It’s hard to say whether Steven Pate has adopted Benton or if Benton has adopted Steven Pate. Perhaps the best answer is both, because since moving to the Franklin County community in 2013, the relationship between the 32-year-old and Benton has been mutually beneficial.
“Benton is a great community,” said Pate, the owner of Pate Funeral Home. “I moved here when I bought the funeral home and the community has been very warm and embracing, especially of someone like me coming from somewhere else.”
Born and raised in St. Jacob, Pate studied mortuary science at St. Louis Community College and worked in several funeral homes before purchasing the Hobbs-Johnson Funeral Home. Once he moved to town, he took being part of the community very seriously.
“When I came to town, I became very active and started attending Emmanuel Baptist Church, I got involved in Rotary and in the Benton-West City Chamber of Commerce, where I now serve on the board of directors,” he said. “I just love being active and there’s always something to do.”
He says his commitment to the community is part of his chosen field.
“I think the funeral profession is a calling. It’s not for everybody, but it is like a ministry,” he said. “We are called to do the right things and the right things are being active in the community, supporting people and events — things that support the community, our children and families. I’d love to do more.”
Pate also gives back to his profession. He frequently hosts college interns from both his alma mater and from Southern Illinois University.
“Working with the interns is very rewarding. Whenever you bring them on, they often have some funeral home experience, but not a lot,” he said. “I get to plant a seed and see all of the lights to click on as they grow in the profession. That’s rewarding for me. This is my third year of taking interns and I feel like it is giving back to the industry. If I can create a good atmosphere, teach some student and make them better, that means the world to me.”
He says he first became interested in funeral service around the age of six.
“My mom’s best friend was a mortician and I remember when she would babysit me, she would have these textbooks out and I wasn’t supposed to look at them, but I did and it just fascinated me. I started asking a ton of questions and I got my first job in a funeral home at age 16.”
Studies and jobs in a number of funeral homes has led Pate to Benton, where he quickly fell in love with local high school athletics.
“I am a big Benton Rangers fan,” he said. “I think once you move here, if you’re not, there’s something wrong with you. I love sports and Ranger athletics is fun. The atmosphere is great, the community is very supportive and it makes it all great. I buy a lot of tickets, but don’t make it to everything because I never know my schedule.”
Pate’s schedule sometimes impacts his ability to be involved — but never his desire.
“Sometimes I feel like there is not enough of me; I’d love to do more. I love being out in the community doing things. I’d like to be active in more civic organizations, but if I get involved in something, I’ve always made a commitment that I’ll give 100 percent or not do it at all.”
That commitment started early. He tells the story about writing a letter to the St. Jacob community-at-large as a seventh-grader, sharing his concerns about storm warnings. Civic leaders used that letter as part of a grant application to get the community’s first tornado siren. Pate was selected to trigger the very first alarm. He often shows the same level of care and concern for his new hometown.
“I’ve not been here that long, but we’re doing all sorts of things for the community,” he said. “My hope for Benton is to make it a better place for future generations. The people here have been very warm and inviting to me and I have been truly blessed.
“Benton in my home.”