Steven James Sarbacker, J.D., age 58, son of James Phillip and Diane Davis Sarbacker (both deceased), was born when the veil thins on Halloween, thus nicknamed Spook. He left this material world peacefully, with his loved one’s holding him, and his mother’s pink flowered embroidered hanky, steeped in her perfume, clasped in one hand as The Grateful Dead’s Casey Jones played.
We know he’s with his dogs: Duke, Grisha (trained in Russian), and Heidi, and of course, Mom, Dad, and likely, Goody.
Steve comes from a lineage of resilience. On his father’s side, his strong German grandfather, Phillip, sold independent insurance and his Irish grandmother Sybil, was a mother and wife. They took Steve and his sisters to supper clubs in the Portage area every Friday night along with aunt Bonnie. Steve’s father Jim was an ear-trained, accomplished musician, exploring what made him happiest.
On his mother’s side, the lineage of immigrants from as early as the 1630s lived as inventors, hunters, explorers, writers, teachers, and lawyers. One relative fought in the Revolutionary War, and another in the Civil War – a POW survivor in Andersonville who spoke in the Congressional Record.
His GG Uncle ran for VP of the U.S., lived with a tribe on the Niobrara River in present day Nebraska, was banned from reporting the Wounded Knee Massacre, and a memoir resulted. His grandfather, Chuck, worked for Sears in Chicago as a Comptroller, and Grammy Bourie, with PhD in hand, took to teaching and helping underprivileged Navy recruits pass GED’s via correspondence courses. Diane, his mother, taught Baraboo middle school students, with dreams to pursue law. She was active in community theater and worked toward earning her pilot’s license.
From these ancestors, we meet Jim and Diane’s son, Steve: a true warrior, through and through. Our battles begin and end in our own minds and we saw Steve choose Life. He was hero for many, beginning with sticking up for his sister, taking a stand for his daughter, and seeing the importance of the right to justice and a fair shake at life for EVERYONE. He did not live his life the way others thought might be better for him. He was the Captain of his ship. And he lent a helping hand whenever he could.
As a lawyer, he served both sides of the bench, prosecuting big tobacco companies in the Twin Cities and child molesters for Columbia County’s District Attorney. He later represented alleged criminals assuring a right to fair trial. Acutely aware of how his mom died, he supported and represented women ending abusive marriages. He put his name in the hat for Circuit Court Judge in 2006.
Before lawyering, Steve developed life-long friendships during grade school at Portage. In 1976, Chris Geltmeyer, on trumpet, sat behind Steve on percussion. In one band rehearsal, Steve uttered magic words, “The Beatles are the #1 band in history”, and their Best Friend-ship began. In 1986, Chris and others joined Steve and Jim on their annual canoe camping weekend down Duck Creek to the Wisconsin River. The 2023 trip happened this September.
Steve graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1986: BA in International Relations, specializing in Soviet Studies. As a Cryptologist Officer in Fort Meade, MD, he served in the U.S. Navy, receiving a Joint Service Commendation medal from the Secretary of Defense for his participation in Operation Desert Shield.
“Lieutenant Steven J. Sarbacker . . . United States Naval Reserve, distinguished himself by meritorious achievement from September 10, 1990-January 23, 1991, while serving in the Operations Organization of the National Security Agency. Lieutenant Sarbacker’s superb intuition and experience were decisive . . .”
He returned to UW-Madison to earn his Juris Doctor (JD).
Steve lived a lighter side of life, too. Known as Sarby, he loved his family and children, dogs, and music: The Beatles, The Grateful Dead, Lady Gaga. Life abounded as he cooked great food, cheered the Packers, traveled up north, and honored the privilege to hunt and fish. He played keys in bands Deep Blue Sea and The Shruggers. What he loved most, though, was to spend time with Savandy and Coopana, his nicknames for his children and their partners.
His legacy: beloved daughter, Savannah (Andy Romanowski) Sarbacker; and treasured son, Cooper (Ana Geelan) Sarbacker; too young to lose their father; sisters: Sue Linton and Lauranne (Merle, Samantha, Neill, Karl) Bailey will dearly miss their baby brother; stepmom, Judy Sarbacker and family survives him; nephew, Malikhi (Michele Stouse) Jahn; and niece, Brianna Jahn tearfully let go of their Best Uncle Ever. Glen (Terri) Jahn, his forever brother; great-nieces and great-nephew: remember his laughter as he saw you in your joy; cousins: Gordon Faerber, Bruce, Kevin, and Scott; and aunt Toby Davis, and their families, survive him. His former wife and mother of his children, Trina McVicker, and your patient family, thank you for everything. Countless others, we see you. Thank you for the love you shared with our father and brother.
We honor the Portage Warrior Class of ’82, friends for life: Two Steve’s, Chris, Sean, John, Two Mike’s, Tim, Dan, Two Kent’s, Jamie, Gregg, Kevin, Jim, Shawn, Dave, and Goody.
Please, join us to Celebrate Sarby’s Life on Saturday, November 4, 2023 1:00 p.m., at Blarney Stone, 220 W. Wisconsin, Portage. Bring your stories. We know you have many. Help us remember all he was.
Donations in his memory may be made to the family via Savannah Sarbacker, PO Box 157, Portage, WI 53901-0157.
“And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make.” — The Beatles
Pflanz Mendrala Funeral Home in Portage (www.pmmfh.com) is assisting the family.