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Harrison Irwin Steans, banker and philanthropist, dies at 83

Harrison Steans
Ernie Wish; Richard Driehaus; the Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M., chancellor and former president of DePaul; and Harrison Steans (left to right) mingle during a Board of Trustees meeting in 2017. Steans died on Feb. 26. He was 83. (DePaul University/Jamie Moncrief)
Harrison I. Steans,​ entrepreneurial banker, life-trustee and long-time friend to DePaul University, died Feb. 26. 

The primary benefactor of DePaul's Irwin W. Steans Center, he led the endowment of the Center in 2001 with $5 million from the Steans family. ​The Center was named in honor of Harrison’s late father Irwin Steans whose values are reflected in the spirit of DePaul’s mission of service to community.

“We had the opportunity to meet and visit with Harrison on numerous occasions. Jo and I were struck by his devotion to our Catholic, Vincentian values of serving our marginalized communities as well as his sharp wit and sense of humor,” says Dr. A. Gabriel Esteban, President of DePaul.

Born on July 3, 1935, Harrison spent his childhood in Lake Bluff and Springfield, Illinois. His early years were marked by the energy, intellect and achievement that would characterize his entire life. In high school he was state Latin champion, and he partnered with his father in bridge tournaments around the region, often winning, despite being the youngest to compete. 

Harrison graduated cum laude from Princeton University in 1957 with a B.A. in economics. Having attended on an NROTC scholarship, Harrison married Lois M. Morrison and joined the Navy within weeks of graduating. He was stationed in Pearl Harbor and resigned his commission as a Lieutenant.

Harrison went to work as an assistant to the legendary Tom Watson at IBM. After several invigorating years, he left IBM in 1967 to form Illinois’ first single-bank holding company to purchase the Hyde Park Bank & Trust. During his tenure as Chairman, the organization grew from a single $40 million bank to a six-bank holding company with assets exceeding $1.8 billion.  In 1987, the bank holding company was sold to NBD Corporation, now part of the J.P. Morgan Chase organization. 

From 1973 through 1978, Harrison served as Chairman of LaSalle National Bank, where he handled the bank’s sale to ABN. In 1994, with his daughter Jennifer, Harrison formed Financial Investments Corporation to make private equity investments and to serve as the Steans family office.  

Harrison believed strongly in giving back. He served on too many non-profit boards to mention, including the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club, the Chicago Humanities Festival, the Chicago Botanic Garden, and The Ounce of Prevention Fund. Harrison also served as Life Trustee of DePaul University, Highland Park Hospital and Ravinia Festival. Having enjoyed being a part of the Ravinia family for many decades, Harrison took particular pride in being named the only male member of the Ravinia Women’s Board. 

In 1988, Harrison started the Steans Family Foundation with his wife Lois and three daughters, Jennifer, Heather and Robin. For nearly 30 years, the foundation has worked hand in hand with the North Lawndale community to promote stronger education, employment, health and safety for residents. 

Harrison was awarded an honorary doctorate by DePaul University, the Order of Lincoln and too many business and civic awards to list. He will be remembered by all who knew him for his entrepreneurial spirit, business acumen, booming laugh, unfailing sense of humor, keen intellect, and his caring interest in all around him. His family will remember his love of tennis, games of all sorts, clever word play, as well as his outsized personality and boundless love and enthusiasm.

Harrison is survived by his sister, Adeline Morrison, his wife of 61 years, Lois, his three daughters, Jennifer (Jim Kastenholz), Heather (Leo Smith), and Robin (Leonard Gail), seven grandchildren -- Ryan, Sam, Abby, Jessica, Leah, Sydney and Nick -- and many beloved nieces and grand-nephews and grand-nieces. He will be remembered by all who knew him not just for his many and significant accomplishments, but for his personal integrity, sense of social justice, and his warmth and playful sense of humor.

A memorial service will be held in the Martin Theater at Ravinia on March 9 at 10 a.m., 418 Sheridan Road, Highland Park.

Contributions in Harrison’s memory can be made to North Lawndale College Prep Charter High School (c/o Suellen Wolk, 1315 South Sacramento Drive, Chicago, IL 60623), or to Ravinia Festival (c/o Marie Roth, Ravinia Tribute Fund, 418 Sheridan Road, Highland Park, IL 60035).