A school with as rich and storied a history as North Salem High School can count a long list of luminaries among its alumnus. For North, that list includes a former governor who became a U.S. senator, an Oregon supreme court justice, an author of a best-selling novel, a primary author of Title IX legislation, and a long-time major league baseball player to name but a few.
Each of those famous Viking graduates are to be celebrated in their own right. But equally important are those Vikings who aren't “celebrities” - those simply known for being an integral part of North Salem High, and indeed, our greater Salem-Keizer community. Steve Chambers has been connected to North Salem High for his entire life and stands at the top of that list.
The figurative DNA of the Chambers family is deep within the walls of North Salem High School. Steve's grandmother graduated from Salem High School (then located at what is now Macy's department store). His father attended all three years at SHS (high schools then were only three years) but graduated in spring of 1937 from the brand new Salem High School that opened up to its first classes that following fall and was now located on 14th and D Streets, the current location of North Salem High School. His mother graduated from SHS in 1939. Older brother Dave - whom Steve idolized - was a junior high record holder in the high hurdles who graduated from North Salem High School in 1961. Dave then went on to attend Harvard and obtained a doctorate from Stanford. Steve graduated from North in '62. Steve's younger brother Craig who was also a very good athlete and student graduated from crosstown rival South Salem High School in '66 (the family had moved). Craig was a member of the 1966 Saxon basketball team and went on to play freshman basketball for and graduate from Oregon State University. (Craig is still allowed at family gatherings despite his Saxon status.) Steve's son Paul graduated as a Viking in '91 and daughter Erin in '92. And Steve also points out that 10-year old grandson James will be in the class of 2031.
As noted, Steve graduated from North in 1962 as a gifted track athlete who set and still holds three records, including the high hurdles, for the Viking track team and won the state low hurdles title in 1962. Chambers, like his brothers, epitomizes what it meant to be a student-athlete, using the experiences gained in athletics as a foundation for later life. Within the Chambers family, Steve and his brothers learned how to be good student-athletes, competitors, and about the value of extra-curricular activities. From their father and grandparents they also learned the value of giving back to the community - a long standing family trait. Indeed, Steve's uncle Richard Chambers helped author the Oregon bottle bill and his cousin – Vicki Berger – served as a state representative. Steve and his brothers also learned how to lovingly live together as a family.
After graduating from Whitman College - where he was a three-time conference hurdles champion and, to this day, still holds the 330-yard hurdle record, Chambers returned to Salem to teach at his alma mater, taking time to obtain his Master of Arts in Teaching degree from the University of Oregon along the way. Steve’s return to his hometown also included a determination to keep running the hurdles - something he did competitively until the age of 45.
For 32 years, Chambers masterfully provided instruction in social studies courses to North Salem students. He was recognized with Outstanding Young Educator and Outstanding Secondary Educator awards. Steve served as social studies department coordinator, and taught a total of seventeen different courses during his tenure. He then served as an adjunct professor at Willamette University and Tokyo International University for three years before leaving the classroom completely. But that didn't mean his service to the Salem-Keizer School District was complete. Chambers proceeded to serve for 12 years on the Salem-Keizer School Board, including five years as its chair.
Just as Steve taught a wide variety of social studies courses, so his coaching stints covered a wide array of sports. He has served as North's head track coach - twice; head boys swim coach; head cross country coach; head coach of boys soccer; head coach of girls soccer. He also served as a middle school soccer coach, fifth grade girls basketball coach, and finally - as a volunteer track coach for the Vikings which he does to this day. Indeed, it's apparent that when a coaching need arose, Chambers was the “go to” staff member, more than willing to step into the breach. An athletic director's dream!
For his efforts, Chambers was named district track coach of the year twice – in '72 and '75, won a city swim championship, and was named Valley League girls soccer coach of the year in 1998. All in all, a very challenging and successful coaching career.
Chambers has kept track of his sports exploits, yet doesn’t dwell on his past accomplishments. His coaching specialty is - to no one’s surprise - the hurdles. In fact, Steve has trained at least one hurdler to the state track meet for 21 straight years, including several state champions, one of whom - Riley Knebes - is still running professionally.
In his “aw shucks” style blended with a suggestion of high intellect, Chambers has admitted that he struggles to relax as a retiree, saying his wife of 56 years - Ellen - has told him he has “failed” retirement in that regard. Part of that comes from the joy he feels when working with kids - a portion of whom desire the attention that often fills a void in their own family situations. His motto in teaching as well as coaching is “Can't really means not yet.”
Within his “failed retirement” Steve still strives to set aside time to be with his own family and to travel with Ellen. Even as he works to find that time, he remains a fixture at North Salem High. The 2010 inductee into the North Salem Hall of Fame who announced Viking varsity football games for 45 years, continues his volunteer coaching, and continues serving on the North High Alumni Association Board and Hall of Fame Committee. He also served on the organizing committee for the Awesome 3000 for approximately 20 years, a group that is in the process of restarting an incredible community event. Steve Chambers casts a long shadow on the 14th Street campus, and across our community he is always willing to help. But he is, and always will be, a Viking.
For all of his investment into the lives of people in Salem-Keizer and most especially those within the North Salem High area, it is easy to see that Steve Chambers is a Beacon.