He collected model trains and was a huge Beatles fan, and his friends called him “rugged” because he loved the outdoors.
Ronald Stem, a 57-year-old longhaired former major in the Army, loved life and loved people.”He was the class clown,” said Sarah Cobb, Stem’s girlfriend. “He was so talkative and energetic. He could definitely hold his own at a party.”
Stem, a former student and Magnolia Apartments resident, was fatally shot Thursday in a parking lot near Magnolia. While police are still looking for three suspects, family and friends remember a man who they say loved every minute of every day.
“He was a hell of a guy,” said Richard Baker, Stem’s cousin who lives in Pennsylvania. “He had a great personality; just a guy that everybody liked.”
Cobb chuckled lightly when she told the story about the recent trip she and Stem took to a Beatlemania exhibit in St. Petersburg.
“He was just in heaven,” she said. “He would just stop at every picture and strum an imaginary guitar while lipping the words to songs. He could be eccentric like that. I loved it.”
An avid lover of ’60s rock music, Stem played the bass and had a drum set identical to Ringo Starr’s, Cobb said.
While a student in 2003 and 2004, he hosted a WBUL radio show under the name Rockin’ Ron.
“I remember him having all these old Billboard charts that he would use as play lists,” said senior Angela Granese, who worked with Stem at WBUL. “He was a character.”
Granese said Stem was responsible for making WBUL a legitimate radio station and constantly urged supervisors and Student Government to boost the radio station’s signal.
“He was a great person,” said Granese, who saw Stem just last week when he visited the station. “He was happy all the time and he was funny. He will be missed.”
The night he died, Stem was leaving Cobb’s apartment after a routine visit. According to Cobb, he didn’t own a car, so he would walk to his one-bedroom apartment on Fletcher Avenue.
When asked how she’s been holding up, Cobb breathed in a deep sigh and said she’s grateful for all the support she has.
“My two daughters have called me every single day,” she said.
Cobb also said that a friend in the area took her away to a hotel for the weekend so she could be in seclusion.
Stem and Cobb met in the Magnolia laundry room in 2002 and started dating early in 2004. Things got serious, she said, about a year into the relationship. The two planned to marry when she got her doctorate in nursing.
“He was a gentle guy, and he was quite the gentleman,” Cobb said. “And we were committed to each other; it was a long-term commitment.”
Tragedy struck Stem in 1998 when his 14-year-old daughter Laurie Ann died in a car accident. Baker said Stem was never quite the same following his daughter’s death.
“He was totally distraught for months and months,” Baker said. “I don’t think he ever stopped thinking about her.”
Stem was dealt another blow on Dec. 9 when his brother Fred, who Baker said was Stem’s closest relative, died from a pulmonary embolism. Stem’s oldest brother, Billy, died of liver sclerosis in 1990, according to Baker. In addition to Cobb, Stem is survived by a 24-year-old son and an ex-wife named Beverly.
Stem’s love of trains was the one thing Baker says he remembers the most about his cousin. Stem was an avid collector of Lionel Model Trains and owned hundreds of them, Baker said.
“He was so into them,” Baker said. “But he would also give them away to family sometimes, too.”
Stem served in the Army for 20 years and is a veteran of both the Vietnam and Gulf War conflicts. As a result, he loved military history, especially submarines.
“He was just a wonderful man,” Cobb said. “A wonderful, wonderful guy.”