Tribute to university pioneer John Steinke

Retired economist and academic Professor John Steinke's sudden death this week has brought much sorrow, but his legacy to the city of Wollongong will live on.

Prof Steinke moved from Portland, Oregon, in early 1964 to head up the new commerce course at the University of Wollongong, which was then known as the Wollongong University College.

In the years since, he truly made his mark on the educational, economic and social fabric of the community.

Former UOW vice-chancellor Professor Gerard Sutton said he was greatly saddened to hear of the death on Thursday night of his former colleague, and close friend, after a long illness.

"John Steinke had huge integrity, he was a very fair person, a very strong leader and very much a team player - plus he had a wicked sense of humour," Prof Sutton said.

"Since he arrived in Wollongong, he really devoted his life to this university and this city. I feel a great sadness at the news of his death, but also a gratitude for all that he has done."

Prof Sutton said while Prof Steinke clocked up many achievements during his time at the university, it was his role in two major initiatives that stood out.

"He played a leading role in the amalgamation between the Wollongong teachers' institution and the university - it wouldn't have worked unless we had a John Steinke," he said.

"And while we now have a huge international reputation at the University of Wollongong, the very first student recruited at the university from overseas was done by him.

"At that stage attracting international students was revolutionary, yet today we can see how important it is for the university, and the city. That initial push for international students came from John."

Prof Steinke also made a difference to the wider community through his work with the Illawarra Regional Development Committee, on which he served for 15 years, undertaking many voluntary research projects.

One of his first research projects - a report on female unemployment in the region - led the state government to create a development fund for Wollongong that made loans available to develop businesses that would employ mostly women. At least 15 firms were established, mainly in the footwear and clothing industries, and 1500 women employed.

The eager economist was also the founder of the Illawarra Regional Information Service (IRIS), which has grown into a major statistical and economic support organisation with clients across Australia.

Former chief executive of IRIS Martin O'Shannessy - a former student of Prof Steinke - worked with his mentor for many years.

"John Steinke founded IRIS, he was the founding chairman, and I joined in 1996," Mr O'Shannessy said.

"With John as the chairman and me as chief executive, we broadened the base of IRIS; as well as economic studies, we branched into telephone research and opinion research."

Mr O'Shannessy was overwhelmed with emotion when speaking about his close friend and colleague yesterday.

"I was an undergraduate at the University of Wollongong when he was head of the commerce faculty," he said.

"We were close friends for 30 years - he was incredibly generous, intelligent, motivating and kind. He left a great mark on the city and on me as a person.

"We shared sad times, and happy times."

Professor Steinke retired in 1993 from UOW, although he remained on the university board until 2005. He retired from IRIS in 2006 and has also had links to the community through his work with VOX FM and the Wollongong Conservatorium of Music.

His wife Carmelita died in 2007. Prof Steinke is survived by their children, Aden, Eve and Nicole.

Prof Steinke was the founder of the Illawarra Regional Information Service.

Prof Steinke was the founder of the Illawarra Regional Information Service.

Professor John Steinke with his wife Carmelita.

Professor John Steinke with his wife Carmelita.

John Steinke (left) with Perce Butterworth and former student Martin O’Shannessy.

John Steinke (left) with Perce Butterworth and former student Martin O’Shannessy.


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