1979 SM North grad keeps giving back to school that made such a difference for him


Steve Sears graduated from SM North in 1979. But years later, he still feels so strongly about his experience at the high school that he wants to keep giving back. After setting up one scholarship program five years ago, he has now made another commitment to SM North students.

Steve Sears
Steve Sears

“I just had an amazing three years there,” Sears said. “I was supposed to go to SM Northwest,” he said. But the district changed the boundaries the summer before he started high school. “It turned out to be a blessing in disguise,” he said. “I fit into the culture of that (SM North) school.”

When he looks back on his life, Sears said, that experience at SM North was the start of being an adult and he gives “credit (to) North” for the start.

Five years ago, Sears and his husband, John Lavryssen, established the NORTH STAR award with the Shawnee Mission Education Foundation. The award recognizes one male and one female student, chosen by faculty and staff, and includes a scholarship.

Sears said the award came after he and Lavryssen sat down to give some thoughts to their charitable giving and he wanted SM North to be part of it. When he graduated, he received an award at SM North but it did not have money attached to it.

“We wanted to do more at North,” he said. So last year they met with Principal Richard Kramer to talk about other ways to make a difference. That resulted in a new giving program that will support students in the SM North International Baccalaureate program. Because the IB program requires an additional tuition payment from the student, Sears said, it could keep a student who was willing to do the work from enrolling in it. “That should not ever be a barrier,” Sears said. “This seemed like a program that could transform a student.”

“It’s a game changer,” said Kramer. “It opens up so many opportunities.” Any student that wants to do the IB diploma program will not have to pay, Kramer said. “We love Steve Sears and John here at North. They believe in promoting student achievement.”

SMEF executive director Linda Roser agrees that the gift could make an enormous difference for a student’s future if they are able to complete an IB diploma. She briefed the SM School Board on the gift last week.

”I’m so proud that North has the IB program,” Sears said.

After his years at SM North, Sears went on to earn degrees at KU and Northwestern University. That was followed by a successful career in marketing at Pepsico and then with public television in Boston. He is now retired and lives most of the year in Kansas City.

“We have so enjoyed our interactions with the students, Principal Kramer and Linda (Roser),” Sears said.