The Refrain in Steve Gaarder’s Life: Doing Better

November 12, 2009 Updated: October 1, 2015

SCIENTIFIC INQUIRY: Steve Gaarder helped to build Eco Village's first electric car. (Suzanne Kates)
SCIENTIFIC INQUIRY: Steve Gaarder helped to build Eco Village's first electric car. (Suzanne Kates)
This is the story of how Steve Gaarder, who sometimes thinks, “I could have done better,” came to build, with Doug and Logan Shire, EcoVillage’s first electric car.

Scientific inquiry runs in Steve’s family. His parents met as students in chemistry class, and scientific inquiry fueled their life together. His father was a member of the Manhattan Project that made the first atom bomb.

Some of us ascribe life’s failures to any and every occurrence as part of our blame system. But Steve’s parents each said, “I could have done better,” which showed that they took full responsibility for their own choices.

Another thumbprint on Steve’s soul comes from his Lithuanian maternal grandmother telling him the story of the 14th century king of Scotland. Defeated six times, King Bruce lay in a cave, dejected, watching a spider fail six times to string a web across the cave. When, on the seventh try, it succeeded, King Bruce reassembled his routed army and went on to win.

This story of try, try, try again, combined with the idea of "I could have done better," helps us see the life of Steve Gaarder laid bare.

When Steve was 13, the family moved to Vienna, as his father was posted in the Atomic Energy Commission there. Steve joined the International School, where the student body was drawn from all over the world.

“In the States, I was at the bottom of the pile, preyed upon by school bullies,” he says. “But in Vienna, I felt empowered. I had mastered the German language; I could speak German like a native. This put me at the head, both at school and at home.

“The two short years in Vienna were transformational. In fact when we left, I was the one on the phone, making arrangements. I felt I was capable.”

In the 1970s, during the period of the Kent State shooting, Steve says he discovered people. “Due to a nudge from a friend, I joined an encounter group. It was a transformational moment. It flooded into me that I could connect with people, that I could acknowledge my emotions, talk about them.”

Gaarder kept looking for a close community of people who wanted to live and work toward the health of Mother Earth. Thirteen years ago, with his wife, Suzanne, and children, he moved to the EcoVillage—which brings us to how EcoVillage works at its best.

Five years ago, Steve Gaarder had the foresight to buy government surplus storage batteries. He had an idea they would prove to be useful.

Doug Bourne Shire’s son Logan wanted to build an electric car as his science project for high school.

So Doug bought a secondhand electric VW Rabbit. He says, “The vehicle had a dead set of batteries in it, which Steve is working on. We thought that Logan would go off to a university, and Steve and I would own an electric car. It is an exciting project.”

This is EcoVillage life at its best. And Steve continues working on doing better.