Update, May 20: This article has be updated with information regarding Steve Young’s memorial service.
It is with incredible sadness that NIRSA shares the news that Steve Young passed away on Wednesday, May 18 after a five-year battle with brain cancer. He was 59. Steve—known as “SY” to many students and colleagues—had a 32-year storied career with Temple University where he held many positions including Graduate Assistant of Campus Recreation, Assistant Director, Associate Director, and Director of Campus Recreation. In addition to his dedication to his community—he was a certified American Red Cross first aid and safety instructor as well as on the board of his local little league—he was an active and tireless member of the NIRSA family for over 35 years.
“Steve was a great friend and mentor, and he will be very sorely missed by many, myself included,” says Corey Shannon, Director of Campus Recreation at Saint Joseph’s University. “His reach and influence in our field are beyond measure. And for me personally, his guidance and friendship have been life altering.” David Leach, Senior Associate Director of Athletics and Director for Campus Recreation at Princeton University, adds, “Steve has made an indelible mark on so many lives and he has also made a mark by serving his association, NIRSA. He is the embodiment of the ideals in promoting our association, our livelihoods, and our careers. He has served NIRSA as best as anyone I know. He might as well be the face of our organization.”
Over three decades at Temple University
Steve earned his Bachelor of Science in health and physical education with a concentration in outdoor pursuits education from West Chester University. For four years he put his degree to use as a wilderness instructor and course director for Outward Bound, an international nonprofit adventure education program. His ongoing commitment to Outward Bound—and his adventurous spirit—were illustrated in 2012 when he rappelled 22 floors down Tower Plaza III in Temple Center City as part of a fundraiser for the organization.
In 1984, he became a graduate assistant at Temple University, starting what would become a long career at the university. He received his master’s degree at Temple in 1985 and became the Assistant Director of Campus Recreation that same year. Steve rose through the ranks at Temple University to become the Director of Campus Recreation in 1990. Temple’s recreation program grew under his guidance and he was instrumental in the completion of multiple building projects from 1993 through 2012. Terry Dougherty, Executive Director of Philadelphia City Rowing, says, “Steve changed the face of recreation at Temple University. He fought for the general student population to have the needed facilities.”
Eric Nickel, Director of University Recreation at James Madison University, had the opportunity to review Steve’s program at Temple and meet his staff and supervisors. “Literally everyone spoke positively of Steve, his work ethic and character,” says Eric. “He was a tremendous mentor to young and seasoned professionals alike and extremely proud of his former students and employees. He remembered each of them, could tell their story and celebrated their successes.” Former student Patrick Shank, Facilities and Management Graduate Assistant at West Chester University, says, “Steve shaped a culture at Temple that made everyone feel like a family from the top to the bottom, and it is truly this that got me interested in the field. Looking back at my time as an undergraduate student, Steve touched my life in more ways than I originally noticed.”
Steve was also an active part of the Temple University community. “Steve’s unofficial title during his long tenure reporting to the Division of Student Affairs was ‘Dean of Directors,’” explains John Doman, Associate Director at Temple. “He served on multiple committees including Homecoming Welcome Week, Diamond Awards, CARE Team, and the Division of Student Affairs Senior Leadership Team to name a few.” He also started the Temple University Campus Recreation golf outing, which has raised over $225,000 for Temple University students since 1999.
“Steve was a tremendous leader with an amazing personality and good sense of humor. He was always authentic and truly the kind of person you wanted to be around,” says Dirron Allen, Assistant Dean of Student Activities at the University of Virginia. “He was instrumental in my development as a professional. I am so grateful for all the opportunities he provided me.” Dan Simmons, Intramural & Club Sports Coordinator at Rutgers University, adds, “Steve was always there for you—personally and professionally. He always answered the phone. He was a mentor and a friend.”
A strong NIRSA supporter
Steve became a NIRSA member in 1979. Since then, he has served in many leadership positions within the Association. These include Region I Vice President as part of the NIRSA Board of Directors, the NIRSA Foundation Board of Directors, the Nominations and Elections Committee, and the NIRSA Championship Series Appeals Board. He also presented at numerous state, regional, and national conferences throughout his career. Pennsylvania State Director from 1988–1992, Steve acted as cohost for two regional conferences and as host for state workshops. His fellow NIRSA leaders knew him as “Old School.” This wasn’t, Tom Kirch explains, because of an aversion to technology. “Rather, it was for his old-fashioned values of loyalty, honestly, and his care and concern for those he touched. He truly modeled what it meant to give of oneself for the enrichment of others.”
“Steve was a pioneer in NIRSA, especially in Region I and the Philadelphia area,” says Jamie Drahos, Manager of Club Sports, Intramurals, and Sport Camps at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. One of his pioneering efforts was cofounding the Philadelphia City 6 Extramural Classic in 1986. In the City 6, intramurals teams from Drexel University, LaSalle University, Saint Joseph University, Temple University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Villanova University compete for city championships in flag football, volleyball, basketball, and softball. As John Doman puts it, “What started out as an idea on a napkin almost 30 years ago is now a focus at region and national conferences and serves a model for other programs and institutions. It proves a small idea can become something big.”
Steve’s commitment to Region I—specifically Region I students and professionals—was unwavering. “Without Steve, my first NIRSA experience in Cleveland would not have been the same experience that makes me love NIRSA still today,” says Jill Harper, Director at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania. “He mentored me without even knowing it. His pride in the organization and in Pennsylvania was contagious and I am happy and lucky to say that he is one of the main reasons NIRSA is so important to me today.”
This sentiment is echoed by many NIRSA members who could see how much the Association mattered to him. “When I was voted into office as the Region I Vice President, Steve was one of the first professionals to reach out. He was always very supportive and was always available for advice,” says Kurt Klier, Assistant Director at the University of Maryland-College Park. “Steve was a great mentor to so many members but above all he was a true friend.”
Steve’s commitment to the Association and his incredible leadership were recognized with a Regional Award of Merit and multiple Horace Moody Awards over the years. Steve believed in supporting the future generation of leaders in collegiate recreation; he is one of 24 individuals to reach or exceed the NIRSA Foundation’s Executive Level donor status. “Steve’s generosity inspired me to always give back and pay it forward to our future NIRSA students,” says Earl Cabellon, Assistant Director for Student Personnel at the University of Maryland-College Park. “This is a practice I firmly attribute to his role modeling and something I will never forget. NIRSA has lost a professional who embodies the spirit of what we do in collegiate recreation: put people first.”
More than his extensive work in campus recreation, Steve was a devoted father and husband. “He was a proud papa to his two boys and loved to watch them play whatever sport was in season as they grew up,” says Eric Nickel. “Perhaps the best tribute to him is that both of his sons have decided to go into the ‘family business’ of recreation following college. And his wife ‘Mare’ was his college girlfriend and then his wife. She was his rock through most of his life journey.” With his passing, we have lost not only an inspiring leader, but a thoughtful and generous man.
Region I, where Steve spent his career at NIRSA and touched many lives, has established a NIRSA Foundation Heritage Scholarship in his honor. You may make a donation to this scholarship fund by visiting the NIRSA website.
The memorial is scheduled for Monday, May 23 from 3:00-7:00pm at Mitten Hall, N. Broad St., Philadelphia, PA 19122.