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Robin Stears (second from the left) stands with other YSU graduates before the May 2019 ceremony./Photo courtesy of Robin Stears

“Stearing” Through Life’s Adventures

By J. Harvard Feldhouse

Adventurers come in all shapes, sizes and appearances. To most people, adventurers look like Harrison Ford in “Indiana Jones,” but in Robin Stears’ case, an adventurer is a short, sweet, 59-year-old, grey-haired woman.

Stears is a recent graduate of Youngstown State University with a bachelor’s in professional and technical writing. She knew she wanted to be a writer since she was 11 years old.

“That was when I first got paid for writing something: I won a short story contest,” Stears said. “And I thought, well, that was like the easiest money I ever made. This is definitely a job I want to do. When the neighborhood found out that I was like a professional writer, they started hiring me, most of them are immigrants, to write letters for them.”

While Stears was encouraged to go to college after high school, she realized she needed an adventure and to experience more of the world before she could be a great writer.

“I wanted to have an adventure more than anything, and I didn’t think college was going to give me the adventure I was looking for. So, I joined the Army.” Stears said.

After basic training, Stears excelled in her individual training as an administrative specialist, completing the program in only two days due to her typing skills. Shortly after, the Pentagon hired her, where she worked on a few military projects.

Maddie Stears, freshman biology pre-med major at YSU and Robin Stears’ youngest daughter, recalled her favorite story about Robin Stears’ Army career.

“One time she told me a story of how she wasn’t allowed to have sweets with her with her other female colleagues,” Maddie Stears said. “So, they hid them in tampon boxes because the person in charge of them wouldn’t look through them because he was a man and he was, like, afraid of femininity or whatever. I love that story.”

Robin Stears also met two presidents, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, and after the Pentagon, she joined the 172nd Light Infantry Brigade in Alaska for three years until she retired.

After the Army, Stears worked for the government-funded, not-for-profit think tank MITRE Corporation. While working at MITRE, Stears met her first husband, Steve, at a bar she often frequented after work some evenings.

“So, [my friend] introduced me to his friend Steve from Ireland and he and I hit it off really well. It was really an uneventful romance,” Stears said. “We hit it off, we decided to get married, bought a house and decided to have a baby. Everything happened in order.”

Stears and her husband moved back to her hometown, McDonald, Ohio, to embark on the adventure of married life and parenthood. However, in 2001, an unfortunate turn of events  rocked their family.

Steve went on a business trip to California and incurred weird spider bites on his legs. While Stears is not sure how these affected his health, Steve’s health went downhill since that trip.

“Over the course of the next eight years, it just got progressively worse and worse and worse,” Stears said. “He was in and out of a hospital quite a bit. So, I was taking care of a baby and taking care of a dying husband at the same time.

Steve managed to live long enough to see their oldest child, Kay, graduate, but he died shortly after.

“We spent a lot of time talking,” Stears said. “We talked about the possibility of me having a life that didn’t include him and going on trying to raise two daughters alone. That was not the easiest thing, becoming a widow at age 50 and having two children, I had no idea what I was going to do.”

However, life’s great adventure was not over for Stears.

Stears joined a dating site in the late 2000s and met her current fiance, Charles Wilcox Sr., and they quickly became inseparable.

“We are just so perfect for each other,” Wilcox said. “We’re so much alike, but we just have a few things that make us a little different. Our life has been anything but boring. We’re always busy.”

When her oldest child, Kay, was struggling in math at YSU, Stears decided to enroll in the course at YSU to help Kay study and take notes. After that one semester, Stears enrolled full time with the intention of finishing her degree.

“Robin loves to learn. I mean, this is the girl who gets up in the morning, reads three or four newspapers online. She just she never wants to stop learning,” Wilcox said.

Robin Stears (second from the left) stands with other YSU graduates before the May 2019 ceremony./Photo courtesy of Robin Stears

Her youngest child, Maddie Stears, started at YSU this fall, a semester after Robin Stears graduated. Not all moms know the ins and outs of their child’s university, and Maddie Stears has benefited from this circumstance.

“I have asked her a lot of questions about how to get to places, what kind of professors maybe to avoid, good study spots on campus, that kind of thing,” Maddie Stears said.

Outside of school, Wilcox and Robin Stears developed a recent hobby of dressing as Santa and Mrs. Claus for children at elementary schools.

“I’ve been a Santa Claus for over 35 years, and I could never find a Mrs. Claus that I liked well enough to do it with,” Wilcox said. “It has to be somebody that’s kind of laid back and good with children. You have to be really nice, which Robin is probably one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, and she’s just really good with children.”

Robin Stears and her fiance, Charles Wilcox Sr., dressed as Santa and Mrs. Claus./Photo courtesy of Robin Stears

Stears’ adventurous nature did not fade with age. It shifted and became stronger as she grew older. Though she may not be a young, 18-year-old in the Army anymore, she kept the same spirit as she pursued higher education and new ambitions.