Diane Elizabeth Stephens, age 64, passed away in her home in House Springs, Missouri on November 23, 2020.
Born on April 10, 1956 in St. Louis, Diane dedicated her adult life to becoming a caretaker, horse-riding instructor and mentor to young people, who opened her doors to people in need and was passionate about taking care of horses and rescue dogs and cats.
Growing up in South City, Diane developed what would become a life-long passion for riding, showing and taking care of horses. She graduated from Lutheran High School South (1974). Diane proudly attended Williams Woods University when it was an all-women’s college, where she was an equestrian, president of the Alpha Phi Sorority, and earned two bachelor’s degrees.
She also earned a Masters of Public Administration at the University of Missouri-Columbia (1982), continued her career as an admissions representative at William Woods, earned a Masters of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis (1989), and managed a chiropractic office in Troy owned by her Uncle, William E. Bechtold.
In 1988, Diane began working with Girl Scout troop 2571, as a leader and horseback riding instructor, while becoming an in-house social worker to young women that needed a helping hand or even a second mother. She was able to help many young women get a “leg up” through difficult family and personal situations by teaching them to care for and ride horses. One of her former students AErin Fulkerson Greco came and stayed with her during her cancer treatments in 1998 – and they remained close throughout the rest of her life.
However, it was when she was in her 40s and after surviving cancer when Diane found her true calling in life, as she began caring for two young sisters, Shelby Jo Nail Brune and Kaycee Nail. At the same time, she bought a farm in High Ridge, where she built a barn and house, and opened Clover Ridge Riding Center, a successful horse riding and training center.
While living at Clover Ridge, Diane raised Shelby and Kaycee as her own and eventually put them through high school at her alma mater. Together, they took in every kind of horse from beloved school horses and old rescue horses to retired show horses, while also rescuing and caring for pet dogs, cats, ponies and even miniature donkeys. Diane also cared for her mother, Mildred Francis (Bechtold) Stephens, her Uncle Phillip George Bechtold and Aunt Lois Bechtold Howard, who she loved dearly and all moved in with her toward the end of their lives.
Guided by her belief to be inclusive and the ability to find greatness in everyone, Diane’s farm was well-known among friends and students for always having an open door to neighbors, community members and people in need of a good home, whether it was for a night, a week or indefinitely. During those years, Diane also started an accomplished 4-H club, which she led for more than a decade.
After selling her farm in 2015, Diane spent her remaining years at a lake-side home in House Springs. Near that time, Kayla McCrea, one of her former students and childhood friend of Shelby and Kaycee, began serving as her caretaker, joining the small, nontraditional and loving family that Diane built at Clover Ridge.
In recent years, Diane especially loved looking after her dogs and cats, sharing big dinners (and desserts) and never-ending conversations with Shelby, Kaycee and Kayla, and walking Shelby down the aisle when she married Cory Brune in 2018. She also worked at Senior Helpers as an on-call after hours emergency specialist and watched politics closely as a passionate progressive.
A celebration of Diane’s life will be held at Rock Creek Stables (formerly known as Clover Ridge) when it’s once again safe to gather in large groups. In the meantime, let Diane’s life be a call to help those who cannot help themselves. In lieu of flowers, any donations should go to Open Door Animal Sanctuary.
Additionally, all are encouraged to share any memories or reflections to DianeStephensMemorial@gmail.com to be cherished by her family. That email address is also the best way to reach out for more information on how you can make a contribution to ensure Diane’s final wishes are fulfilled.