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Making Music with Jim Steffen: Drop in With Debbie, January '19 Edition

by Erica Illingworth01/14/2019 5:00 AM
Updated: 02/26/2019

Hello readers,

Jim and J.J.

Jim stood alone on the stage. All eyes stared at this lone ninth-grader, his accordion draped acrosshis body, and Jim recognized that what he was about to do in front of his classmates was no longer popular. His mind numbed, his fingers froze and Jim slowly backed up as far as he could into the stage curtains. He could not perform. Have you ever had an embarrassing moment that you still remember with photographic details?

Jim Steffen, as a young man in the early 1950s, played the accordion. It was the years of Lawrence Welk and band music. He was good. He came from a musical family; parents who played instruments and a sister who attended Julliard Prep (a program for advanced musical youth). However, by ninth grade a shift took place in our nation’s music culture. Rock n’ Roll started to encroach on the youth of America. Jim remembers that decisive and meaningful event that changed his life forever. It was the school talent show and ninth-grader Jim was prepared to play his accordion. Backstage, he saw two guys practicing for their performance and they were playing guitars. Jim was amazed at their skill and music. He said at that moment he recognized that his according playing “wasn’t cool”. As Jim stood on stage he wanted those theatre curtains to swallow him and allow him to disappear. The principal recognized the need to move Jim off the stage. Quickly, he called the guitar duo to perform. Jim remembers “the kids were screaming” with delight for the duo’s song. Jim never performed that day and decided he would never play the accordion again. This episode galvanized Jim into choosing the guitar as his new musical focus. “My father made me pay for those lessons myself,” he recalls and now, age 75, he continues to enjoy and play the guitar. What is one of your talents? What is something that you paid for and valued?

 Jim graduated from Trenton State, New Jersey in 1965 with a career goal of wanting to be a teacher. He discovered that he had a knack and desire to teach students who did not often do well in school. After several years of teaching as an industrial arts teacher in public school systems, he married and moved to his wife’s home state of Wisconsin.


Jim Playing Guitar - Early years


In those years, he had the opportunity to play music at high-end inns and parties, and those events let to auspicious introductions with people who recommended that Jim get an agent and pursue his music with deliberate focus. This led to Jim performing at night with his guitar in cocktail lounges and other venues. However, he said the music career was not working for Jim and his wife in their home-life. He decided to seek “a more stable life”, he said, which meant going back to teaching. The United States Department of Labor had a program – Job Corps - that worked with youth ages 16 to 21 (now 16 to 24) to provide education and vocational training to address the youth unemployment rate. Jim took a position teaching with Job Corps and he said of teaching in that program, “I fell in love with it”. Jim had some innovated ideas about how to help Job Corps students be more successful. He moved up the career ladder – different positions, various states – but there were cracks in his home-life. He left Job Corps for a year to “work on his family life” and personal growth. Yet in that year, working less-stressful jobs, he was not able to breach the gap in his marriage. He and his wife divorced. Have you ever experienced a difficult time in your life?

That next year, Jim started back with Job Corps but he said it was “at the lowest point in my life”. A friend introduced him to attending church, something he had done only sporadically before, and now Jim was reading his Bible. Jim said that his friend talked to him about Jesus, and Jim says “I became born again”. He describes this time in his life as a period of new understanding of God. This same friend challenged Jim to think about what to do with his life. Jim verbalized that he wanted to be a guidance counselor within the Job Corps programs.

This was an upward move career-wise and to be considered for the position required completing a huge body of excruciating forms over and over again. Jim said, “I filled out over a dozen of those forms.” Finally, three years later, by 1993, Jim obtained a counseling position level that he held for the next 21 years. He retired in southern Illinois; his second wife had just passed away and Jim’s grown children were encouraging him to live closer to grandchildren. Hence, in April 2015, Jim moved to Longmont, Colorado.

Evan Practicing GuitarHe began finding new interests. He played the guitar in his church band; his son, fellow band member, played the drums. Yet, Jim was missing something. He said, “I’m in my 70s, my son’s friends are all in their 40s. I needed something to do again.” That’s when he met Barb Bulthuis, the executive director of Crossroads School here in Longmont. Barb explained, “It is faith-based, alternative school for middle and high school students. It serves youth who have struggled in a traditional school or who find that a traditional setting doesn’t meet their needs”. Jim became the volunteer guidance counselor for the school. “I love the philosophy of this place,” Jim said of Crossroads. “They won’t let a student fail; the small classroom sizes, the dedicated teachers – I am part of something that is different and I am proud to be a part of it.”

J.J. and RobertThis school year, Jim added a new position to his list of duties at Crossroads. He is now teaching a guitar class – an elective option to students. Middle-school age youth are getting their first introduction into chords, practice sessions and strumming. Jim shares his guitar advising role with 16-year-old Joshuajames (J.J.) Hogsett. J.J. is a Crossroads student who has been playing the guitar for two years with a knack for blues and jazz. Teacher Konnie Keuter says that J.J. also shines as an aide in other classroom settings. She said, “He is a natural teacher”.

Now, in his retirement years, Jim Steffen, this former accordion player, has found a way to marry his love of guitar playing with his joy of teaching. The day I observed Jim in the guitar class, he was teaching nine students chords E, A and B7. Now, I have a confession. I have played guitar, intermittently, for half a century and I still have not mastered B chords. Like the middle-schoolers, I sat there in that classroom scribbling notes to play that darn B7. I came home and finally my fingers hit the right strings and I played a fairly decent B chord. Thank you, Jim! What is a skill or talent that took you years to learn or ace?

When I watched Jim connecting to J.J. and the students at Crossroads with his music, I see the analogy of a piece of art work in progress. Jim’s path to find his life’s work, his pursuit of music and how to give that meaning in his life, and finally, his faith introduces us to man who sought to find a way to live life with integrity. German philosopher, theologian, and musician, Martin Luther (1483 – 1546) wrote that “My heart, which is so full to overflowing, has often been solaced and refreshed by music when sick and weary.” Even now, at the age of 75, Jim Steffen is seeking a path that gives solace to the lives of youth with his musical knowledge. Where do you find your solace in your life?

Susana's First Christmas CardBlog-reader, Susana, age 69, is an international executive. She travels the world as a consultant with businesses. She is a lovely woman with a very tender heart. She said that she has been so inspired by the different people she read about in the Drop In With Debbie blog and the way they branch out and discover new things about themselves. It has inspired her to try something new that she heretofore did not have a lot of confidence in; Susana is going to take an art class, which is a first for her. I was honored, when this year for my Christmas card, she made one of her first homemade cards. It was beautiful. Good for you Susana! Are there other readers who are going to try unfamiliar things in this new year – a goal, a behavior, talent, build a new friendship or lifestyle?

We hope to hear from you. Recently, I received four phone calls, readers – one from California, Georgia, Florida and Texas. The gist of the voicemails was that I would be taken under custody by a federal officer because of several charges against me. Now, I am not easily conned; I know about fraud. However, when I heard the voicemail of the first phone call, my initial thoughts were “What?????!!!!” and a panicky feeling. My mind raced trying to make sense of what I could have done to cause such a severe response. Then within the same minute, my rational mind said, “this is a fraud”. Still, I called my friend and elder law attorney, Sarah Pheral, here in Longmont, because I wasn’t sure what to do. She reassured me and said, “Don’t call the number back. It is fraud”, and she connected me with Liz Parker, Consumer Specialist in the Community Protection Division in the Boulder County DA’s office. Liz told me that” imposters pretending to be the IRS, federal government, Social Security, Medicare or even the Boulder County Sheriff call all too often to try get us to part ways with our money. Liz assured me that the government or law enforcement never calls us to threaten us, or to demand immediate payment. If you find yourself on the receiving end of one of these threatening calls, hang up! Better yet, if you have caller ID, use it to screen calls, and don’t pick up a call from a number you don’t recognize”. After the third phone call in one month, I asked Liz if it really makes a difference if I report the calls to the Federal Trade Commission. Liz told me “FTC is the only government entity with the resources to go after the criminals. The FTC does track down and prosecute many of these scammers. They put a number of them in jail in 2018.” Readers, has this happened to any of you?

For all you fellow-readers who are not seniors, Chrysti (much younger than me) said, “I wanted to comment on the word interdependence. I really like that concept; not just for seniors, but for everyone! I know that my life would not be where it is without interdependence on my family, friends and support systems; though, I have always been proud of my independence. A new perspective to my life - I like it!” I appreciate Chrysti’s thoughts. If you remember, you met her in November’s blog and she is someone I respect highly. She is the executive director of Cultivate – an agency that serves seniors and, in Chrysti’s childhood, her mom modeled this interdependence concept for Chrysti. What supports your interdependence?

Chrysti-Britt, Cultivate


So as we enter this new year, is there a new goal, behavior, talent, friendship or lifestyle that you want to move towards? I hope that you will share your ideas and inspire all of us. Thank you for visiting “Drop In with Debbie” and joining in this month’s discourse. Don’t forget to mark in your calendar to return around the 15th of each month to hear and become involved in these discussions. Also readers, if you sign in at the blog site you are able to read comments from other readers like Zoe. She continued our interdependence conversation and shared a delicious holiday meal menu. Did you all enjoy your holiday celebrations?

 Until next month, may peace be at your side,

Debbie Noel


We have several ways to interact with Debbie!

  • Email her at
  • Register at the blog site (very bottom of the page) to have your comments viewed online
  • Send your letters to:

Debbie Noel
C/o Longmont Senior Center
910 Longs Peak Avenue
Longmont, Colorado 80501


*To read more about Crossroads School here in Longmont visit or contact Barb Bulthuis, Executive Director & Founder at or call her at 303-709-9881

Sarah Pheral, Attorney & Counselor at Law, Law Office of Sarah Pheral, LLC
Phone: 720-204-8799
Facebook: @LOSPheral

From Liz Parker - You can report scam calls to the Community Protection Division at (303) 441-3700, and to the Federal Trade Commission at

** Cultivate information: or email
Phone: 303-443-1933;
Mailing address: 6325 Gunpark Drive, #F, Boulder, Colorado 80301

For more understanding about this ongoing conversation on interdependence, if you have not yet done so, you can read November’s blog

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  1. Updated: 02/26/2019
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