Steve Jalsevac, aged 42, once a successful business entrepreneur, is now using his sharp business skills to help Campaign Life Coalition (CLC) in Toronto. Officially, he is their office manger. But he is much more: political and financial strategist, policy-maker (part of a team), Vitality newspaper publisher, marketing director (fund raising), special projects supervisor, treasurer of the CLC national board and “ideal diplomat.” Significantly, he is the father of six children, Luke, Paul, Dominic, John, Bernadette and Joseph.
Why did such an articulate, affable “former yuppie” opt out of the predictable, profitable world of business to work in a non-prestigious, non-distinctive job in a noisy, cluttered, often chaotic office that is a beehive of activity? Perhaps he lost his perspective? “No,” he will tell you, “I have regained my perspective, thankfully, by not doing what I used to do – running a business only for money.” Now that he’s made the switch, his life has acquired a new meaning for him and for his family. Often he’s under tensions and exhausted but he’s deeply happy and fulfilled. Indeed, he is a businessman’s riddle.
Marriage and travel
Born in Hamilton and raised in several different Ontario towns (where his shrewd father ran several businesses), Steve is the oldest of six children. After he graduated from the University of Windsor in economics and political science in 1971, he worked at several jobs. In 1972, he married Bonnie, an elementary school teacher and the girl next door. Then, “wearing backpacks with a meet-the-locals approach,” they traveled the world for five months, going through Europe, the Middle East, Africa and India (where they climbed the Himalayas). Along the way, they almost died of dysentery three times. When they came home, Steve went to work in his father’s business. A year later he had his won business, which he ran profitably for ten years.
Four telling events
Steve attributes his career switch to four telling events that influenced his thinking. The first occurred when his assistant manager’s marriage failed, splitting a family with two children. Shaken, Steve realized this couple had only a worldly view of marriage. He decided to return to church after an absence of five years. On that first Sunday, the Gospel was about the Prodigal Son and, amazed, Steve recalls, “Its message bowled me over and I took it personally.”
The second event was a retreat weekend during which he realized that “marriage and children are gifts from God, to be protected and nurtured. That spiritual experience changed my life.” Bonnie shared his new insight. Until then they had not considered having children for fear “we’d make lousy parents.” Now they felt differently. They would “put the matter in God’s hands.” A year later, Luke was born. His birth filled them with awe and joy – giving their marriage and life new meaning.
The third event occurred in 1978 when the couple visited the Toronto Exhibition and “stumbled upon” the Toronto Right to Life slide presentation. Steve was astonished to learn about the normal stages of fetal development and shocked to learn about the brutality of abortion. Angry at this own past sympathy with the slogan “a woman’s right to choose,” he now realized its fallacy. He would not soon forget what he had seen and heard.
The fourth event was in 1983, when Steve ran into Jim Hughes, president of Campaign Life Coalition (CLC), who asked Steve “to do a favour” for the organization by attending a few political meetings. Steve laughs, “Jim favours became more frequent, but the more involved I became the more I learned about the issues.
A critical thinker, Steve began to realize, “I was in business just to make money” – a goal that paled in importance to CLC’s work of trying to save unborn babies. Moreover, he was giving more time now to CLC than to his own business. He would soon make a decision.
In 1987, with Bonnie’s approval, Steve decided to close shop and work full-time with CLC. The national pro-life group pays him a modest salary for which, unbelievably, he works 50 to 60 hours a week. Jim was desperate for “a solid business head” to oversee the office. “Because of his business experience he was the perfect person to take over the nitty-gritty of the office. He rolls up his sleeves and tackles the job. Without him it wouldn’t work,” he says.
Steve came to CLC in January 1988, just after the Morgentaler Supreme Court decision to knock down the abortion law. That year his income dropped from $60,000 to $12,000. He soon exhausted his savings (often paying CLC bills personally). But he and Bonnie quickly dismiss any suggestion of financial hardship. “Now, we don’t spend money on travel or clothes (their house has a mortgage) and our lifestyle is simpler.”
Of his work with CLC, Steve says, “Pro-life work is crisis-ridden, tremendously fulfilling but difficult and stressful. It’s an uphill battle.” He reflects, “I look upon this work as a vocation. When I don’t feel that way anymore I’ll quit because I’ll be useless. Besides, I believe the rewards of this work are not of this world.
One example of a recurrent crisis is the mail. Steve says that people keep asking why CLC sends out so many mailings (each costs between $37,000 and $45,000). He explains, “There’s a vacuum in leadership against abortion (outside the pro-life movement), se we have to be our own media to inform people about what’s going on, what they must do and to correct misinformation. No one else does this job.”
The day I spoke to Steve was typical. That morning a volunteer from Toronto had driven a large truck of important CLC mail to Ottawa. There, the Post Office refused to process it because the new CLC mailing company had incorrectly addressed the labels. It took Steve and seven other people two hours to sort out the tiresome and time-consuming error. He tells about the time too when a CLC newsletter was left standing, unaccountably, in a mail-house for five days, and another time when 30,000 pieces of mail disappeared – “a mystery to post office officials.”
Difficulties in the donation-dependent CLC are ongoing for many reasons: a constant shortage of money and paid staff; over-used office equipment and too few people to do “all that has to be done” – to name only a few of the internal problems, in addition to the unpopularity of the cause in the media and among political and religious leaders. For example, Steve says, “In a regular business the extent of activity and spending is limited by a budget. In the pro-life business however, money cannot be a deterrent because we’re in the business of saving babies’ lives. We have a moral obligation to respond to all opportunities and without our committed volunteers we would have been out of business long ago.”
Margaret Purcell, CLC’s national vice-president and media spokesperson, describes the office scenario last summer when media attention peaked over the Chantal Daigle and Barbara Dodd court decisions. Reporters swarmed into the crowded CLC office for interviews on national TV, radio and in the print media (including Time and MacLeans). She credits Steve, “the ideal diplomat,” with allotting scarce office resources “with a minimum of damage to overworked people with frayed nerves.” Of his contribution, Jim Hughes says, “He’s like a younger brother to me, solid and dependable.”
Steve’s special commitment extends beyond his long hours of office work in CLC. He has joined several pro-life demonstrations during which he has been pushed, shoved, threatened, thrown over a fence and put in jail for a day. He endures it all “out of love for the unborn.” Bonnie accepts and supports his deep commitment, realizing that CLC “is the eye of the storm” and Steve “is in the eye.” His long hours of work and frequent absences from home are not easy, but she says that his pro-life work “has inspired growth in our marriage and we always have something to talk about.”
For the children
“I do this work for my children because I know the destructive nature of the abortion mentality of this country. When they’re older, I hope they’ll know I tried to make this world a better place for them to live in and that I did my best,” says Steve.
When he reaches his “golden years” he may not leave his six children an inheritance of money, but he will leave them an inheritance that is far more enduring – his shining example.