Fridays were some of Steve Spruth's busiest days, even though he didn't have any classes scheduled at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management.
That's what his wife, Frances Durkin, learned after asking why he left piles of assignments to grade over the weekend.
Spruth told her he scheduled eight back-to-back appointments on Fridays with students past and present who would discuss their ideas and business pitches with him.
"He loved hearing their stories, pumping them up that they could do it, telling them the next person they could talk to," she recalled.
Spruth, a beloved Carlson School senior lecturer who focused on innovation, died March 9 at 65 after more than three years with lung cancer. He was a nonsmoker, a yoga practitioner and someone who sold his car in order to bike, though both his mother and father got their first cancer diagnosis at 62, Durkin said.
The news of his loss quickly spread among colleagues, students and the many others he'd inspired. In a string of comments at a Carlson School post at LinkedIn about his death, former students called him their favorite teacher.
"Steve's style was so unique and completely about the students," said John Stavig, managing director of the Gary S. Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship at the Carlson School. "I think they all would leave his classes with a piece of him."
Teaching turned out to be a great fit for him as a second career after he'd worked for health care companies. He held a bachelor's degree in biology from Brown University and later studied at the Yale School of Management. Durkin recalls the Carlson School job opening as the couple was raising their two sons and wanting more work-life balance.
Spruth went on to be a senior lecturer in the Strategic Management and Entrepreneurship Department for nearly 20 years. His efforts earned him the inaugural universitywide Entrepreneurship Teacher of the Year Award in 2014 for personifying the curiosity, humility, and optimism that every teacher strives to instill in their students.
Spruth was a mentor to Shayla Thacker, who appreciated meeting the local connections he'd made during his international classes, her first experiences abroad.
Spruth led students on courses to Belgium, Brazil, China, Cuba and England. Knowing not all students could afford those global opportunities, he brought a class of students down the Mississippi River in canoes to learn about the entrepreneurial development of the Twin Cities.
Thacker, who now works in finance and also runs a basketball training company, credits him with her pursuit of an entrepreneurial management degree in addition to her planned finance major.
"He showed a lot of grace to me when I was going through tough times," she said. "He was always someone I could go to."
Janelle Jordan, a new senior lecturer at the Carlson School, first met Spruth in 2008 when he became her mentor while she worked at General Mills and thought about switching careers to teaching.
She's been struck recently by the irony that he was dying at the same time she started teaching following years of his coaching.
"He passionately cared about every single person and their success and what they wanted to do," she said.
Even during his hospital stays, Durkin recalls him getting to know the staff and wanting to know all about them. "He was asking everyone who walked in, 'How long have you worked here? What do you like about your job?' "
He even talked innovation with his oncologist, wanting to learn all about the latest treatments.
"To see him and his oncologist talk about all the cool things they could do and try was really a joy," Durkin said. "He was your classic lifelong learner."
Along with his wife, Spruth's survivors include sons Henry Durkin and John Barthley, brother, David, and sister Karen.
A memorial service is planned at Lake Harriet United Methodist Church at 4:30 p.m. Friday, with visitation at 3 p.m. and a reception to follow.