Harrison Irwin Steans

(1935 – 2019)

Harrison & Lois Steans

“We should always aspire to more than we can accomplish.”

Harrison Irwin Steans (1935-2019)

Harrison Steans receives the Order of Lincoln Award from Governor Rauner, the State’s highest honor.

Harrison Steans receives the Order of Lincoln Award from Governor Rauner, the State’s highest honor.

It was 1988, and the beginning of a resigned Navy Lieutenant’s mission for the next 30 years to create partnerships and increase life options for residents in underserved communities in the Chicagoland area. Everyone connected to Harrison Steans knew he had the heart and unwavering commitment for this assignment. Joined by his wife, Lois and their daughters Jennifer, Heather and Robin, Harrison founded the Steans Family Foundation and began its work supporting the postsecondary aspirations of sixth grade students from the Lathrop Homes in partnership with the I Have A Dream Foundation.

In 1996, the Steans Family Foundation began its longstanding partnership with the North Lawndale community to promote high quality education, increase employment opportunities, advocate for health equity and improve safety for residents.  Harrison was familiar with the need to improve education outcomes in North Chicago and the foundation began an intentional relationship with District 187 in 2016.  To undergird the work in both communities and foster enduring change, Harrison led the charge to embed a robust policy and ecosystem lens to the Foundation’s approach in 2018.

Harrison was a unique human being. Born on July 3, 1935 in Chicago, 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. From 1967 through 1988, Harrison was Chairman of US AmeriBank. During his tenure, 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, he was also Chairman of LaSalle National Bank. In 1994, with his daughter Jennifer, Harrison formed Financial Investments Corporation (FIC) to make private equity investments and to serve as the Steans family office.

Equally comfortable leading in the boardroom or sitting in the back of a North Lawndale school auditorium cheering and crying tears of joy for graduating students, Harrison’s high standards were no secret. Friends and family noted that he expected the same level of excellence from the students at North Lawndale College Prep as he did from his own daughters.  With sincerity and earnestness, Harrison would often engage in deep conversations with young people regarding their grades and aspirations–encouraging them to “dream no small dream”.

And for Harrison, no one was ever too important to be reminded of what he believed was a moral obligation to lift people up. He delivered that message of social justice while at Princeton, urging his fellow classmates to address urban poverty. Throughout his life, he adeptly used his privilege to enlist others in efforts to improve the human condition.

A man of faith with a sense of humor as contagious as his hearty laugh, Harrison’s life embodied the belief that when your talents and the needs of humanity intersect, there lies your calling. Harrison is greatly missed and leaves behind a huge footprint not easily filled, but his legacy of generosity, commitment to education and advocacy for strengthening underserved communities continues to serve as north star for the Foundation.


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