Idaho lab inspires education, technical careers in Stevens family

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Donald G. Stevens spent 30 years waking up before 5:30 a.m., taking what was essentially a school bus to the Naval Reactors Facility (NRF), 60 miles west of Idaho Falls, and shivering in the cold winters as he headed out to the Site. A very busy man, he was as dedicated to his family as he was to his job, and instilled in his children the values of working hard and being committed.

“Even after he had a brain hemorrhage, he was still a diligent worker,” Bonnie Stevens, Donald’s wife, recalled. “He remembers being so ill he could hardly walk down the halls. But he always believed that if he was capable, he’d finish the job, and he never took the easy way out.”

Donald Stevens enjoyed his long career at the lab, primarily at NRF. Bonnie also spent 10 years working at INL’s Idaho Falls campus, beginning with a career in muon-catalyzed fusion, and concluding in computer registration. Bonnie was thrilled when her son, Don, joined the lab, and is overjoyed to see Don as well as his son, Nathan, enjoying all the great advantages of working there.

Being in charge of generating passwords for her son was one of Bonnie’s fondest memories of sharing this career with him. She would often create funny new passwords like “Iloveyouson6444,” (a hypothetical example), so he would know she was thinking of him during their workday.

Don, who is now nearing retirement himself after being at the lab for 35 years, is the manager of Agreement Management, which helps INL sell engineering services to federal and nonfederal entities. He was heavily inspired to pursue an advanced degree as well as a career at the lab because of his parents’ positive experiences there.

“Education is huge in our family. My father was very grateful to get a college degree. He passed that to me, and his sisters also have college degrees. And then I passed it to my four sons, who all have advanced degrees,” Don said. “My father basically came from being a farmer up in Driggs to a college education, and all of that brought us to the lab.”

Inspired by two generations before them, two of Don’s sons, Daniel and Nathan, have also pursued careers at INL. Nathan has spent 13 years with the lab, although including internship experience during his school years, he has been a lab employee for closer to 20 years. He currently works in the materials group within INL’s National & Homeland Security Directorate. Daniel enjoyed a five-year career in the bioenergy field, before leaving the lab to pursue his dream of becoming an FBI agent.

Both Daniel and Nathan are constantly impressed with the widespread impact of their work at the lab. “Working now in investigations, I use the skills I developed at the lab doing scientific investigations,” Daniel said. “The methods of looking at a problem and coming up with a specific set of solutions are very similar across many forms of investigation.”

Nathan added, “A lot of people don’t assume much of a small Idaho town, so it’s quite satisfying to come to the table with the technical expertise that we have, because we do have a specific skill set and ability to support national security. Our programs have lasting national and worldwide impacts. It’s pretty satisfying that we can do that sort of thing from here in Idaho.”

Don has also been thrilled with his ability to make lasting, worldwide impact through his work at the lab. He recalls working for the boron neutron capture therapy project, which is a specialized radiation treatment for hard-to-treat brain tumors called glioblastomas. Helping facilitate research on this nasty form of cancer allowed him to realize the true global impacts of INL and the work it does. “My personal family physician died of a glioblastoma, so it really came home to me that the project I was working on with all of these people at the lab had the potential to have helped a really close friend.”

A true lab family, Don and his sons have greatly benefited from the legacy begun by Donald and Bonnie Stevens many years ago.

“We’re doing very important research. Our efforts are directly translated into good for the country and other people,” he said. “All of us can walk away with a wonderful legacy that was really started by my mom and my dad.”

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