On the evening of Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023, Steve Szablya, 61, of Pullman, passed away suddenly and unexpectedly at home from hypertensive cardiovascular disease. His heart just stopped, not from a heart attack, but rather from this disease which went undetected. His passing is devastating, both to his family and to those who knew and loved him. Steve brought so much love, humor and adventure into our lives and dedicated his time to improving the lives of others. We know the sorrow of losing Steve will be deeply felt worldwide and we are comforted knowing his legacy extends beyond his life and beyond Pullman.

Steve was the middle of seven children. He was born to John and Helen Szablya on March 15, 1961, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The Szablya family moved to Pullman in 1963, where his father worked as a WSU professor. Steve proudly became a U.S. citizen as a teenager, yet was always loyal to his Hungarian background. He graduated from Washington State University with his degree in electrical engineering, following in his father’s footsteps, and soon after earned his master’s in business administration.

Growing up in Pullman made for a wonderful childhood and is where he met and fell in love with Kristy Tenwick. They married in 1983 while still in college and were together for 41 years. In 1985, during his last year of graduate school, they welcomed their baby girl, Maria Kristine, into their hearts. The family moved to Bellevue shortly thereafter, where they lived for 36 years. It was there that their son, Adam Michael Louis, was born. Steve and Kristy raised both children in the same house for 33 years. It was filled to the brim with wonderful memories of kids, pets, friends, neighbors, trampolines, pinball machines, adventures and many fun parties.

Steve loved being an engineer. Over the course of his career, he worked for companies including Puget Sound Energy, Seattle University, Sound Transit and Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories (SEL). Additionally, he worked as an adjunct faculty member for Seattle University. He received many awards for excellence, most notably the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) – Outstanding Engineer Award in 2016 and had more than 10 publications including three articles in flagship IEEE publications. As a professional electrical engineer he was also a member of the Order of the Engineer for the U.S. He was proud of his work in Louisiana and the Gulf Coast serving for FEMA during the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Community leadership was always important to Steve. While he lived in Bellevue, he enjoyed serving on a multitude of committees including the Newport Hills Citizen Advisory Committee, the City of Bellevue Environmental Services Commission, and Advance Bellevue Leadership Program. Steve led or contributed to local and international organizations focused on educating and empowering people with limited resources. Just a few examples include chairing the local IEEE chapter, contributing to Seattle University’s engineering advisory board, sponsoring SU and WSU senior design projects, joining Pullman’s planning commission, and teaching under a Fullbright scholarship from the Wroclaw University of Science and Technology in Poland.

Steve was energized by serving on humanitarian projects and founded two nonprofits focused on rural off-grid electrification and local business generation in underdeveloped countries. KiloWatts for Humanity, with the help of engineering students, designs, installs and maintains islanded microgrids that provide power to villages in Kenya and Zambia. The Kuumba Smart Vision and Kuumba-Zed organizations teach women in Zambia, Tanzania and Kenya how to own and operate gemstone refining processes so they can benefit from the value of finished gemstones. He was a full-on nerd for hydro and solar power. Prior projects he led were the Mama Maria Clinic in Kenya and Professionals Without Borders (PWOB). He was invested in empowering women entrepreneurs around the world, and was proud of their success.

The pull of the Palouse brought Steve and Kristy back to Pullman in 2017, where Steve fulfilled a longtime goal to work at SEL. Reconnecting with Pullman friends was something Steve prioritized. He truly valued and cherished his friendships. Making new friends was easy for him because he was so welcoming and showed genuine interest in people. He cultivated friendships around the world and brought people together. Single students, professors and co-workers moving to Pullman were always welcome in the Szablya home, often enjoying one of the many parties they hosted.

Often the Szablya parties involved karaoke, as Steve was quite the singer and had perfect pitch. He sang in barbershop quartet style with sisters Rita (Pool), Alex (Szablya) and Niki (Szablya McKay). He loved all genres of music from classical to country and gospel to EDM. He loved checking out the nightclubs in the different cities where he traveled just to see if there was yet another DJ to chat with or a new kind of music to explore. Other hobbies included traveling and enjoying local beers, riding his electric bicycle, photography, videography and video editing, restoring his antiques like his favorite pinball machine, and making meaningful connections with friends old and new.

For 61 years he loved his family deeply, loved his friends with fierce dedication, and wholeheartedly committed to his career. Passionate, extremely smart, creative, innovative, funny and humble are just a few ways he’s been described. Steve was fluent in both English and Hungarian, and would playfully claim Pig Latin as his third language. He was quick with a joke or a pun or a limerick. He liked trivia and knew so much! He loved being on top of the latest technology and research.

Aside from Steve’s professional and humanitarian contributions, he was most proud of his family: his wife, children, son-in-law and granddaughters. He was an exemplary father, father-in-law, nagypapa (grandfather), brother, uncle and friend. He willingly stepped in as a father figure to those who needed it. Steve cherished every minute with his family and was the only time you’d hear him brag. He was imperfect and demonstrated that making mistakes is okay. He taught his children to be capable and honest, demonstrating through actions and words what it means to be a critical thinker, live with integrity and to be kind.

He loved his kids and raised them right. He taught his children why “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” were different, and why the former is better. He answered the not-so-difficult questions about which team we should support during the Apple Cup. He built them a tree house. He played Nintendo. He forgave them for crashing the car. He waited with them every morning at the bus stop. He slipped them cash when Mom wasn’t looking. He always made sure the gas tank was full. He always told them he loved them.

While the loss is irreplaceable, our world is not at a loss from Steve’s passing, but is stronger, healthier and happier because of his dedication to improving conditions for his fellow human, his focus on teaching, and the generosity of his time and love he bestowed on us all.

Steve is survived by his wife, Kristy (Tenwick), children Maria Szablya Rivas (Bernardo) and Adam Szablya, and his grandchildren Audrey and April Rivas (Maria). He is also survived by his mother, Helen, and six siblings: Helen Szablya, Janos Szablya (Lys Hornsby), Louis Szablya (Kate), Alex Szablya (Vince McDonough), Rita Pool (Karl), and Niki Szablya McKay. Steve’s large family also includes nieces, nephews, cousins and many more honorary family members. He is preceded in death by his father, John Szablya, and brothers-in-law Navaal Ramdin and Chuck Dann.

Steve’s memorial service will be Friday, Jan. 20, at 4 p.m., at the SEL Event Center (Schweitzer Engineering Labs), 1825 Schweitzer Drive, Pullman. The Palouse Discovery Science Center is adjacent to the event center and children are invited to play during the Memorial service (supervision will be provided by Steve’s family).

Corbeill Funeral Home of Pullman is in charge of arrangements and online condolences may be sent to corbeillfuneralhomes.com.