Alumni Feature: Steve Hamilton 1989
From working high above the clouds to performing in front of full crowds, Steve Hamilton 1989 has experienced it all. His adventures in life have taken him around the globe, and one of those stops was Crookston, Minnesota. Hamilton began his studies at the University of Minnesota Technical College in the fall of 1987. As a recent high school graduate with a desire to attend a small university, Hamilton followed his high school counselor’s advice and enrolled in the restaurant management program. At that time, Associate Professor Ken Myers was the head of the program, and Hamilton recalls learning the ins and outs of the restaurant industry from Myers’ classes. His class was responsible for waking up early on Friday mornings and cooking breakfast for the students on campus. “For college students, getting up at 7 a.m. is like the middle of the night,” Hamilton joked. In addition to this weekly cooking experience, the restaurant management students also spent time simulating a real restaurant experience by preparing a menu, acquiring ingredients, cooking the meals, and serving the food to the faculty on campus. Hamilton also remembers learning about tableside cooking during his time at UMN Crookston, which appealed to his love of entertainment.
Whether Hamilton finds himself performing magic acts at bars or caring for patients in his community today, he will always look back at his time at UMN Crookston as positive.
Growing up, Hamilton had an interest in all things performance. As the son of a performer, Hamilton was well-acquainted with the fast-paced lifestyle that went along with this type of work. At sixteen years old, the president of the Duluth Mystics invited him to a meeting with many different types of performers ranging from hypnotists to jugglers. Hamilton was entranced by the performing world and made connections with other performers who invited him to magician conventions. These events provided him with the knowledge and skills to work as a professional magician, and he began to perform for many audiences. During his two years at UMN Crookston, he performed magic shows in Kiehle Auditorium and traveled to other locations to help fund his way through college. Because he was traveling to different locations for his shows while living on campus, he often needed to bring his props for his acts with him in his dorm. One fond memory Hamilton recalls is when he brought live doves to his dorm to save him from a 300 mile trip home to pick them up. At the time, Hamilton did not realize animals were not permitted in the residence halls and a crowd of students came to visit the birds. After being told he could not keep these animals in his room, Hamilton’s choir director, George French, offered to keep the doves at his home.
Hamilton met French during his time in UMC First Edition, which was the show choir on campus. This group of singers performed songs accompanied with choreographed dances and had many exciting opportunities to travel for their performances. During Hamilton’s first year in the choir, the group was sponsored by the University to travel abroad to London and perform their songs. The following year, the ten members in the choir took a road trip to Chicago. Hamilton remembers visiting the popular sites of the area, including a Cubs Game at Wrigley Field. In addition to the choir on campus, Hamilton also participated in the theater program. He was in the cast of two plays: a comedy entitled Bathroom Humor and a serious drama entitled Babies Having Babies. These activities provided Hamilton with the opportunity to fuel his creativity and meet like-minded individuals with the same passion for the arts.
While Hamilton was in the show choir, he became friends with David LeGare 1989, who was an agricultural aviation major. One day, Hamilton was asked by LeGare if he would be interested in flying with him. “Like in a plane, just you and me?” Hamilton hesitantly responded. LeGare assured him all would be okay, and they headed over to the Crookston Airport. While in the air, Hamilton’s eyes were opened to the world of flying and he thoroughly enjoyed it. Immediately after this flight, Hamilton enrolled in flying classes both at the university and at the Crookston Airport. Once he completed the necessary training at UMN Crookston, he received his private pilot’s license from the university. Working for an airline was a future occupation that never crossed Hamilton’s mind, that is, until a brief conversation he had with guidance counselor, Don Cavalier. While walking through the hallways on campus, Cavalier stopped Hamilton and told him he felt Hamilton would be an excellent flight attendant. Little did Cavalier know this conversation would drastically guide the course of Hamilton’s future career.
After graduating with his two-year degree, Hamilton applied to thirty five airlines in hopes to begin his career as a flight attendant. The computer systems back then were not as advanced as they are today, so Hamilton recalled typing his resume on a typewriter and mailing them to each of the airlines. He was first hired by Northwest Airlines and worked there for seventeen years. For the next five years, he continued his career as a flight attendant with Delta Air Lines. Throughout the twenty-one years of his flight attendant career, Hamilton was able to travel around the world. He visited all fifty states as well as fifteen countries. One dream place his career had not taken him at the time, however, was Thailand. In the early 2000s, Hamilton went on a nine-day international trip with a friend, and they visited the Philippines and Tokyo. During this trip, Hamilton learned that his friend lived part-time in Bangkok, Thailand and was planning to visit there the following month. Hamilton was able to join along on this trip, and he instantly knew Thailand was a place he wanted to stay.
For the next four years, Hamilton lived between Thailand and Detroit and commuted back and forth for work and time off. He was interested in advancing his understanding of the Thai language, so he enrolled in a school in Thailand. Because he was fluent in English, he tutored English to locals and was traded Thai lessons in return. He worked one-on-one with students in his own classroom, and earned one hundred baht per hour for his work. With the money he received, he was able to hire his own Thai tutors for language, reading, and writing lessons. As someone who had never spoken the language before, Hamilton mentioned it was difficult at first to learn how to speak the language. When the reading and writing elements accompanied the language lessons, it became much easier to comprehend the new language. This tutoring position was short-lived, however, because Hamilton was still periodically commuting back to the United States for work.
Although flying was a large part of his life at this time, Hamilton continued to perform his magic acts in his free time. While living in Thailand, Hamilton met a well-known Thai magician and was able to communicate with him from the knowledge he gained from his language lessons. This magician invited Hamilton to perform at Tuxedo’s Magic Castle, one of the largest theaters in Thailand. On Halloween night in 2006, Hamilton was set to perform a straight jacket escape at the theater. This was a special occasion as it marked the eightieth anniversary of Harry Houdini’s death. After his performance, Hamilton was recognized with an award for Escape Artist of the Year in 2006 from Tuxedo’s Magic Castle. This was such a surprise and honor to Hamilton to celebrate this momentous occasion in a place that he treasured.
Once his flying days were over, Hamilton made his way back to northern Minnesota and married. He continued working in the transportation industry as a commercial bus driver for three years. This time marked a new chapter in Hamilton’s life. Many of his family members worked in the medical field, and Hamilton was intrigued at the potential career path nursing would provide. All of his family members spoke highly of this profession, so he decided to go back to school and try it out. During his time driving buses, he enrolled at Lake Superior College and began taking prerequisite courses to prepare for the nursing program. Shortly after, he was accepted into nursing school and devoted all of his time to being a full-time student. Hamilton explained the rigorous coursework covered a large number of medical topics that often took forty to fifty hours per week to complete. All of the hard work and determination Hamilton put into the program propelled him toward becoming a registered nurse two years ago. He currently uses his role as an RN to help those in the community assess their medical needs and hopes to work in a long-term care intensive care unit at a hospital in the near future.
Whether Hamilton finds himself performing magic acts at bars or caring for patients in his community today, he will always look back at his time at UMN Crookston as positive. Hamilton recalls feeling not only seen as a student at UMN Crookston, he also felt those around him were like family. Without the urge of friendly faces on campus, Hamilton may not have chosen an occupation in flight attending. In reference to his encounter with Cavalier, Hamilton stated, “It was just because of somebody at UMC passing me and saying ‘hey, I see you being this,’ and it was good because I would have never thought of that, but yet that led to a twenty one year career.” The relationships Hamilton made with students, staff, and faculty during his time at UMN Crookston allowed him to embrace his natural talent for performing and led him to a life full of adventure.
Written for the Spring 2022 Torchlight e-Newsletter.