On July 16, 1990, a local family and the community was rocked by a tragedy that could have been avoided, but not predicted.
It started out as a celebratory day for a young Custer musician and his band who had just landed a record deal. The festivities soon moved from Custer to Deadwood where youthful confidence, an automobile and alcohol would prove to be a toxic mix.
That evening, there was a horrific single-car accident reported on Strawberry Hill. The two young men occupying the vehicle were both thrown from the impact and lay helpless with multiple injuries — one with a broken back and the other with a life-threatening head injury.
Although this was over 27 years ago, the Cameron family can still remember receiving the call as if it had just occurred. Steele Cameron was in the hospital fighting for his life.
“I find it inspirational to witness the greatness of people in times of crisis; it’s there, our differences no longer matter. We care not about our politics or religion. We care simply about the well-being of our fellow man,” said Steele’s brother, Francis Cameron. “The community of Custer has a history of rallying in times of crisis and it’s one of the things that makes me proud to say I grew up there.”
Steele suffered damage to every hemisphere of his brain and his neurologist was uncertain of his prognosis.
“The uncertainty gave us hope. As Steele made progress, we made arrangements to move him to a neurological rehabilitation center in Phoenix. The biggest challenge we faced as a family was Steele’s release four months later,” Cameron said.
“We were given two options: long-term care at the state hospital or take him home. My parents made the decision to take him home to Custer. For seven years they received home health care support and then in 1998, Steele was approved for Assisted Daily Living Services through the state.
“During this time, we met a person who would change our lives and Steele’s forever. Someone I believe is an angel on Earth: Sally Leal.”
Leal grew up on a ranch in Montana which is where Cameron says she developed her strong work ethic.
“While quiet and unassuming, she has proven to be one of the most extraordinary people I have ever known. What’s most incredible is her sensitivity and passion for serving others. Sally became not just Steele’s caretaker, but a part of my family,” Cameron said.
Leal and her husband, Frank, opened their home to Steele and made him a part of their family. But after 20 years of providing care to Steele, Leal is retiring.
“As a registered nurse, Frank has provided end-of- life care for a number of people in the area. Frank has the unique ability to brighten anyone’s day. Together, Sally and Frank are a force for good. They have made life better, not just for my brother, but for countless others as well. Should you see them in town, give them a big hug and let them know how much you appreciate having them as a part of your community,” said Cameron.
Steele, his mother, Ilona McDill, and the whole Cameron family acknowledge those who made a difference in Steele’s life:
“Jim Ankeny, Steele’s best friend, who always finds the time to personally visit and call. Bob and Donna Kothe for being there before, during and after. Dorthea Edgington, who inspired Steele at a young age and continued to show care and concern. Jim and Amy Ashmore for their love and support (mostly Amy’s hugs and kisses). Gerry Baldwin for his support and meaningful counsel. Dr. Terry Graber for his patience and diligence, and for those in the community who found the time for a kind word or simple acknowledgment.”
You can find Steele at his new home, Sunset Manor in Irene. Cameron encourages anyone who finds themselves in the area to stop in for a visit.
“His long-term memory is incredible and he loves to reminisce. Should you wish to send him a card or note of encouragement, his new address is:
Sunset Manor, 129 East Clay Street, Irene, SD 57073.