Beloved Professor Emerita Leaves Lasting Gift
Thirty-year Drew veteran Joan Steiner, who passed away on Mar. 26, left the university more than $1 million.
Joan Steiner, 78, professor emerita of English at Drew University, passed away on March 26—and left the school with much more than just fond memories of her teaching and friendship. After giving 30 years of her life to Drew as a scholar of modern and contemporary British literature, she also left a planned gift of more than $1 million from her estate.
“As a long-serving faculty member, Joan Steiner spent a significant portion of her life giving both time and wisdom to Drew and to several generations of its students,” said University President Robert Weisbuch. “It is clear that her final act of generosity will ensure the continuity of her support for a university that meant so much to her.”
“Most people would remember Joan as a tough educator with high standards,” said Ron Ross C’73, a former student of Steiner’s, who would later serve as Drew’s vice president for advancement. “But these high demands were paired with her willingness to help each student realize his or her full potential. For me, she was the one who taught me how to write.”
The admiration Ross feels toward Steiner is echoed by many alumni, including Charles Peck C’74, who honored his former professor by establishing a scholarship in 2006. The endowment given to Drew by Peck and his wife, Liora, allows the university to annually award a merit- or need-based grant to a student of English who excels in analytical writing. Professor of English Geraldine Smith-Wright, who was a colleague and close friend of Steiner’s, views the scholarship as an emblem of her accomplishments and overall excellence as a professor.
“It is proof that Joan had a lasting positive impact on her students,” she said.
Steiner, who was born in 1933, moved to New Jersey after spending her childhood in Ohio, where her father, Luke Steiner, was a professor of chemistry at Oberlin College, the institution from which she earned her A.B. in 1955. She went on to earn a master’s in 1956 and a PhD in 1971, both from the University of Michigan. Before she began her professorial career, she served as a teacher of English at the junior high school level and as a congressional staffer in Michigan.
During her 30 years at Drew from 1968 to 1998, Steiner taught courses in modern and contemporary British literature. She began teaching at the university as an instructor and was promoted four times, eventually earning the rank of full professor and chairing the English department. Shortly after her arrival at the university in the late 1960s, she was tasked with developing English curricula from the ground up that focused on African American literature. Her courses were some of Drew’s earliest in this then-emerging field of study.
After her retirement in 1998, Steiner reached out to Ross about making Drew a beneficiary of her estate. Smith-Wright wasn’t surprised to learn of her generosity given her love for Drew.
“To my mind, none of this is ambiguous—Joan cared very much about Drew,” she said. “Not only did she care very much about the English department and about the curriculum, but she was also very much invested in and engaged with students.”
Steiner’s gift of more than $1 million will go to the Drew library’s Book Endowment Fund and to the purchase of materials related to the university’s African American studies program. In addition, Steiner has also directed that her house in Florham Park be left to the university.
A graveside service for Steiner will be held in Oberlin, Ohio, on April 16. According to Smith-Wright, Drew will hold its own memorial program in the coming months.
“Joan was—and will continue to be—an important part of the life of this university,” she said.—Michael Bressman