Steve Wismar, fre­quently called Steve the Painter, is known around town through his painting business and more. S M. Chavey | Col­legian

It was a child’s chore that inspired Steve Wismar ’72— Steve the Painter — to begin painting. Wismar and his younger brother were painting some fur­niture in the yard for their mom. Even­tually, she let Wismar’s younger brother go play. In response to Steve Wismar’s com­plaints, she said: “You’re the better painter.”

Almost 60 years later, Wismar runs a painting business in Hillsdale, but said he’s a dras­ti­cally changed man.

He came to Hillsdale College in 1968 — the year it was ranked as a party school in Playboy Mag­azine, he said.

“We weren’t like you guys are now. We didn’t have a whole lot of inter­action with the town,” Wismar said, adding that in con­trast, the school is about 1000 percent improved since then.

A Phi Sigma Kappa and avid player of the popular game “gut frisbee,” Wismar would occa­sionally visit his friend at the Uni­versity of Michigan to “bask in the hippy-ness.” By the time he grad­uated in 1972 with a double major in history and political science, he was married and owned a jan­i­torial service.

In 1975, the drinking, smoking, and par­tying Wismar was rad­i­cally trans­formed. After a coworker came back from a vacation talking about “being saved,” Wismar started to examine his own life and con­sidered con­verting to Chris­tianity. During the altar call at a fun­da­men­talist church one night, Wismar said he was saved.

“I stopped doing the things I did before and started doing the things I never dreamed I would do. I went to church. I was agreeing with God,” Wismar said.

In addition to giving up drinking, smoking, and many other habits, Wismar developed a passion for the pro-life movement after a per­sonal expe­rience with abortion.

“Some­where in heaven, I have a child,” Wismar said. “I don’t know if it’s a boy or a girl, but I know for a fact it’s there. That’s the only child I’ve ever had. The Lord showed me, and I just couldn’t believe that it was first-degree murder.”

He’s a heavy donor and occa­sional vol­unteer at the Alpha Omega Care Center now, and uses his story to evan­gelize.

A changed man, Wismar worked as a social worker and in lumber yards before deciding to open a painting business called Steve the Painter about 15 years ago. He said he loves the process, which has a clear beginning, middle, and end.

“The prep is what really makes a good paint job … and the finish is just gor­geous,” Wismar said. “It thrills me every time even after all these years to see the pro­gression.”

He and his coworkers paint buildings, exterior and interior, but Wismar prefers exte­riors because people can see his work. He’s painted houses and buildings all over town, including the Chi Omega house on Hillsdale’s campus. When painting, he never listens to music, pre­ferring instead to pray, think, med­itate, and con­cen­trate.

“I’m the only con­tractor in the whole wide world that doesn’t have a radio going,” Wismar said. “I’m so rad­i­cally changed. Because of the trans­for­mation, it’s easy for me to be calm and laid-back, but that’s just what I want to do: spend many, many hours working, more hours on books. Because what I really like about painting is meeting the people, going to do a quote. Everybody’s dif­ferent, every job’s dif­ferent.”

Seniors Luke Martin and David Johnson, who were among four college stu­dents to work for Steve the Painter last summer and were nick­named “Steve’s Boys,” said “many, many” hours of work might mean staying up all night to finish a paint job or working on Thanks­giving or Christmas.

“He kind of runs his business like a charity,” Johnson said. “He’s always out of money. He tells a cus­tomer ‘it’s going to cost this much to do the house,’ and then he just decides ‘I’m going to replace their windows and fix the doors and stuff.”

One of his sayings is: “If it needs to be done, then do it,” Martin said, and Wismar lives that out with every job.

Wismar spent several months painting a church for free. When painting for pay, he gives quotes instead of esti­mates. If he decides to add an addi­tional coat or other labor, he loses money. His friendly demeanor, iden­ti­fiable “Steve-the-Painter” car, and paint-covered clothes have made him a known and loved member of the com­munity, according to Martin and Johnson.

“I’ve worked in the public all my life,” Wismar said. “People rec­ognize me from the lumber yard that haven’t seen me in years, and vol­unteer activ­ities.”

Martin and Johnson said when they’re with Wismar, people come up to him about every 30 seconds to say hello or chat.

“Everyone knows him. It’s impos­sible to go some­where without seeing someone come up and talk to him for a couple seconds or minutes,” Martin said.

In addition to meeting people through vol­un­teering, Wismar has served as an elected official (a township super­visor) — the only area he’s used his political science and history majors, he said. In 2004, his name was on the same ballot as the pres­i­dential nom­inees.

“It’s kind of neat to have your name on the ballot,” Wismar said. “Back in the days of the voting machines, we’d walk into the booth and put down ledgers to vote. I have a sample ballot from ’04. [Bush and I] were over here on the same ticket. Far removed, but same ticket.”

Wismar hasn’t seen a movie in the­aters since “Star Wars: A New Hope,” and he doesn’t watch TV, play sports, or listen to a lot of music. He said he’s cul­ti­vated an interest in clas­sical music and local busi­nesses.

“He’s a charming relic in Hillsdale county that deserves some kind of recog­nition for all the things he’s done,” Martin said.

Wismar never got angry at his workers — even when they had to redo an entire house of painting. His long wingspan helps his own painting, and he told his workers stories of his feats on ladders. But Martin and Johnson described him as a grand­father figure who influ­enced their lives pos­i­tively.

“I think he feels the story of every­thing that hap­pened is a good way to evan­gelize to people,” Johnson said.

He and Martin said Wismar inspired them to care more about doing a good job than getting paid well, although he was gen­erous with pay. Wismar even replaced Johnson’s tire when it went flat.

Wismar con­tinues to attribute all of his good work and change to his con­version. His life can be summed up in John 3:6, he said: “You should not be sur­prised at my saying ‘You must be born again.’”