Obituary for Steven Alan Minter
Civic leader and community builder Steven Alan Minter died peacefully at home at Judson Manor in Cleveland, Ohio on September 19, 2019 at the age of 80, after recent heart surgery. Steve was a trailblazing African American leader in government and philanthropy, a generous mentor, and dedicated family man.
Born in Akron, Ohio in 1938 as the oldest of eight children, Steve grew up in a succession of small Ohio towns. His parents, Dorothy and Lawrence Minter, were committed to education and volunteer service, and became respected local leaders despite the barriers they faced as African Americans in predominantly white communities. His parents saved to buy Steve a violin, which inspired his lifelong love of classical music. Steve loved to read, which he attributed to his mother reading Shakespeare aloud by lamplight. At Kinsman High School, Steve ran track, was elected President of his senior class of sixteen, and made a memorable trip to New York City where he saw Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady.
Steve was encouraged by a teacher and the Superintendent of the Kinsman schools to attend college, and they arranged for him to visit Baldwin Wallace College in Berea, Ohio. He worked three jobs to pay his expenses, including cleaning offices before class every morning. Another job was washing dishes in the dining hall, where Steve met his wife, Dolores (Dolly) Kreicher Minter, who was working as a waitress. Dolly fell in love with Steve for his character more than anything: his generosity to others, his integrity, and his strong work ethic. Steve fell in love with Dolly’s zest for living, fierce intelligence and independence. Theirs was a true love story. Although interracial marriage was still illegal in 22 states, they were married in 1961, the spring of Dolly’s senior year.
Over the 56 years of their marriage, Steve and Dolly formed what they described as a “partner mentality,” sharing values of family, community, and the belief that “unto whom much is given, much is required.” Together, they became known for their civic leadership, which was recognized by the Diversity Center of Northeast Ohio when they were honored jointly as Humanitarians of the Year in 1991. Steve and Dolly also were known as patrons of the arts. They loved the theater, opera, symphony, museums and the visual arts. One of their most memorable early dates, even before they were married, was to see the Metropolitan Opera perform La Traviata at Public Auditorium. Steve and Dolly would go on to enjoy season’s tickets to Cleveland Orchestra, Karamu House, Playhouse Square, Cleveland Playhouse and Great Lakes Theater. They also were passionate travelers, eventually visiting 48 countries.
Steve and Dolly became involved in the Presbyterian church soon after their marriage, which spurred their commitment to civil rights. With his pastor, Steve traveled to Selma in 1965, where he joined the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Their church home for over forty years was Fairmount Presbyterian Church in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. Steve taught Sunday school for decades and served in many leadership capacities, including Chair of the Session. Many of their most longstanding friendships were formed at Fairmount.
When Steve graduated from Baldwin Wallace, he had difficulty finding work as a teacher, so he took a job as a case worker at the Cuyahoga County Welfare Department. This proved to be a fateful and fortuitous decision. His empathy for those living in poverty, confidence in their ability to improve their condition, commitment to structural change, and capacity to mentor and convene others were all called upon in his work. With the support of the Welfare Department, Steve earned a master’s degree in social work at Case Western Reserve University. Upon his return to the Department, he rose to become its first African American and youngest-ever director. Throughout the 1960s, Steve was sent as the County’s or state’s representative to increasingly important national policymaking bodies. For instance, he was part of the commission that created Head Start, the federal early childhood program. As a result of serving in these national roles, Steve’s abilities became known far beyond Northeast Ohio. Thus, in 1970, he was recruited by the Governor of Massachusetts to become that Commonwealth’s Commissioner of Public Welfare. He walked into an operation with dozens of local bureaus, 5000 employees and a billion dollar budget, and set about reorganizing the state’s social services infrastructure, building the adoption and foster care system, and implementing the food stamp program. He was well-known throughout the state, frequently holding televised town halls with welfare recipients whom he always said taught him a great deal about the art of negotiation.
In late 1974, Steve turned down the opportunity to be re-appointed the Commissioner of Public Welfare of Massachusetts. Steve and Dolly were eager to return to Cleveland, and resettled in Shaker Heights. After considering a few other positions, Steve decided on the Cleveland Foundation, the oldest community foundation in the United States, recognizing that its philanthropic mission offered a new way to participate in the city’s renewal. He joined the Foundation as a program officer and then became its associate director. In 1984, he took over as the Foundation’s executive director and president, the first African American to lead a community foundation. By the time of his retirement in 2003, the foundation’s endowment grew by $1 billion and grants increased by 450 percent.
At the Foundation, Steve focused on what he called the “enduring issues” of public education, housing, health care, and jobs. Under his leadership, the Foundation made sustained multi-million dollar commitments to initiatives in the area of public school improvement, neighborhood revitalization and lakefront development. Steve quietly but firmly insisted on minority access to and participation in the city’s institutional life. Among his proudest accomplishments at the Foundation were the redevelopment of Playhouse Square, the largest performing arts center in the United States outside of New York City, and the development of Lexington Village in the riot-scarred Hough neighborhood of Cleveland. He also led the Foundation to become the first grant maker in the Midwest to undertake AIDS public health initiatives.
In 1979, President Jimmy Carter decided to create the first U.S. Department of Education. This represented a vast increase in the federal’s government’s commitment to education, which had formerly been a fairly quiet division of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. In need of an experienced administrator, Carter and others recruited Steve to become the founding undersecretary, the chief operating officer at that time. Taking a leave of absence from the Cleveland Foundation to serve as undersecretary, Steve successfully recruited top talent to join the Department and supported many of its efforts that remain renowned today, such as Title I, which funds low income schools. At the end of the Carter administration, Steve returned to the Cleveland Foundation and the city he loved.
Over a 60-year period, Steve served on many local, state, and federal panels and commissions relating to education, income maintenance, child development and HIV/AIDS, including the National Commission for the International Year of the Child in 1979, and the Mayoral Commission on School Governance for the Cleveland Public Schools, which he co-chaired. In 1977, he was the first African American elected President of the American Public Welfare Association.
After Steve’s retirement from the Cleveland Foundation, Steve began a second career as executive-in-residence and fellow at the Center for Nonprofit Policy and Practice at the Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University (CSU). Over 15 years, Steve taught graduate courses in non-profit management; served as a special advisor to three university presidents; facilitated collaborations between the university and the business and civic communities; and served as Interim Vice President for Advancement, where he was instrumental in the creation of CSU’s annual scholarship fundraiser. He was honored for his service to CSU with the prestigious 2019 Distinguished Friend of Education Award from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) in August 2019.
Steve served on many national and local nonprofit boards, including the National Community AIDS Partnership, College of Wooster, Community Foundations of America, American Public Welfare Association, Greater Cleveland Roundtable, Northeast Ohio Council on Higher Education, Urban League of Greater Cleveland, PolicyBridge, The Independent Sector, Council on Foundations, the Foundation Center, Child Welfare League of America, Union Club and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. He served as the founding board chair of Cuyahoga Arts and Culture, and was chair of the board of the KnowledgeWorks Foundation at the time of his death. Steve was a proud member of Sigma Pi Phi (Boule), an African American service fraternity. With his fellow Sigma Pi Phi brothers, Steve enjoyed mentoring students in the Cleveland schools. Indeed, Steve was a born mentor, always glad to advise, listen, and use resources at his disposal to create opportunities for others. Steve took enormous pride in the contributions made by the many people whose work he fostered in the fields of philanthropy, education, and social work.
Steve found his experience as a non-profit and government executive translated well in the corporate board room, and he was a trailblazer who brought racial diversity to many corporate boards. As a corporate director at KeyCorp, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, Dominion Resources, Consolidated National Gas (CNG), Rubbermaid and Ohio Bell Telephone Company, Steve was known for recruiting other strong leaders, advocating for high ethical standards, and encouraging corporate social responsibility.
Many people and organizations celebrated Steve for his accomplishments and contributions. He was the recipient of many awards and honors, including seven honorary degrees, the 2018 Cleveland Heritage Medal, the 2003 Distinguished Grantmaker Award from the Council on Foundations, the 1991 Ohio Governor’s Award for Excellence in Education and the Cleveland Black Professional of the Year. Steve was honored in 2018 by Case Western Reserve University as a Trailblazer, and his portrait hangs on campus. He is currently featured in an exhibit focused on African American philanthropy at the Cleveland History Center.
Steve considered his greatest accomplishment to be his three daughters - Michele, Caroline and Robyn. He celebrated their graduations from Shaker Heights High School and was pleased to see them thrive as undergraduates at Yale (Michele) and Harvard (Caroline and Robyn). He could sometimes be found at the Harvard-Yale game listening to The Ohio State-Michigan game on the radio. His daughters went on to earn graduate degrees from City University of New York (Michele), the University of Oxford and M.I.T. (Caroline), and Yale Law School (Robyn). Steve enjoyed serving as a sounding board for his daughters and was a great influence on their careers. Michele promotes access and inclusion in higher education in her role as Vice Provost of Institutional Equity and Diversity at Princeton University. Caroline, who is a professor of economics at Stanford University, works on the economics of education and especially on opportunities for low income students. Robyn, who is a Partner and Executive Committee member at Thompson Hine LLP, is active in civic causes, community-building and philanthropy. Steve also was a passionate and engaged grandfather, attending countless concerts, athletic games and other activities of his five grandchildren.
Steve may have learned some of his organizational skills as the oldest of eight siblings, whom he loved dearly. Each of them was special to him in a different way. As recently as this past summer, Steve embraced his extended family by organizing the family reunion.
Despite his dignified demeanor, Steve was also very funny and engaging. He was a great raconteur who enjoyed telling stories about his childhood and that of his parents and grandparents. One involved making a quick escape from punishment by racing through a booby-trapped field in which he and his brothers had dug trenches to play war games. His love of stories extended to the cinema. Steve loved the movies and his all-time favorite film was Fort Apache, the only Western of its era where the Native Americans win. Speaking of underdogs, Steve cheered boisterously (when not mourning appropriately) for the Cleveland Browns, Cavaliers and Indians. He took his girls to sit in the famous bleachers (the “Dog Pound”) on many a blustery game day in Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium.
A greater believer in the benefits of a happy marriage, Steve looked forward every week to reading aloud the wedding announcements in the New York Times to Dolly. For the last decade of her life, Steve served as her devoted caregiver. Even in the last year of her life, when she was suffering from Alzheimer’s, Dolly’s eyes would light up when Steve entered the room.
Steve is survived by his daughter Michele Minter and her husband Jeffrey Yuan of Plainsboro, New Jersey and their children Brian and Mira; by his daughter Caroline Minter Hoxby and her husband Blair Hoxby of Stanford, California; and by his daughter Robyn Minter Smyers and her husband Bert Smyers of Shaker Heights, OH and their children Thomas, Charlotte and Shannon. He is also survived by his brother Michael Minter and his wife Ruth of San Antonio, Texas; his brother Larry Minter and his wife Gwen of Shaker Heights, Ohio; his brother Richard Minter and his wife Elaine of Windham, Ohio; his sister Rosemary Pope and her husband William of Shaker Heights, Ohio; and his brother Christopher Minter and his wife Cheryl of Columbus, Ohio. He was predeceased by his beloved wife Dolly, his brother Anthony Minter and his sister Rosalind Edwards.
A Memorial Service will be held on Saturday, November 2, 2019 at 11:00 a.m. at Fairmount Presbyterian Church, 2757 Fairmount Boulevard, Cleveland Heights, OH 44118
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to any of following:
Steven and Dolly Minter Scholarship, Baldwin Wallace University, Center for Philanthropy, 275 Eastland Rd., Berea, OH 44017
Steven and Dolly Minter Endowment Fund, Cleveland State University Foundation, 2121 Euclid Avenue UN 501, Cleveland, OH 44115-2214;
Steve A. and Dolly Minter Scholarship Fund, Case Western Reserve University, Office of Advancement Services, 10900 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44106-7035