This is the hardest item I have ever written, but I have to say a proper goodbye to one of the finest human beings I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.

You see, I never got to do so, because the Lord called him home suddenly and without warning.

Steve Fox, most recently of Spencer but always a proud Sheldon Orab, died at 2:36 a.m. Monday, Sept. 16.

The son of Stan and Darlene Fox was just 51 years old.

He was more than a friend to me. Over the roughly 30 years we knew each other, he was more like the big brother I never had. He was a mentor and a role model. A great husband to his wife, Missy, and a spectacular father for his daughter, Cassidy, and his son, Cooper.

I met Steve in my freshman year at Morningside College in Sioux City. Steve was older than me but it was his first year on campus too. He had transferred in after a couple of years playing on the offensive line for Wayne State College in Nebraska. His knees couldn’t take playing football anymore, but he was still a big man with a crushing handshake. As it turned out, his personality was even bigger than his physical size.

“Animal House” was one of Steve’s favorite movies, and we quickly turned our floor of the residence hall into something resembling that, only with much higher grade-point averages.

Even then though, there was something different about Steve. While the rest of us seemed to be going by a “party or study but never both” mantra, Steve did that with some community involvement thrown in. He was always quick to lend a helping hand and was heavily involved with student leadership activities.

That continued after his graduation. When he moved to Spencer, he was quick to join community groups such as the Jaycees. When he got too old for that, he joined the Shriners. In fact, just days before his eventual death, he was there working the Shrine booth at the Clay County Fair on Wednesday.

One other thing that really stands out from our college days was his love and commitment to his future wife, who at that time went by Melissa Will. It was almost kind of funny seeing this big, confident bear of a man get nervous when he knew she’d be around. I’ll never forget how he explained this to me.

“Those girls you guys are hanging around are just girls,” he said. “Missy is a real woman. I could see myself spending the rest of my life with her.”

That was before they were even really dating, and sure enough, that’s exactly what happened. They had a wonderful relationship, one like I hadn’t seen since my own mom and dad. They were best friends and knew they could always depend on each other — be it for something as simple as making each other laugh or as difficult as Missy’s eventual battle with and triumph over cancer.

While I seemed to be stuck in perpetual adolescence, I knew I wanted to have a relationship like that with my wife someday. I eventually did find the right partner in my wife, Connie.

While I was still clinging to bachelorhood, Steve was raising his kids. And what a great dad that guy was. He always seemed to know when to push them, when to punish them and when to hug them. He helped them develop both mentally and physically, while still giving them the space to develop their own personality.

Steve, whether you knew it or not, I was taking mental notes. I try to use combinations of what I learned from my own dad and what I learned from you when trying to help raise my stepson.

As always, once someone is gone, you wish you would have spent more time with them. Everyday life got in the way of us seeing each other as much in recent years, but I always knew if I needed you, you were just a phone call away.

I’m going to miss you bud. I’ll miss hanging out, swapping stories, downing a few beverages while eating ridiculously spicy food, rooting for the Hawkeyes and ending the night by watching either the "Blues Brothers" or "Animal House."

I’ll miss playing really bad golf or losing at cards and just laughing about it. I’ll miss your big smile and hearty chuckle. I’ll miss seeing you beam with pride when you spoke of your family.

I wish I could shake that big old bear claw of a hand of yours one more time, but I guess God needed you back more than we needed you here — which is a lot.

Goodbye my friend, until we meet again in Heaven.