Dr. James H. Steele Jr, 82 , Broomfield CO, died early Saturday morning, April 6th, 2019, from injuries sustained as a pedestrian in a multiple vehicle hit and run accident in the Lower Downtown districts of Denver CO on April 5th.
Dr. Steele was born in Richmond VA, in February 1937 to James H. and Ann Steele who preceded him in death He graduated from Highland Springs High School, Highland VA, in 1955 and grew up in Sandston VA. Received his BS degree in Metallurgical Engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute(VPI), Blacksburg VA, in 1959. He was an active VPI college baseball team player at third base with his teammates bestowing the nickname “Turtle”.
During college he served in the Army ROTC. He married Mary Roberta in 1958, followed by the birth of their first child, daughter Dr. Leslie S. Steele (Dayton OH) that same year. He served as 1st Lt in the Army from 1959 to 1962. At this time he was stationed in Baumholder West Germany in the 7th Howitzer Battalion, 16th Artillery of the 8th Infantry Division. Birth of the two sons occurred during this deployment in Germany, Craig B. Steele (Monroe OH) in 1960 and Ross B. Steele (Platte City MO) in 1962. He also participated in the 8th Infantry Division baseball team, continuing he lifeline admiration of baseball.
Jim returned to VPI in the fall of 1962 to pursue graduate degrees in Metallurgical Engineering. Jim and Roberta started playing bridge during this time in Blacksburg VA community. Around 1964 he transferred to University of Florida where he received his Ph.D. in Material Science in 1967. After graduation he went to work at Western Electric in New Jersey as a Research Scientist. In November of 1968, his youngest daughter, Maryann W. Meyer (Monroe OH) was born in New Jersey. Around 1969 he accepted a teaching position at VPI & state university in the College of Metallurgical Engineering, in Blacksburg VA. He continued bridge playing in Blacksburg with his wife Roberta, and often used his two elder children as practice partners. He also worked summers at NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton VA. In Blacksburg, he refereed high school and VPI&SU scrimmage football games.
He was active in baseball sandlot leagues coaching his two sons. In 1975, Jim starting working for Armco Research Center, Middletown OH, as a Research Scientist in stainless steel metallurgy. He was very active in the Monroe Sandlot Association; not only as a baseball coach, but also as an Umpire and Monroe Sandlot commissioner. During this time he also coached his youngest daughter, Maryann, in Girls soccer and softball.
Around 1977, he started running in marathons and participated in many running groups. Jim organized the first Monroe OH Marathon and qualified and ran in the Boston marathon. During this time Jim was an active bowler and participated in various bowling leagues. He was extremely involved in the Metallurgical engineering community in the Dayton OH region of American Society of Metals/Materials (ASM, later ASM International) trade organization, serving as Chapter president and spoke at various local chapters throughout Ohio. He lectured on the topics of metallurgy at various Dayton and Cincinnati universities and through Armco Steel sponsored research at both Wright State University and University of Cincinnati.
Jim, along with his two sons, actively supported the local Monroe boy scouts and Camp Kern in Middletown OH. In 1986, Jim worked at Los Alamos National laboratories in Los Alamos NM, as a research scientist in plutonium metallurgy. Jim married Gretchan Mills in 1987 in Santa Fe NM. He participated in ultra-marathons and enjoyed running with is wolf-malamute dog, named Chardonnay. Around 1988 his serious bridge career took off, playing locally with John Pendergrast. Jim was an adjunct professor at the Univ. of New Mexico teaching electron microscopy. Summers he would spend hiking, water-rafting, camping, and exploring various natural wonders with his children in NM, CO and throughout the Southwest. He retired from Los Alamos and moved to Denver CO, where he spent time playing in bridge tournaments and running in marathons. His companion at the time, Karen Renne, would travel playing in bridge tournaments as partners throughout the US. Jim was a frequent materials science/electron microscopy lecturer at various Colorado Universities and also ASM Int chapter meetings throughout the state of Colorado.
Jim (the Man of) Steele was an outstanding character in the Boulder bridge community. In 2002 he taught his first bridge class at Mike’s. He enjoyed teaching so much that when he moved to the mountains in Boulder shortly afterwards, he asked the Boulder Unit for support to start a class and I/N club here. When they started, a legend was born.
For years, Jim ran a very popular beginner’s club in Niwot that included regular lessons before the games. He also taught many people throughout the Boulder School District’s Life Long Learning program and students at the Univ of Colorado-Denver. Jim was a joyful mentor to interested students and many went on to be good and active bridge players. A few followed his lead and became directors and teachers as well. Eventually, the Niwot club expanded into an open American Contract Bridge League (ACBL) game, providing a needed evening game opportunity for a wider range of players. He also ran a game at the Carillon, a facility for older adults, which was a wonderful service for the residents as well as another evening venue for all. He achieved one of his life long goals—ACBL Gold Master status—at the Denver sectional in January 2019.
Many bridge players may not know much about Jim’s other passions: dancing, political activism, and most importantly, poetry. Jim was an avid dancer and could frequently be seen in the summer kicking it up on the Mall at “ Bands on the Bricks “ or swing dancing above the Mercury Cafe. He also advocated passionately for social justice in local and national elections including Colorado Caucus events.
At the youthful age of 72, he began writing poetry and verse. He performed spoken word poetry at the Folsom Street Café in 2011 and then went on to open mics at the Laughing Goat, often hurrying from a bridge games to make it to the show. Jim was greatly admired and performed at many regional and out-of-state festivals. With his friend, Marcus, he would perform street poetry from famous poets at the Pearl Street Mall. You could find Jim performing his poetry at the Mercury Café in downtown Denver and pretty much all over the state of Colorado. Jim’s photo on his ACBL Teacher Profile is an image from the Frozen-man poetry festival in Nederland CA, where one year he won the “Deadman Poet Impersonation” of Paul Lawrence Dunbar. In 2018 he published a book on this poetry entitled “ Poetry and Verses on the Nature of Things”. At this time he began serious touring of poetry festivals promoting his book across the country. He was awarded honorable mention at the San Francisco Poetry Festival and began performing with 50 Shades of Blue mixing blues music with his poetry. Recently, he began recording spoken word poetry with 50 Shades of Blue accompaniment. Lastly, he had been working on a second poetry book, that his children plan to publish and continue his legacy of poetry and verse.
Jim is survived by his four children mentioned above and a brother, George Steele, from Glen Allen VA, along with four grandchildren: Melody of Springhill FL, Brad of Livermore CA, and Ally and Kristen of Monroe OH, and two great grandchildren: Emma of Silverdale WA and Chloe of Springhill FL. He was an uncle to Michele, Jon, and James H. Steele III, all from various Virginia locations. James will be sadly missed, but his legacy will live on in the hearts of many that we know and more than we can begin to imagine.