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Jim Steele, associate registrar for student records, dies at 59

January 26, 2012

Jim Steele, 59, associate registrar for student records, died Tuesday, Jan. 24, after a lengthy illness.

Photo: Jim Steele


At the registrar’s office, Steele was there to help anyone who needed the expertise that only a longtime University of Wisconsin–Madison employee could offer.

“That was really the fundamental thing that kept him so dedicated to his job,” says Connie Chapman, assistant registrar for student records.

Steele became an academic staff member in 1993. Chapman worked with him for 12 years and will miss morning conversations that could start out about one thing and segue into other interesting topics.

“He was someone who thought about things a lot,” Chapman says. “He was very thoughtful and always tried to be kind.”

Those qualities, as well as his decades of experience, helped Scott Owczarek feel welcome last January when he became registrar after leaving Michigan State University, where he worked as associate registrar.

“Jim had a wealth of campus knowledge and relationships he’d built with colleagues across the campus,” Owczarek says. “His passion was just being an active member of the campus community.”

Steele also helped articulate the real role of the registrar’s office, Owczarek says.

“He always kept students at the forefront,” Owczarek says.
Steele remained dedicated to UW even while ill, coming to work as recently as three weeks ago.

“He was such an even-keeled kind of guy,” Owczarek says. “He didn’t get overwhelmed. Nothing really bothered him — that in and of itself, was amazing.”

Heather Daniels, chair of the Academic Staff Executive Committee, knew Steele’s name long before she started working with him last April on ASEC.

“For people at all ends of campus to know his name speaks to the contributions he made and what he did to help folks,” Daniels says.

The committee meets three times a month and despite his health, Steele still attended up until two weeks ago.

“He was soft-spoken, but when he said something, it really mattered,” Daniels says. “He wasn’t just repeating something someone else said. It was always new and valuable information.”

While not a Wisconsin native, Daniels says he had an appreciation for the rich history of the university and its contributions to the state.

“There is something really special and magical about this place, and I think he felt that,” Daniels says.

Steele was also involved in ISIS, DARS and MyUWMadison.
Steele’s ties to the UW–Madison go back to 1941 when his mother graduated from the university. His father later completed post-graduate work at UW–Madison after World War II. His daughter, Meredith, is a 2006 graduate with a bachelor of science in art.

Steele received his bachelor of science at MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Ill., and a masters in theater from Illinois State University.

He and his wife, Patty, were dedicated theater lovers, often attending productions at American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wis. He also enjoyed traveling and listening to escapist fiction audio books.

He is survived by his wife as well as daughters Laurel and Meredith.
Remembrances of Steele are being collected by Owczarek and may be sent to

– Käri Knutson