The plaza at the Moss Fields concession stand already is known as Al’s Place to many of its patrons, but this month it officially will be named for the man whose smiling face greeted customers at the counter for so many years.

To hear his son and daughter-in-law tell it, Al Stevens departed from this world the same way he had lived in it – modestly, without fanfare, trying not to burden anyone else.

“He just didn’t wake up one day, and that was the end,” says his son, Michael. “No prolonged pain, no hospital visit.”

Stevens had suffered from diabetes and heart problems for some time, and even had a bout with cancer. It was diagnosed just before his children were heading to Europe, and Stevens didn’t want them to cancel their plans on his account, so he didn’t tell them. He even underwent surgery while they were out of the country.

“We would have never known,” says his daughter-in-law, Vanessa. “He took chemo drugs and was so sick, and wouldn’t tell us he was sick.”

Sure, his father was a proud man, Michael says, but pride wasn’t the only reason he plowed through the pain. Mostly, it was his dedication to take care of not only his own family, but his extended Lake Highlands family, too.

The band boosters knew Stevens as director of the Festival of Drums and Bugles at Wildcat Stadium each summer, coordinating hundreds of young musicians and drawing thousands of visitors into the bleachers. To the latchkey kids in the Lake Highlands United Methodist Church program, Stevens was the bus driver who picked them up at school and took them to the Lake Highlands North Recreation Center.

But for most neighbors, Stevens will be forever linked to the Lake Highlands Soccer Association concession stand at Moss Park. He ran the concessions week in and week out for 20 years, from the time the stand opened until he died, and “every bit of time he spent was pure volunteer work – he never took a penny or anything,” says longtime soccer association president Dick White.

When he wasn’t selling snacks, Stevens was on the fields coaching his children’s teams and, later on, teams that simply needed a coach. He signed up to work with the “problem” teenagers, the ones who required scholarships and whose parents were largely uninvolved. Stevens also was a coach who freely embraced children with special needs.

“No one else would take in these kids, but my dad would,” Michael recalls.

Unbeknownst to many, beyond all of the volunteer roles Stevens assumed, he also managed to raise Michael and his three older sisters as a single parent. And in his mid-50s, when his 4-year-old grandson entered the picture, he decided to retire early and become a stay-at-home dad. Stevens immediately began pouring his life into his children’s activities, starting with the soccer fields. It snowballed from there, and he never slowed down.

“I mean: The man, he gave everything,” Vanessa says.

Stevens was still in full-throttle volunteer mode when he passed away. His death sent shockwaves through the entire community, with neighbors both mourning and scrambling to fill his shoes in the wake. True to his nature, Stevens did not want a funeral because he did not wish to draw attention or burden others. Only an obituary announced his passing, asking friends and family members to send donations to the Lake Highlands band or the Lake Highlands Soccer Association in lieu of flowers.

“He didn’t want to put anybody out, ever, and he did it all the way through his life,” Vanessa says. “He didn’t want big services; he didn’t want anything, so it kind of left everyone hanging.”

Stevens’ family was probably most familiar with the sacrifices he had made over the years, but even they didn’t know the extent to which their father had affected the community. For months after his death, Michael and Vanessa heard story after story of tribute. Even a year later, they stopped to talk to people in the grocery store who, because of Stevens’ unassuming departure, hadn’t heard the news, and began crying on the spot.

It was White who came up with the idea to honor Stevens with a plaza around the concession stand. Actually, the idea for a sitting area was something both men had envisioned, a place where people could enjoy their food with a vantage point of the fields. White worked to raise the $50,000 needed, and last spring Al’s Place Plaza was built. The formal dedication ceremony was rained out twice in May, but will be held this month at the start of soccer season.

Michael has begun following in Stevens’ footsteps, acting as one of the soccer association’s commissioners and coaching his two children’s teams. When Tim Halwas, whose son plays on one of Michael’s teams, began hearing about Stevens in soccer association circles, he didn’t immediately realize that Michael was Stevens’ son. But when the connection was made, the resemblance became clear.

“The acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree. Michael is the kind of guy who would give you the shirt off his back and wouldn’t think twice about it,” Halwas says. “All the things I had heard about Al were personified with Michael – and he brought out the best in my son.”

Like his father, Michael is humble and understated, preferring that his efforts fly under the radar. There’s no doubt that he has the same type of servant’s heart, and that he and Vanessa are trying to set a similar example of volunteerism for their own children. But as for measuring up to his father, on this Michael is quite clear: There was only one Al Stevens.

“I’m hoping one day I can be half the man my father was,” Michael says. “Then my life would be a success.”

For more information on this month’s dedication of Al’s Place Plaza, visit lhsasoccer.org.