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Resident’s fascination with numbers results in visit to 500 colleges

You might say Steve Lake, 67, has a thing for numbers. He completed a quest to visit 500 colleges in America. It took more than two decades to achieve. He reached No. 500 — Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio — in 2008.

“I’ve been like this my whole life,” he said. “I relate to numbers. There’s a sense of ‘I did it.’ … I know I’m the only one who’s done the combination of all these things.”

Lake has other numbers that drive him.

“My current goals are to reach 50 ballparks; my count is 47,” he said. “I am a serious bridge player and now have 470 master points. It takes 300 to attain the Life Master rank. My goal now is to reach 500 points. On the lighter side, my wife and I are avid moviegoers and can now say that we have been to every theater in town except for the United Artists Showcase Theater next to the MGM and the Galaxy Theater in Henderson. We have also been to every theater in town that was built or existed since 1970. Most likely, the Galaxy will complete our goal of having attended at least one movie in every current theater in Las Vegas and Henderson.”

He also “collects” airports, having flown in or out of 105 different ones. He started a list of Presidential Libraries; so far, he’s up to seven. Lake also can lay claim to having slept in a motel or hotel in every state except Alaska. It doesn’t count because he and wife slept on a cruise ship.

But it is the 500 colleges and university visits of which he speaks the most. It’s a feat that comes with a caveat.

“Although we have been to every state and been to over 500 colleges,” he said, “there are only two states where we have never visited a university: Wyoming and Hawaii.”

It all began when he and his bride, Caroline, were married on Sept. 16, 1984. For their honeymoon, they flew back East and, you guessed it, visited colleges and universities while there. The first was Dartmouth, followed by Brown and the University of New Hampshire.

“Some of the campuses are gorgeous — the architecture, the grounds; they’re beautiful,” Caroline said.

That said, she would often opt to sleep in while Steve took their rental car and checked out more campuses. Sometimes, he’d map everything out, allotting himself a certain amount of time on one campus before jumping in the car to hit the next one.

“It took me a while before I decided to (aim for 500),” Steve said. “The plan at the time wasn’t (to check it off a list); the appeal was because it was famous on its own merits. ‘OK, we’re here; it’s famous. Let’s go see it.’ After about 100, I thought, ‘I’m going to keep going and keep doing this.’ I said, ‘I’ll get to 200, then to 300.’ Then, I went, ‘I’m going for 500.’ ”

Starting at about No. 300, he began asking people to snap a picture of him as he posed by a notable campus sign.

What drives him? He said it’s likely because his college, now called the Concordia University in Montreal, was in a building and had no campus.

“I took the escalator to get to my next class,” he said.

He has his own ideas as to what constitutes a campus visit. It can be as simple as strolling the grounds for 15 minutes or ducking into a building. Sometimes the couple would take in a competition — rugby at Wellesley College, basketball at the University of Oklahoma and another game at Duke University in Durham, N.C., or just watch the MIT rowing team practice. The couple have also eaten in the cafeterias at a few places, sitting among the students. As they ticked off more schools, they earned a bit of a following, and a handful of the schools arranged for them to stay in campus housing.

At one point, Steve visited 55 colleges in three weeks. He did 40 colleges in one week. Caroline didn’t go along on those trips.

“I’m not nuts,” she said.

The list includes all the military schools — United States Military Academy at West Point, better known as West Point; the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.; the Military College of South Carolina, commonly referred to simply as The Citadel, and others.

As news of their quest began to spread, colleges greeted them as special visitors. At Yale, they had two students act as tour guides or school ambassadors. One of them ended up writing about the tour in the school’s paper. But then, Steve spoke at two of the colleges — Our Lady of the Lake in San Antonio and Bryant University in Rhode Island — about his quest.

A couple of times, students mistook him as a staff member.

“And when I was working at Caesars, (gamblers) would tell me, ‘You seem more like a college professor,’ ” he said. “So, I got it from both sides.”

About two years ago, Steve retired after 20 years as a casino supervisor.

Ray Lindstrom attended the celebration at the 500th college in San Antonio. He and Steve have known each other since the late 1980s.

“That day was incredible,” Lindstrom said. “The college in San Antonio treated him like he was the King of England visiting — like royalty. I’ve never seen anyone so excited. He wouldn’t have been more excited if they told him he won the $500 million lottery.”

To reach Summerlin Area View reporter Jan Hogan, email jhogan@viewnews.com or call 702-387-2949.

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