Robert Sanger Steel was born on 25 September 1961 in Schenectady, New York, the third son of Sanger Bright Steel (1919-1983) and Madeleine Reagan (1921-2008). From the age of ten he was primarily raised by his mother, as his father increasingly suffered from early-onset dementia. After graduation from Scotia-Glenville High School, he entered the Parsons School of Design and worked several years in New York City as an artist, photographer and bartender. Returning to his studies, he earned the Bachelor of Arts in history from Columbia University's School of General Studies and the Master of Arts in social studies teaching from Columbia Teachers College. His mentor at Columbia was historian Kenneth T. Jackson, who recruited him as a project editor for The Encyclopedia of New York City, to which he contributed twenty-five articles. From 1994 to 2015 Bob taught social studies at Rye High School in Westchester County, where he began a writing mentor program; he took a special interest in veterans' affairs, inviting World War II and Vietnam veterans to speak to his classes. In 2015 he was awarded the Americanism Award by the Rye American Legion Post 128. He served on the board of the Rye Historical Society, where he helped to create several exhibits. In 1992 he married food editor and writer Tanya Wenman. They had twin sons William Wenman Steel and Sanger Alexander Steel (born 1998). The family resided in Manhattan until after the September 11 attacks, moving in 2002 to Port Chester, New York.
In 2015 Bob retired from teaching, and became increasingly disabled by frontotemporal degeneration. The family moved to Ridgefield, Connecticut and later to North Salem, New York. He died on December 13, 2019 at a senior residential facility in Rocky Hill, Connecticut. His funeral service was held 20 December at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Ridgefield, with burial in Maple Shade Cemetery.
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