Sanger Bright Steel was born on 19 March 1919 in New York City, the second son of Sanger Bright Steel (1889-1927) and Marion Parsons Warren (1886-1924). Having lost both parents by the age of eight, he, along with his brothers, was sent to Chicago to be raised by his maternal uncle, Lucius Parsons Warren. After preparatory training at Francis W. Parker School in Chicago, he attended Williams College in Massachusetts, where he majored in physics, and was a member of the wrestling team and the Garfield Club. In his senior year, on 31 October 1939, he attended a party in nearby North Adams where the guests sang hymns and other songs around the piano. Here he met Madeleine Reagan (1921-2008), a recent graduate of Drury High School in North Adams. After graduation in 1940, he moved to New York City, where he lived with his aunt Harriet Pickernell and worked six months for Broadcasting Abroad, Ltd., but he continued to visit Madeleine in North Adams on weekends.
On 16 January 1941 he enlisted in the Army, as his brother recalled, “to get his year of service over with.” He was sent to Fort Bragg, North Carolina for basic training and assigned to the 47th Infantry, 9th Division, at the rank of private. While at Fort Bragg, he was photographed, wearing rain gear and a beaming smile, by a comrade who entered the photo in a national contest sponsored by the Boston Sunday Post, where it appeared on 10 August 1941.
Soon after this, he was transferred to the Signal Corps at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. On 25 March 1942 he received his commission as second lieutenant, and concluded he could support a wife. While on leave, he returned to Williamstown, where he married Madeleine Reagan, the daughter of Fred Herbert Reagan and Martha McAdoo, on 2 April 1942 at St. John’s Episcopal Church.
On 30 June 1942 Sanger Steel boarded a ship for Britain, where he began training in radar with the Royal Air Force at Stoke Holy Cross, Norfolk, and later at RAF College, Cranwell, Lincolnshire. In January 1943 he assumed command of a radar station at Jacka, Portloe, Cornwall. In late March he returned to the United States on leave after nine months in Britain, and was promoted to first lieutenant.
On 2 June 1943 he sailed to the Aleutian Islands, where U.S. and Canadian forces were preparing an assault on Kiska, occupied by the Japanese since June 1942. After several weeks he arrived on the island of Umnak, where, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, American forces had secretly built Fort Glenn, an air base disguised as a cannery complex. Lt. Steel was assigned to the 736th SAW (Signal Aircraft Warning) Company as commanding officer of a radar station at Kettle Cape. He later served at Fort Glenn, where he held command of the company briefly in late 1943. He served in the Aleutians a total of twenty-six months without leave, until August 1945; he was discharged on 25 January 1946 with the rank of captain but continued to serve in the Signal Corps Reserve until 1953.
After reuniting with Madeleine in 1945 Sanger returned to the Chicago area, where, with the aid of the G.I. Bill, he took education courses at Lake Forest College. The following year, he pursued graduate work at the progressive Graduate Teachers College of Winnetka, where he took the degree of master of education. He also took his first teaching job in Lake Forest. In 1951, after the birth of two sons, he began doctoral studies at Columbia Teachers College; the family moved to Shanks Village, Rockland County, New York, a former Army camp used after the war as student housing for veterans with families. When he completed his doctorate in education in 1953, the family moved again, to Scotia, New York, where Madeleine’s father had lived since 1943. Here Sanger became principal of Craig School in nearby Niskayuna. In 1960, he caused a stir when he left this job to return to the elementary classroom. He remained a classroom teacher until 1971, when he retired due to the effects of early-onset dementia.
Growing up and residing in many places during his life, he regarded one place as his true home: the village of Leland, Michigan, where his mother’s family owned a summer cottage. After the war, he brought his family to Leland almost every summer, purchasing a cottage there in 1959. He often took summer jobs there, as a day camp counselor and, in the 1960s, as a golf and tennis instructor.
Sanger Steel was a dedicated teacher who never missed an opportunity to be with children and to teach them. He was a Christian and a social activist, especially for the cause of human rights: a member of Scotia Methodist Church, the YMCA, the American Veterans Committee (AVC), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). His essays and poems were published in local newspapers, and he gave public lectures on discipline, public school funding, and other issues.
He and Madeleine had three children: David Warren Steel (born 1947), William Reagan Steel (born 1949), and Robert Sanger Steel (1961-2019). He died at St. Clare’s Hospital in Schenectady, New York, on his sixty-fourth birthday, 19 March 1983.
Lieut. Sanger B. Steel of Chicago, Ill., who was graduated from Williams in 1940, married Miss Madeleine Reagan of Hall street, North Adams, last night at 9 o'clock in St. John's Episcopal church. The rector, Rev. Dr. A Grant Noble read the ceremony in the candle-light service.
Williamstown residents attended the wedding at which the church organist, Horace Snape, played "Our Mother," and "'Neath the Shadow of the Hills," two traditional Williams college songs, before the service.
Miss Margaret Ross of North Adams, and Monroe Steel, brother of the bridegroom and student at Williams, attended the couple. The reception was held at the home of the bride's aunt in North Adams.
Liuet. Steel, a member of the army signal corps, has just been transferred to Fort Monmouth, N. J. from Fort Bragg, N. C.
Helping children through the classroom outweighed the administration position of principal of Craig elementary school for Dr. Sanger B. Steel, who was granted his request for reassignment this week by the Niskayuna board of education.
The educator’s request for a teaching position at the end of this school year, was approved by the board, Dr. Charles O. Richter, superintendant, said, because many of the members have known of Dr. Steel’s interest in teaching and a desire to get back to the classroom.
“No one has been considered to fill the vacancy that will be made by Dr. Steel. A search will begin immediately and a person may be found within or out of the school,” Dr. Richter said.
“Dr. Steel’s decision will also affect his salary,” Dr. Richter said. It will be adjusted to the lower range of the teaching faculty.
In his request, Dr. Steel, who is in his seventh year at Craig, said he had been considering the change “thoughtfully and prayerfully” for over a year and concluded that “as a classroom teacher I could spend a larger part of my time doing the work that I do best, thus using my particular talents to the better advantage of mankind.”
His letter said, “I have always loved teaching and kids and realized that the organization of administrative matters was not my forte. It is difficult to weigh the impact I can make on lives as a teacher against the good I am able to do as a principal.”
First among the thoughts Dr. Steel listed as entering into his decision was: “As a teacher I would have more opportunity to help kids who need understanding, direction, and inspiration from someone who loves them. In my previous teaching and as a principal I have felt that this was one of the most important things I could do, and one I am suited for, but as a principal this role gets crowded out by the less personal, and to me less important, demands of administration.”
He summed up his personal struggle with this conclusion: “I look on teaching as a high calling which has need of the best talents of those suited to it, administration as another necessary calling with a great contribution to make in freeing and assisting teachers to do the real job for society with kids in the classroom. To each his own; and I think teaching is for me.”
A physics major at Williams College, Dr. Steel spent five years in the service during World war II, including nine months with the RAF. He received the MEd degree at Graduate Teachers college of Winnetka, Ill,. and taught in Lake Forest, Ill., before going to Teachers College, Columbia University, to earn the doctorate in education.
Living in Scotia with his wife and two sons, Dr. Steel has been active in Scotia Methodist Church, the YMCA, the family and child service, and Schenectady County Humane Society.
[Schenectady Gazette, 4 April 1960]
Dr. Sanger B. Steel, 64, of 34 Washington Road in Scotia, a former principal of Craig Elementary School in Niskayuna, died on Saturday at St. Clare’s Hospital after a long illness.
Dr. Steel was principal at Craig School from 1953 until 1960, when he returned to teaching at Hillside Elementary School, also in Niskayuna. He retired in 1971 due to disability. Dr. Steel had also taught at elementary schools in Lake Forest, Ill., at Russell Sage College, and at Harvard Newton School for training teachers.
He was active in the Schenectady YMCA.
An Army veteran of World War II, Dr. Steel was discharged in 1945 with the rank of first lieutenant [recte captain].
He received his doctorate in education from Columbia University in 1953. He was also a graduate of Williams College in Williams [recte Williamstown], Mass., and received his master’s degree in education from Winnetka College in Illinois.
Surviving are his wife, Madeleine Reagan Steel, formerly of North Adams, Mass.; three sons, Dr. David Warren Steel of Oxford, Miss., William Reagan Steel of San Diego, Calif., and Robert Sanger Steel of New York City; and one brother, William W. Steel of Williamstown, Mass.
A memorial service will be conducted on Sunday at the United Methodist Church of Scotia at 1 p.m.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Sanger Steel Memorial Fund in care of the Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders Association, 360 North Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60601.
[Schenectady Gazette, Monday 21 March 1983]
A memorial service was held Sunday for Sanger B. Steel of Scotia, N.Y., a long-time Leland summer resident who died March 19 at a hospital in Schenectady, N.Y., following a long illness.
Mr. Steel was tennis and golf instructor for several years at the Leland Country Club and had directed Sunday night community sings. He retired in 1971 as a teacher and elementary principal at Scotia.
He was graduated from Williams College, received a master’s degree from Winnetka Teachers College and a doctorate in 1953 from Columbia University. He served with the Army in Great Britain and the Aleutian Islands during World War II and was discharged in 1945 with the rank of captain.
He is survived by his wife, Madeleine R.; three sons, Dr. David W. Steel of Oxford, Miss., Robert S. of New York City and William R. of San Diego; and a brother, William W. of Williamstown, Mass., and Leland.
Memorials may be directed to the Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders Association at 360 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago 60601.
[Leelanau Enterprise, 31 March 1983]
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