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Agent of change

New York native a champion for community service

Created date

August 21st, 2012

Steve Hart celebrated his 90th birthday in the most meaningful of ways. At a surprise birthday party to celebrate his milestone birthday on March 31, Steve opened his gift an album filled with personal letters from family members, friends, and colleagues detailing his impact on their lives. I didn t know it at the time, but my kids worked on the album for months, says Steve, a native New Yorker who now makes his home at Highland Springs, an Erickson Living community in North Dallas. They got in touch with my friends and associates, asking them to write letters. It was a marvelous gift. Steve s four daughters and one son were all present at the party, as were his 11 grandchildren quite a feat considering they traveled from Illinois, New York, Connecticut, and Virginia. The entire family and close friends gathered at Steve s daughter s home in Flower Mound. I thought a few people might be there, but not the whole family, says Steve. It was a heck of a party. In the months since his party, Steve has been reading through the letters and recalling various chapters in his life. That album has brought back a lot of memories, he says. Steve s legacy extends well beyond the pages of the album. Particularly in the area of community service, Steve is skilled at bringing people together to work toward a common goal.

Humble beginnings

During World War II, Steve was a pilot with the 9th Air Force. After the war, he started an insurance business. A good friend of my father s told me that if I was going to start a business in town, I should join a service club, says Steve. He got me into Kiwanis. Steve worked his way up through the ranks, eventually becoming governor of Kiwanis New York district. We had 23 divisions within that district, each run by a lieutenant governor, says Steve. Unfortunately, the people on Long Island weren t talking to the people in Buffalo. I figured we could get a lot accomplished if we got everyone working together. At his first board meeting, Steve asked if anyone had an idea to bridge the gap that existed within the district. A past governor suggested building a camp for disabled children. That idea caught fire, says Steve. We started looking for land right away. Steve s pilot training came in handy. He took to the skies scouting locations for a camp. I looked at sites all over the state, says Steve. Finally, I found a camp in Rome. The Kiwanis Club of Rome owned the property, but they offered to sell it for a dollar. I paid that dollar out of my own wallet best money I ve ever spent.

Always scheming

In the 1970s, Steve served as the vice-president of Kiwanis International. A decade later, he was back in action, helping to enact change for the better. Steve and his wife owned a vacation home in Costambar, Dominican Republic. When a hurricane took down a school in nearby Puerto Plata, Steve saw a new opportunity. I m always scheming, he says. I was an honorary member of the local Rotary Club in the Dominican Republic. When I saw that the school needed to be rebuilt, I told those guys, Here s a chance for Rotary and Kiwanis to really make history. Let s go to work. Steve returned to New York and his Kiwanis connections to raise money for the project, while the mayor of Puerto Plata, who was a Rotarian, secured a deed for the land. The old schoolhouse was made with sticks and tree branches you could see right through it, says Steve. Between Rotary and Kiwanis, we got enough money, materials, and enthusiasm to build a concrete block schoolhouse. The endeavor marked the first time the two service clubs worked together internationally.

New adventure in Texas

Now that he s left his New York roots to be closer to his daughter in Texas, Steve relishes this new chapter of his life at Highland Springs. I saw this place and was very impressed, he says. My dad was an architect, and he taught me to pay attention to the details. When I first visited Highland Springs, I noticed a little latch on the front door of each apartment. Every night, a security guard comes by and raises the latches. If the latches haven t dropped the next day, indicating the door has been opened, a security guard checks on that resident. It s amazing the things Erickson Living has thought of to keep people happy, comfortable, and safe, he adds.