William G. Steele, Jr.
William Guy Steele, Jr. was unflappable and a gentleman’s gentleman, who left a legacy of class, humility, dignity and taste. Many believed he was the best-dressed man in San Marino!
Bill was born in 1924, the son of a Sacramento railroad engineer. He died in 2006, at the age of 81. He entered the Air Force at the age of 18 and flew 35 combat missions over Japan in a B-29 during World War II. Mission 19 was the biggest test of survival for him and his crew as they had to ditch in the ocean on their return leg. He was later awarded the Purple Heart.
On another mission, he saw the American flag waving from the top of Mt. Surabachi, Iwo Jima, where it had been planted a few days earlier by members of the US Marine Corps. He never realized then what an important symbol it would become for our Country.
After the war, Steele attended USC, where he majored in Business, graduating in 1949. He was president of his fraternity, Beta Theta Pi. He remained active as an Alumnus, contributing annually to the top-tier Scholarship Committee, and serving on the Board of Governors of the USC General Alumni Association. Trojan football was always his passion.
Steele married the former Barbara Taft, of Beverly Hills, in August 1948. They were married for 57 years, and moved to San Marino in 1965.
In 1963, he formed Tower Management with two other colleagues, which became a national leader in the construction and management of mobile home parks.
Bill took to heart this famous quote by Frenchman Alexis de Tocquerville, “Americans are an amazing people. If they see a need that isn,t or can’t be met by government, they form a committee and do it themselves.”
Steele served 8 years on the Planning Commission, and held leadership positions with the local Community Chest, Schools Foundation and many local election campaigns. He was awarded the coveted PTA Founder’s Day Award.
He served as President of San Marino Rotary in 1979-80, and previously had chaired the Youth Scholarship Committee. Bill was also president of City Club in 1983.
Steele served for decades on the Board of Overseers at the Huntington Library, and in 2005, was appointed Overseer Emeritus.
A lover of tennis, Steele played with the same doubles group for over twenty years. He was also an avid hunter and fisherman.
Bill and Barbara loved spending their retirement years at their vacation home in Emerald Bay.
Bill was clearly loved by all. He lived with passion, commitment and loyalty.
Bill joined Rotary in January 1973, and was sponsored by Robert Hull. As mentioned, Bill was president in 1979-80, and he and Barbara are both Paul Harris Fellows.
Bill was very high on Rotary, most active in membership recruitment, in graciously and generously supporting a whole host of projects including The Rotary Clock and Teacher Mini-Grants.
The Ambassadorial Scholar Committee thought it would help its recruiting efforts if a DVD was made of the experiences of 8 former Scholars. That taping was done at the high school TV department, and Bill was its narrator.
Bill was responsible for recruiting at least 8 members since 1990, but for certain: Lee Baca, Emile Bayle, Mark Chen, Dick Cooper, Lois Derry, Bob Eichel, James Folsom, JD Hornberger, Dennis Kneier, Sherm McQueen, Bob Nafie and Robert Redford. All but one, are still active members, today.
Members Sponsored by Bill
In 2005 the idea of large clock tower for San Marino was discussed. Initially the fundraising was to be a community effort, chaired by Dennis Kneier. But Bill Steele and I thought that the clock tower should be tied to the 100th anniversary of Rotary International, funded by Rotarians. Actual funding of $74,600 became 80% Rotarian-generated, and 20% community-generated. Bill put the pinch on many of us to give, at various giving levels, shown here on the donor recognition plaque. Bill was one of the major donors.
Bill Steele and the Mini-Grant Program
In 1998 Rotary began the Mini-Grant program, raising and distributing monies to teachers from all 7 San Marino schools, to enhance learning, of up to $500 per grant. Over the years, Rotary has provided $20,000 in annual funding. Major funds were contributed by Andy Barth and a private foundation. Warren Weber chaired the Mini Grant committee for the past 8 years.
In 2007, Andy Barth proposed a Mini-Grant Endowment Fund with the idea that the endowment would eventually fund the Mini Grants program, in perpetuity, and, in honor of Bill Steele. Andy has been, by far, the major donor to the Endowment, having contributed $250,000. Another Rotarian gave a single gift of $36,000, and, yet another, $25,000. The Motor Classic proceeds provided $25,000 more.
The goal of the Mini-Grant Endowment fund was to reach $400,000. At a 5% annual distribution rate, the Mini-Grant committee would have $20,000 each year to aid teachers.
Here is the good news. On August 31, this Fund reached $424,000. This total consists of donations of $339,000, and accumulated dividends and appreciation of $85,000.
In recognition of Bill Steele’s long-time service to Rotary and to the community, the Mini-Grant Fund has been named the William Steele Mini-Grant Endowment Fund.
So now all of us know Bill Steele. What a marvelous man. And, weren’t those of us who didn’t know and work with him, missed a truly remarkable man and Rotarian. This final picture doesn’t include Bill. It was taken two months after his death, at his daughter’s wedding. He cannot be replaced!