Claude D. "Steve" Stephenson's methodical engineering mind turned out to be perfectly trained for the task of directing dancers into the intricate, squares, circles and patterns of square dancing and doing so in a rhythmic, entertaining way.
"Everybody was comfortable with him because he was very, very patient and never got upset if they messed up," said his wife, Rena Mae "Maizie" Stephenson. "If somebody didn't get it right, he would do it over again. And he would never point out who didn't do it right."
Retired Air Force Col. Stephenson, 76, was a professional square-dance caller in Northern Virginia and Washington for the past 22 years. He died of lung cancer Oct. 11 at Willow Valley retirement center in Lancaster, Pa.
Col. Stephenson was such an enthusiastic square-dance caller that he was a founder of the Boomerangs Square Dance Teaching Council in Northern Virginia, and he taught classes in Lincolnia. He called for many benefit dances over the years and organized and called an annual dance for Toys for Tots during the 1990s.
"My husband was an electrical engineer and had a very active mind," his wife said. What fascinated him "was the intrigue of how the callers put those calls together, work people around and all of a sudden you're allemanding left and promenading home with your partner."
His tenor voice would combine with his wife's periodically to sing Patsy Montana's "I Want to Be a Cowboy's Sweetheart" to dancers:
"I wanna be a cowboy's sweetheart
I wanna learn to rope and ride.
I wanna ride o'er the plains and the deserts
Out west of the Great Divide.
I wanna hear the coyotes howling
As the sun sets in the West.
I wanna be a cowboy's sweetheart
That's the life I love the best.
i oh da la de-oh da la de-oh de la tee hee. . . . "
He was born in Dallas, but his wife is from New Jersey. Her father introduced them while he was serving in the Army at Fort Monmouth, N.J., and they courted while dancing to their favorite, Guy Lombardo's big band, on the Jersey shore, she said.
He was in the Army for two years before enrolling in college. Upon graduation from Southern Methodist University with a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering, he was commissioned into the Air Force in 1952.
He received a master's degree in electrical engineering in 1955 from the Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and a master's degree in business administration in 1965 from George Washington University.
Col. Stephenson spent his military career working on rockets and missiles, and he worked on the Titan missile program in Colorado and Kansas in the 1960s. He was posted around the world but in 1970 bought a home in Fairfax and returned to it after his 1980 military retirement.
Among his military awards were the Legion of Merit, the Meritorious Service Medal and the Air Force Commendation Medal.
He also worked periodically as a consultant for Reston's TASC Inc., an information technology business unit of Northrop Grumman, until 2003, when he and his wife moved to the retirement community in Lancaster.
He was a ham radio operator and a member of Fairfax United Methodist Church, and he sang in the chancel choir.
The Stephensons' first square-dancing lesson wasn't until 1978, and the caller who taught them suggested that he take up the job. He put it off until retirement and had his first professional job in 1981.
What made Col. Stephenson different from other callers, his wife said, was that "he enjoyed it. It wasn't a business for him, he wasn't in it for the money. We didn't need the money. We did it for the love of calling."
Col. Stephenson was former president and board chairman of the National Capital Area Square Dance Leaders Association and an officer in the Virginia Square Dance Callers Association.
He won the Cardinal State Award from the Virginia Square Dance Callers Association in 2002. He was a member of Callerlab, the International Association of Square Dance Callers.
Survivors include his wife of 55 years, of Lancaster; three daughters, Cynthia L. Muncey of Boylston, Mass., Melinda S. Nash of Springfield and Patricia Stephenson of Annandale; a son, Claude D. Stephenson III of Albuquerque; and a brother.