Fargo man overcomes big challenges to find success, peace
By Carol Stender
Steve Revland of Fargo has experienced seemingly insurmountable challenges in his life.
Some of his biggest challenges include ADHD, dyslexia, Tourette’s Syndrome and drug and alcohol addiction. But despite all that, the fine furniture artist and singer says he’s in a good place right now in his life.
“It’s been a journey,” said Revland, 70, who is celebrating 32 years of sobriety.
He wrote an autobiography of his experiences titled Simply Revland: How to Succeed in Life Despite Yourself.
Revland hasn’t read the autobiography nor does he plan to read his second book, a fictional story he is currently writing.
“I haven’t read any book, in fact,” he said. “I start reading a few pages and then my mind takes off. I can’t absorb it all. I haven’t read any book and I don’t intend to start now. I don’t want to mess with my streak.”
While his learning disabilities have been his challenge, Revland’s creativity and imagination have been the foundation of his artistic career.
“The right side of my brain is very active,” he said. “The right side makes me a living. The left side is null and void.”
He knew early in his life that he was a gifted child. At least that’s what school administrators told him. The early educational boost was thanks to his two sisters, Claudia and Catherine who, at 10 and 12 years of age, helped him prepare for his first year of school. They used flash cards and spelling bees to help him learn, he said. Their efforts paid off and Redland found himself leaving his first grade classmates to attend some courses with third graders.
Once in school, however, he didn’t have the ongoing guidance from his sisters. He began to fall behind. The pressure and anxiety caused his Tourette’s Syndrome. His physical tics and verbal owl-like sounds were the fodder for bullies. He had few friends.
A bright spot came when he was nine and his sister, Claudia, was crowned Miss Fargo. She was asked to perform on WDAY-TVs Party Line variety show. The Fargo station’s hit show was hosted by Verna Newell who, over the show’s 20-plus year run, had a number of co-hosts including Boyd Christenson and Bill Weaver. His sister was quite talented, he said. But she asked her brother to also perform. He worried of his tics and noises, but remembered Country Western performer Mel Tillis who was a stutterer. Once Tillis sang, his stuttering stopped. It was the same with Revland and his Tourette’s.
The pair performed a Norwegian folk song and the Andy Williams classic Moon River. Verna Newel took a liking to the young Revland and invited him to perform on the show for several years as a solo act. It was a boost of confidence.
Outside of his musical venture, Revland found solace in his family home with his parents, Cletis and Edna, his brother, Paul, and his two sisters. Their Fargo property measured 50 by 150 with a spacious backyard that soon became his place.
Revland likens that time to the Peanuts comic strip where there are no adults, but the focus is on the kids’ lives. In that backyard, Revland was free to express himself and use his imagination. It was where he built a fort and treehouse. The fort had a pot bellied stove and the treehouse had a living room complete with books stashed among the branches for aesthetics. There was also a bedroom in the treehouse where he sometimes slept.
He built his own wood lathe from scratch using an old Maytag washer motor, and made toboggan slides, a football field complete with goal posts, and nightlights and a high jumping pit.
But his most complex project was the Revland Municipal Golf Course. The backyard was transformed into a six-hole golf course complete with greens made from Revland’s seeding of Bermuda Creeping Bentgrass. Some of the holes were played twice, making it a nine-hole course.
School remained a tough road for him. He often skipped classes, but found his niche in a wood working class.
In his last year at high school, Revland had his doubts he would graduate. When grades were released before graduation, he was four credits short of completion with 45 absences and a .08 GPA. He was actually surprised the GPA was so high, he said. He credits the boost he got from his wood shop C average.
Despite his low grades, Revland was encouraged to attend his graduation ceremony. He did get a diploma and, yes, it was signed.
“That was the extent of my education, if you can call it that,” he said.
If he went to college, Revland wanted an art major, but the realization was there were few teaching positions available. It was a million-to-one chance.
In his post high school years, he worked a couple years as a grave digger and developed a singing career in the area. He even cut a 45 of his songs.
“I continued to perform at local pubs and college coffee houses as I was nurturing my woodworking craft,” he said, “and I was mature enough to know that making a living as a solo performer just wasn’t going to cut it. I switched to learning my (woodworking) craft and design.”
Revland’s Norwegian heritage stands out in his designs.
His two early pieces are chairs, but each has a unique design. The earliest high back chair was the Strinden Hill Foyer Chair, created in 1984. It’s always been portrayed as a sculptural conversation piece with its solid wood, highly figured back, which narrows from the bottom to top. Another chair, the Revland Signature Chair, was created in 1988 and uses dowels to connect the ribbed back. The design, and Revland, were featured on HGTV’s Modern Masters program.
Then there’s a series of tables with names that pay homage to his Norwegian heritage - Lillehammer Bay, Sognefjord and Trondheim Bay.
Revland also creates a number of smaller tables that bear unique features and colors.
For part of his woodworking career, Revland turned to drinking and drugs, but a fateful call changed that. His son, from a previous relationship, contacted him asking if he could visit in the summer. His son was 10 at the time.
Revland had no contact with the young lad up to this point. After the birth, the mother’s parents sent them to another state. When she was engaged to another, she contacted Revland saying her future husband wanted to adopt their son. Revland agreed with the stipulation that their son be able to call once he was older.
The boy’s mom kept articles about Revland’s career and told him about his father. When the boy called, Revland was in awe.
“When that call ended, I got on my knees and I cried,” Revland said. “I then called my brother and told him I wanted help to get clean. He made some calls and I got into a program that has led to my sobriety.”
He was concerned that “becoming clean” would hurt his creative mojo, but it returned, Revland said.
Through friends he met his wife, Mary. She has four children and Revland has his son. And they have two grandchildren.
When he wrote his autobiography, he intended it to be something for his kids and grandkids. He intended to make 20 copies for family and friends. His book has sold over 20,000 copies. Besides friends and family, those who are affected by Tourette’s, ADHD and addiction find a connection with Revland and his journey.
It is a book detailing his legacy and he advises people to create one for themselves.
“If anyone in the world would think that way, the world would be a better place,” he said.
“You don’t need an education to create a legacy.”