Twenty-five years ago my husband Steve and I decided that the time had come to purchase a home of our own. We explored many different communities and finally settled on the community of Robbinsville. Back then, Steve and I were in the early stages of our careers.

Steve was hired as the vice principal of Applegarth Middle School in Monroe Township, and I had taken some time off to care for our first son. In the ensuing years, as Steve’s career advanced, I had the good fortune of staying home with our young sons Ryan, Shaun and Kyle. His work eventually took him to Edison, and he was appointed as the principal of James Madison Elementary School.

As a family, we were living the life we had always dreamed of. Like many of our peers, our home was filled with love and laughter, kids and pets, family and friends. We were guided by our faith and were always aware that none of us are on this journey alone. We built solid relationships, forming strong connections with — and a commitment to — our neighbors and to the communities of both Robbinsville and West Windsor. We felt blessed in many ways.

In those early years, always being the goal setter, Steve would ask me questions like, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” “What do you want our lives to look like?” “What do you see us doing?” These questions were most often asked over dinner at our favorite restaurant, Iccara, in Yardville. I always needed some time to think, so I would turn the questions back to him. It is not surprising that Steve had already thought these things through.

One of the many things on Steve’s Bucket List was opening up a brand new middle school. He loved nothing better than a great challenge. So back to our dinner… “Where do you see yourself in five years?” I questioned him. His exact response was, “If I could have my dream job on a silver platter, I would love to open up a brand new middle school — say in a town like West Windsor.” It’s absolutely true. I will never forget those words. They are etched in my memory.

So it shouldn’t surprise you that in the spring of 1998, he was elated when this dream came true for him. He was hired as the principal of Grover Middle School. He was thrilled to accept this new position, and greatly enjoyed all aspects of this new opportunity.

He wore many different hats in the spring and summer months, enjoying each of the different challenges that were set before him. He loved visiting the construction site each day, and I would often bring our young boys to see the building. They would wear their white construction hats and ask their Dad lots and lots of questions. These visits were precious.

Steve couldn’t wait to bring his own unique vision to life at Grover, establishing a culture that would ignite a passion for excellence in staff, students, parents and community members. He set out to create an environment in which learning was both fun and challenging. He strove to put kids on the path towards lifelong learning, and modeled this in his own life as well.

He also understood the need to create balance and round out the faculty with both brand new teachers, and an array of seasoned veterans to serve as mentors and advisers for newer staff.

He believed that a candidate’s attitude, character, and life experience spoke volumes and was always on the lookout for those extraordinary individuals that possessed integrity, emotional intelligence, authenticity, the ability to persevere, an open heart, and of course, a great sense of humor. Steve spent many months in thoughtful consideration of the kind of staff he wanted to create and, ultimately, he and his team put together a fantastic group of educators, as well as an excellent support staff that were integral to the success of the school.

When Thomas Grover Middle School opened its doors to welcome students in September of 1999, Steve was elated. He absolutely loved his work there and looked forward to going to work each and every day. It was very exciting for Steve to see his dream come to fruition. And so, for eight years, Steve held the position of middle school principal, excited about the possibilities each new day would hold.

Then, in 2007, he joined the Central Office team as the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. Leaving Grover was not a decision he made lightly but he felt that this new position would grant him an opportunity to apply the lessons he had learned as a principal in ways that would affect positive change on a larger scale, as well as to challenge him professionally.

Steve had no way of knowing then that the things he would learn during his time in Central Office would fully prepare him to serve as superintendent in his own town of Robbinsville just two short years later.

Steve loved every minute of his tenure in West Windsor-Plainsboro. He loved the friends he made, the professional relationships he formed and the students and families that he served. It is highly likely that he would have remained part of the WW-P family for a very long time had the position in our town not opened up. Please know that he treasured each and every one of you. As I do.

It is in this light that I offer my deepest gratitude to the members of the West Windsor-Plainsboro school community. In the days and weeks that followed the tragic loss of my beloved husband on April 19, and as my sons and I struggled to accept the unacceptable, we were embraced by countless numbers of our WW-P neighbors.

Many that we knew and some that we recognized only by name showed up for us, comforting us with gentle words, meals, friendship and hugs.

Former students wrote letters sharing fond memories. Teachers and staff opened their hearts and it became achingly clear that we were not alone in our sorrow. On the contrary, instead we discovered that Steve’s passing had resulted in a collective and deeply profound sense of loss far greater than anything we could have imagined. It is this unparalleled outpouring of love and support that continues to sustain me in my darkest moments.

Thank you too for your generous contributions to the Mayer Education Fund. Steve would be so pleased to know that his friends are helping to support his sons in this way. Your kind expressions of sympathy, caring and compassion over the course of these past months have meant more to my boys and me than you will ever know, and so much more than I can adequately express here. Your continued care and kindness towards our family is a beautiful reflection of the heart and soul of the West Windsor Community. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you.

— Donna M. Mayer, Robbinsville