Scholar and Mentor
For more than half a century, Hank Steiner created a lasting legacy of service.
By Leilah Langley
Henry-York “Hank” Steiner, a revered professor of English at EWU, passed away Sept. 6, 2019. He was 87.
Professor Steiner was born in Chicago, but moved with his parents to Portland, Oregon as a child. After high school he returned to the Midwest to enroll at Grinnell College, a private liberal arts institution in Iowa known for both its rigorous academics and commitment to social justice.
During the Korean War, Steiner served as a military policeman before returning to complete a Bachelor of Arts degree in English at Grinnell in 1956. After earning a master’s degree from Yale University in 1957, he returned to his alma mater to begin what became a long, distinguished career in academia. After two years at Grinnell he accepted a faculty position in English at the University of Oregon, where he also completed a doctorate in 1963. Another stint on the faculty at Grinnell followed, before, in 1968, Steiner was asked to become an associate professor and dean of undergraduate studies at EWU. During his years at Eastern he earned tenure as a full professor and also served for a time as interim director of the University Honors Program.
Long after he reached the age when most people trade in the daily grind of working for the relaxation of retirement, Steiner continue to challenge and enrich his students. By the time he finally stepped away from the classroom in June 2019, he had spent 61 years as a professor, some 50 of which were at EWU.
Steiner leaves behind an admirable legacy of service. As a faculty member and administrator, he helped to create and nurture many new programs, including American Indian Studies, Africana Studies, Chicana/o/x Studies, University Honors and Environmental Science. He taught graduate and undergraduate courses in subjects ranging from eastern religion and J.R.R. Tolkien to classical poetics and rhetoric. Outside of the university he served as an stalwart ski patrol member and director, a member of the board of directors for Expo ’74 and the Spokane World’s Fair, chairman of Spokane Community Action, and chair of the Washington State Folklife Council.
“I’ve been going to class for 80 years, ever since I was seven years old,” Steiner told a reporter for the Cheney Free Press at a “martini bash” — his favorite cocktail — held on the eve of his retirement. “I’ll remember how much fun I had. I think I will be remembered as long as there are people who remember me.”
One of those people will be Jamie Neely, an EWU journalism professor who, at the martini fête, told the Free Press that few professors at Eastern were more well-loved. “He’s generous and kind and smart and funny. He’s been a joy to work with.”
Another is Jessica Boyer, one of Steiner’s former students who is now a lecturer in the university’s Department of Communication Studies. After his death she told Inside EWU, that “he was a shining example of how, when you join EWU, you join a family. When I came back to the university to teach he was right there to help support and mentor me.”
After learning of his death, Logan Greene, EWU’s English Department chair, was also moved to memorialize her longtime colleague and friend. She did so with a poem that reads, in part:
“…Rejoice with him a lifetime lived in joy.
To Hades now and dread Persephone
We give this teacher, sage, philosopher.
Beloved of the gods, this hero rests.”