Remember Radar O'Reilly, the ultraefficient and often prescient company clerk in the movie and TV show "MASH?"
Tom Stevens jokingly refers to himself as "Radar O'Stevens" while performing his duties as a purchasing and inventory control specialist at the Alliance Worknet on Hackett Road in south Modesto.
"He prides himself on being like the ("M*A*S*H") character," said Steve Pestana, the agency's staff services analyst. "He's known for being a guy who keeps things going. He sees supplies that need to be restocked. When the clocks need to be reset, he does it. You never have to think about it, because Tom's there. He's always there when you need him."
That wasn't lost on Stevens' co-workers, now that he is the one in need.
Stevens' radar, it seems, wasn't working properly when he developed prostate cancer in 2000.
"I thought I had a pinched nerve," he said. "My doctor sent me to a chiropractor who took some X-rays and then sent me right back to my doctor."
A tumor near the second lumbar vertebra in his lower back had grown to the size of a grapefruit, he said, causing his pain. Eight months' worth of radiation treatments eradicated the tumor, and he stayed cancer- free for two years.
Then some small tumors developed in December 2003. This time, his doctor detected it early and attacked the cancer with radiation and chemotherapy. Again, the disease went into remission, and Stevens recently completed his 48th consecutive cancer-free month.
He still receives chemotherapy every three months as a precaution. And he goes to work each day, ready to help and to urge anyone who will listen to get checked for cancer now rather than later.
"Every day is a blessing for me," he tells them.
The chemo and radiation treatments exacted a toll, however, in reducing his bone density. He developed osteoporosis, he said, leaving him hunched over and needing a walker to get around. That same bone problem caused his teeth to begin falling out. Half of them are gone. The plan now is to remove the rest and then rebuild the gums so that he'll be able to get a complete set of dentures, a procedure that will cost about $5,000.
Insurance will pay $1,500, but he'll have to pay the remaining $3,500. It comes at a bad time. His wife is between jobs and his daughter is getting married May 10.
Now, as his co-workers said, it's "payback time."
The zillions of little things he's done for his them over the past 12 years definitely made an impact.
They began a collection
Dec. 5, sending secret e-mails to staff members at the Hackett Road office and the branch at the Employment Development Department downtown.
"We placed a box in this location (Hackett Road) and in the EDD building and said, 'If you feel like donating, just drop something in there,' " Pestana said.
They began giving. And giving. And giving.
"It was kind of like that scene at the end of 'It's a Wonderful Life,' where all the money comes pouring in because everybody likes the guy," Pestana said.
"We put out the boxes, and they filled up with money. For the most part, we don't even know who donated. Other than a couple of people who wrote checks, it was done anonymously."
'You are so dear to us'
The Friday after Christmas, Alliance Worknet Director Jeff Rowe called Stevens into his office for a little chat.
"I'm thinking, 'What have I done now?' " Stevens said.
Rowe read Stevens a letter from his co-workers that left the 66-year-old Modestan utterly speechless and teary- eyed.
"One reason you are so dear to us is the obvious care you have for everyone around you," Rowe read. " ... Another of your endearing features is your willingness to help anybody, anytime with anything ... whether it's a special supply they might need, a ride somewhere, something delivered, getting boxes for someone who is moving or whatever."
In 17 days, they amassed $2,840, which Rowe handed to a stunned Stevens.
Cash continues to come in, and the amount has surpassed $3,100. Most of it has been in $20 bills.
"The ATM machine's gotten a workout," Pestana said.
The letter continued:
"We now insist that you accept this gift, which is, in reality, merely a reflection of all the good things you've done for us so long, and of our friendship, which we hope will last for a long time to come."
It was signed, "With love -- your friends."
"I didn't know what to say," Stevens said.
Unlike so many other things going on in the Alliance Worknet office, "Radar O'Stevens" clearly didn't see this one coming.
To comment, click on the link with this column at www.modbee.com. Jeff Jardine's column appears
Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2383.