s helped with an archeological dig in Thailand.
It’s an abbreviated list of his travelogue, but it’s certainly not the end of the adventures for the 77-year-old retired school teacher.
For most of his life, Fox did not venture out much. While he worked as a physical education teacher in Tacoma, he and his wife, Jan, who died of cancer in July 2000, and their two children stayed close to home — with three exceptions. The family toured Panama for three weeks while their children were young, and the couple visited Australia for four weeks in 1976.
In addition, Steve and Jan lived in Australia during the 1964-65 school year while Steve taught sixth grade.
As he grew up, Steve recalled only one big trip, to Yellowstone National Park. Jan made two trips to Iowa, he said.
That all changed 13 years ago. The South Hill resident discovered he enjoyed traveling, learning and the opportunity to serve. He also was eager to put to practical use his love for science.
Steve connected with Global Volunteers, a non-profit organization based in the United States, and he traveled to Worthington, Minn. In 2003, he found himself once again in front of a classroom, teaching English as a second language.
He liked the experience, and he liked Global Volunteers.
“It was fun,” Steve said. “It was really a lot of fun.”
Steve was more adventurous on his second trip, when he traveled to Australia for two weeks to work on a Aborigine “reservation.” He installed a pipeline eventually would be used to water crops. He also installed fencing and helped to build a horse stable.
“The thing I liked the best about the whole thing was that I could travel and actually spend some time right in the culture,” Steve said. “It wasn’t just passing through a town and saying ‘been there, done that.’ I actually got to live with these people for a while, and that really made a difference.”
That remained true for most of his Global Volunteer trips. Steve said the organization only goes to a community if it’s asked, and it requires two locals for every volunteer to be involved in a project. Depending on the location, volunteers stay in hotels, cottages, or maybe a community hall, where they might sleep in a bed or on the floor.
“I have stayed in some pretty nice hotels,” Steve said, “and I have slept on a lot of floors. I am good either way. That is part of the adventure.”
Volunteers either eat in the community or have meals prepared for them. Sometimes they make a sack lunch to bring to the work site.
“If I have to prepare my own meal, it is immediately off the list,” Steve said with a laugh.
In all, he’s made 14 trips through Global Volunteers, including travels to Mississippi, Hungary, Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Jamaica, St. Lucia, the Cook Islands and Montana. He has helped to rehab houses in a West Virginia coal-mining community, taught English in a Mexican college and worked in St. Lucia on a study to improve the country’s IQ scores through better nutrition.
“It is really fun to live in another country for two weeks,” he said. “Just in one town and get to know what is going on, even though you don’t speak the language.”
He recalled his one-week trip to West Virginia, where he and four women sanded and taped sheet rock.
“You kind of wonder in a week what you accomplished, but we accomplished a lot,” he said.
Steve said the homeowner moved back into her home a month earlier than she planned.
Following a trip to Cook Island in the South Pacific in 2011, Steve recalled with some emotion an experience he had when he was introduced to the same classroom he had taught the previous year.
“These children see all sorts of volunteers all year long,” Steve explained. “They all remembered me, and that was probably the coolest moment because I was back and was immediately accepted.”
In addition to Global Volunteers, Steve works through EarthWatch, an organization that works to “save the planet,” he said.
In Australia, he helped count arboreal marsupials, or, as Steve called them, “possums that look like our raccoons.”
On Australia’s Kangaroo Island, which he described as “the most desolate place on earth,” he located and counted nesting spots for goannas. He also studied mammals of Nova Scotia and helped count turtles for two weeks in New Jersey.
In addition, Steve assisted with archeological digs in Italy, New Mexico, Missouri, Virginia, Thailand and at Arbeia, an ancient Roman fort located on the River Tyne.
But he’s not yet done for the year.
Next month, Steve plans to travel to South Africa for a 12-day adventure, during which he will work at an animal reserve to study brown hyenas and black jackals. The volunteers will count the animals and investigate where the species live and why they live there.
He said he’s thrilled to be able to use the 24 science credits he earned in college.
“I’ve never had the opportunity to do anything with (them), because I enjoyed physical education so much,” he said.
At home, when he’s not riding his bicycle or walking, Steve keeps himself busy.
“I am planning the next trip,” he said with a laugh.
He doesn’t have a timetable to slow down with either agency.
“I will do it as long as I am physically able,” he said.
Tom McCrady is a freelance reporter for the Herald.