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UC presidency turns into a family affair

by Deborah Rieselman

Joseph Steger didn't accept the University of Cincinnati job without a unanimous family vote. It's a good thing, because he never would have guessed what a family affair the university would become.

First in line was daughter Tracy. "She was going to school back East," says mom Carol, "but when she came to visit, she fell in love with the city and campus. She transferred here and lived in Memorial Hall."

Then son Marty followed in her footsteps. After graduating from high school, he enrolled at UC and moved into Daniels Hall.

A university presidency quickly becomes a family affair in many ways. Hosting dinners and receptions at the family’s home is just one of them. In June, the Stegers' backyard took on a South American carnival theme to honor UC benefactors. Here, Sonia Koschoreck dresses appropriately to welcome guests.

A university presidency quickly becomes a family affair in many ways. Hosting dinners and receptions at the family’s home is just one of them. The Stegers' backyard took on a South American carnival theme to honor UC benefactors. Sonia Koschoreck welcomes guests. Photo/Dottie Stover

Carol also joined the ranks, landing a job at the UC Foundation. Originally she had tried to continue working for her former employer, the investment firm Commonfund, but ultimately realized travel requirements didn't fit a president's wife's schedule. Tired of excusing herself in the middle of receptions, she quit.

Sick of staying at home, she jumped at the request for help from the foundation's head of planned giving, who was aware of her investment experience. Soon she was working full time. Eventually she was named stewardship director.

Traveling was convenient then, because she and Joe needed to take the same fund-raising trips. Furthermore, Joe says having her at his side to match donors names, faces and history was an asset. "She had everything in her head," he says.

What her head didn't have was a recognition factor on campus, which sometimes put her in an awkward position of overhearing criticism of her husband. "The first few times, my feelings were hurt," she admits, "but I learned to laugh at it."

Unfortunately, Tracy and Marty didn't laugh so easily when it happened to them. "It was really hard on the kids," Carol says. "Marty, in particular, would get indignant when he heard things."

More than just a dad

Part of the indignation the children felt probably came from the fact that Joe Steger was more than a dad in the traditional sense. He was a dad the children had both made conscious decisions to choose.

Tracy and Marty were Carol's children from a previous marriage when she and Joe married in '78. There was talk of Joe adopting them, but legal complications prevented it.

When Tracy turned 18, however, she knew she could change her name to Steger on her own. So she did just that, getting a lawyer in secret to surprise both parents. "Joe broke down on that one," Carol recalls.

Not to be outdone, Marty not only changed his last name to Steger when he turned 18, but also changed his middle name to Joseph. "They love him," Carol says. "He is their father."

The most emotional time the family endured during his presidency was in 1991 when the faculty cast a vote of no confidence in Steger because of his approach to budget cuts. "I was disappointed at faculty who supported him but didn't bother to vote," Carol remembers. "But when I asked Joe about it, he said that if he were faculty at such a time, he would be too busy to get involved in such stuff.

"When the board of trustees met afterward and announced that Joe had their unanimous support, I was thrilled, but Joe calmly said he knew the board would support him. Things do not bother him when he believes what he is doing is right."

Self-confidence is nice, but a pat on the back is certainly appreciated. And that's what the Stegers received at the year's last home basketball game when the athletics department honored him and Carol on the floor at halftime. Instead of heading to the concessions, guests had remained in their seats and stood for a rousing ovation. After the game, even ushers gave him hugs and said how sad they were to see him go, Carol says.

But the real emotion came as the two were leaving the basketball floor and walked past the student section. The students stood a second time, cheering and clapping more wildly than the first. Those students were nearly a second generation from those he had originally come to serve, and they were the main reason he had stayed so long.

Related articles:

President Steger steps down

Dr. Steger's resume

Steger's new center for nonprofits

Steger's view on today's youth

Steger’s colorful college memories

Just a "regular Joe"