A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

People of NKY: Steven White is drawn to history, architecture of Covington and to art, music worldwide

By Ginger Dawson
NKyTribune reporter

There are people among us, here in Covington, who are dedicated to the fabric and flavor of our historic city and the architecture that gives it its mystique and sense of history. Two centuries of life has gone on in all of its varied moments, stirring optimism and tragedy together in one ornate old pot. The buildings are important, but it is the people that have given them the romance.

Steven White in front of a copy of the Georges Seurat painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, inspiration for the Broadway musical Sunday in the Park with George.

Steven White has always been drawn to places like this. It is a fact, that ever since he became his own self-supporting adult, he has lived in an old house or old neighborhood. We are lucky, that since 2007, he has lived here, in the Governor’s Point condominiums in the Licking Riverside neighborhood.  

Architecture and design are two of his passions. And, it turns out, people are too. In a pretty serious way.

After being, by chance, born in his extended family’s hometown of Oak Hill, West Virginia (his parents were visiting for the holidays), he grew up in Waynesboro, Virginia in the Shenandoah Valley. Both of these towns are right off of I-64.  

It was a typical Appalachian childhood of the upper south. Steven was the second of five children. The 1960’s and 70s were a different era in child-rearing with grandparents and parents having experienced the great depression of the 1930s. Methods of parenting were a little more relaxed and hands-off. As Steven puts it, “The whole idea was to keep me alive and get me through high school. Anything else was extra.”

A sampling of just a few of the musicals and plays that Steven has seen.

High school in small-town Virginia was not his cup of tea and he realized, early on, that attending college would be his way out to a different life.

He prepared. He had a natural aptitude for math and, by consequence, a feel for the early stages of computer programming, just starting up then. He applied and was accepted to James Madison University located in Harrisburg, Virginia, also in the Shenandoah Valley.

It is one thing to be good at something, but it is an entirely different thing to LIKE it.  After about a year of spending time in computer programming labs, he realized that he was not cut out for it. He was not a computer nerd. Steven puts it much more nicely. “These were not my people.”

In a 180 degree turn, he switched his major to PHILOSOPHY. This went great until, around his junior year, he started to get concerned about his ability to get a job. So, at the eleventh hour, he signed on for an additional major in psychology. He found that most of his electives were psychology classes, so why not?

At the end of 1986, he graduated with a double major in philosophy and psychology.

During his college days and early career, he was never too far from I-64!

After this milestone, he followed the lead of a friend and moved to Lexington (also on I-64) where he got his first professional job, and of course, found a great old house to live in.

His job was with the Frankfort Department of Public Health. He headed up community outreach programs that were dealing with the AIDS epidemic and HIV prevention.  

Drawing on his extremely well-suited education for this role (even though they were not looking for a psychology/philosophy major), he took on the project of changing the mentality of the organization, which had been perceived as somewhat of a meddling overseer, to one of collaboration—one of help.  

It was important that the programs benefitted the individual, different groups, the communities involved, and the state. His approach with each was always predicated on these questions — “What do you need?  How can we help you?”

He was very successful in this and he loved his job.

During this time, he also obtained his master’s degree in psychology from the University of Kentucky in Lexington. This was 1990. He took the Examination for Professional Practice of Psychology (EPPP), and then, in a fluke that can only happen with government bureaucracy, he was suddenly not qualified to do the job he had been at for several years! No words.

Governor’s Point in Licking Riverside. Gorgeous old corner post from the earlier Shinkle mansion which previously occupied this site.

He was told that he needed and was instructed to find (for himself!) a supervisor that had a doctorate in psychology. He could not find one.  

This was a dilemma that had an unanticipated solution. He would leave this job and get a doctorate himself.

In 1998, Steven moved to Kingston, Rhode Island (oddly, NOT on I-64, but still with historic architecture) and studied for his doctorate of psychology. He chose Rhode Island because of an instructor. Dr. James Prochaska had originated a “Stages of Change” theoretical model that Steven had used in his work for several years. This was an idea of meeting patients where they actually WERE in their treatments, and addressing that, rather than simply declaring that a patient was not good—not willing.

So, Steven became Dr. White and went home to visit family. He said to his Grandmother, “I’m Dr. White now,” explaining he wasn’t a medical doctor, but a doctor of psychology. His grandmother simply said, “I don’t know what any of that means.” It was natural for her to poo-poo his accomplishment.  

There is a kind of modesty and humility that is a part of the rural, Appalachian and Midwestern culture. I can best state it in this way — “Don’t go around tootin’ your own horn.  You’ll look like you’ve gotten a little too big for your britches.”

Steven’s dining area — the result of six years of planning and careful selection.

You have to have been raised that way to understand it. I had to drag it out of Steven that he had a PhD! It’s nice to spot a kindred.

This business of getting a full-fledged doctorate takes tenacity. After Steven got his, he then had to participate in a one-year clinical internship. He went with the Veteran’s Health Administration, which was located in St. Louis, Missouri. Comfortably on I-64, and with old houses.

Then, further still, in order to become a LICENSED psychologist, he had to participate in a post-doctoral fellowship. Getting to this point is a serious accomplishment.

This is what brought him to Cincinnati. The National Center for Organizational Development had established a fellowship program in the Veteran’s Health Administration there. He completed this and has worked for the VHA ever since.  

Steven is the Senior Organization Development Psychologist. The VHA is the biggest medical organization in the country. He consults with executive leadership teams in 150 medical centers with 300,00 employees throughout the United States. Up until recently, this required lots of travel. Now, it’s Zoom, Skype, Facetime, etc….

Beautiful blend of styles in Steven’s forever home.

When Steven is not engaged in work, he indulges in his love of historic architecture and design. In addition to being an advocate of Covington’s formidable historic identity, he has traveled quite a bit to different international cities to soak up the beauty of their streetscapes. Favorites are Budapest, Hungary, Prague in the Czech Republic, and Edinburgh, Scotland.

Now, I think the fact that I-64 has kept Steven on such a short leash during his education and career, travel is something that he will do at the drop of a hat to pursue, not only architecture and design but also theatre.

He loves Broadway musicals and for several years would travel to New York City, twice annually, to check out the newest ones.  

Steven would also not let the possible absence of an NYC run prevent him from seeing one that he really wanted to. When the controversial play Equus was being produced in London, England in 2007, Steven was concerned that it would not make it to Broadway. He did not hesitate to book a flight to London for a weekend of theatre. And it was a FULL weekend. Not only did he see Equus, but also the musicals Mary Poppins and Monty Python’s Spamalot.

He also high-tailed it to Toronto to see the musical Mama Mia, a few months before its first stop in the United States.

Is this not the most spectacular bath you’ve ever seen?!

With all of Steven’s accomplishments, I asked him what he was most proud of. He responded with what he was most proud of NOW. Lord knows there has been plenty to be proud of in the past!

When he moved to Governor’s Point, having gotten his foot in the door, he waited patiently to purchase another unit — the one that he really wanted. It became available and Steven got it.

This was his opportunity to engage his interest in design and architecture in the creation of his “forever home.” Over a six-year period, Steven completely renovated and redesigned every square inch of it. It is beautiful. “Good things come to those who wait.” No one knows this as well as he does.

His attitude about life, in work and at home, is best illustrated by this quote from the broadway musical, Sunday in the Park with George. When George Seurat (the famous Impressionist painter) was sitting at his easel in front of a blank canvas, it was this he saw— “The challenge: bring order to the whole, through design, composition, tension, balance, light, and harmony.”

Steven says, “We all look at the world and it is up to us to make sense of it and do what we can to make it meaningful and beautiful.”

Ginger Dawson writes about people — the neighbors you need to know and people you need to meet and understand. If you have ideas for subjects please share them with Ginger at ginger@fuse.net.

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