MIDDLESEX TWP — Most people strive to leave this world in better shape than they found it. Many achieve that goal, but few do so with humility, humor and intelligence.
Ray Steffler, who passed away Saturday at age 82, was among the few, according to family, friends and colleagues.
Steffler, who was a foundational pillar for Butler County Community College and a purveyor of common ground in local politics, left behind a legacy of community service resulting from his appreciation for living in a democracy.
“He just felt that he wanted to give back to his community,” said Steffler's widow, Kay. “He felt more for others than he did for himself.”
The couple would have celebrated their 60th anniversary this May. Kay Steffler said her husband had not felt well recently, and learned he had cancer after going to the doctor.
“We were surprised,” Kay said. “It was very quick.”
Kay Steffler said her husband graduated from BC3 in May 1986, alongside his daughter, Michelle. She said his passion for the school and its students was complete.
“He didn't do it for the accolades,” Kay Steffler said. “In fact, he felt a little awkward when people praised him and thanked him.”
Steffler joined BC3's Board of Trustees in 1985, and served as its chairman since 1999. William Foley, BC3 spokesman, said he served more years as a trustee and longer as chairman than any other person since members were first chosen in 1965-66.
Foley said the board of trustees meets in the science and technology building in the Steffler Board Room, named in honor of Steffler in September 2015.
Steffler was very active with the college. Among his achievements, he helped form the alumni association, served since 2006 as a member of the BC3 Education Foundation, was one of four graduates to have an Alumni Legacy Scholarship named in his honor in May 2017, and was named a Distinguished Alumni in October 2017.
Steffler was also instrumental as one of 21 members of the Pioneer Proud Campaign steering committee, which raised $6.8 million in three years, Foley said.
Created in 2000 by Ray and Kay, the Steffler Family Annual Scholarship is awarded to a Butler County resident who is a full-time freshman enrolled in BC3's accounting, business administration or business management programs.
In addition to his service at BC3, Steffler worked as an aide for former State Sen. Mary Jo White, R-21, and as a field representative for current State Sen. Scott Hutchinson, R-21. Hutchinson said the news of losing Steffler hit hard.
“He was so respectable in everything he did,” Hutchinson said. “He was almost like a wise uncle figure. He was a very steady-hand, common sense person. And also very loyal.”
Hutchinson said one attribute about Steffler was that he commanded respect.
“He had an old-fashioned kind of common sense,” Hutchinson said. “He represented the kind of public servants we need.”
At BC3, Hutchinson said, Steffler was a giant. Nicholas Neupauer, the college's president, couldn't agree more.
Neupauer credits Steffler's leadership for recent years of high standing among the state's community colleges. He even contributed a favorite catch-phrase to the college.
“Mr. Steffler coined the term, 'Pioneer Proud,'” Neupauer said. “We used it during our most recent major gifts campaign for our Foundation, stamped it on clothing, and even bracelets. Frankly, there is no better statement to describe Ray than 'Pioneer Proud.' He gave so much of his time, resources and wisdom to our college over the years.”
Ruth Purcell, executive director of the school's education foundation, described Steffler's leadership style as “quiet but steady.”
“Ray always had your back as board chair,” she said.
Those close to Steffler all commented on his devotion to BC3.
Bruce Mazzoni, another trustee at the college, said Steffler insisted board members read through the early history of their organization, emphasizing how one early commissioner mortgaged his own home to get the wild idea of a community college in Butler County off the ground.
Mazzoni, who is also a member of the Cranberry Township Board of Supervisors, credits Steffler's work with Hutchinson for helping bring prosperity to the area.
“Ray was always present for important community meetings dealing with a variety of subjects, including infrastructure, investment and safety,” Mazzoni said. “I am sure he was at many other municipalities offering his services and support. I know I speak for many in Cranberry that we appreciated his support, and that he will be missed.”
Fellow BC3 trustee Gail Paserba, echoed Mazzoni's sentiments.
“Ray's arms were very long reaching and very influential,” Paserba said. “I am honored to have learned from Ray.”
Kay Steffler said it will be difficult for her, the couple's two daughters and their grandson to move on without their family patriarch and shining example of fairness and decency.
“He was just a very caring individual. He never disliked anybody,” Kay Steffler said of her husband. “He was very much a believer in God. He based everything he did on the Golden Rule.”
Steffler was employed for 45 years by the North Pittsburgh Telephone Company before retiring.