Frank Steely, the founding president of Northern Kentucky University, died Monday morning at Highland Spring in Fort Thomas of natural causes. He was 85.
Mr. Steely served as NKU’s president from December 1969 to September 1975 and taught history until 2001.
“He always said he never stepped in a classroom when he wasn’t glad to be there,” said his wife, Martha Pelfrey of Cold Spring.
He started as president when NKU was founded as Northern Kentucky State College and completed his tenure when the university featured 6,000 students, 150 professors and six buildings on the Highland Heights campus. It now has nearly 16,000 students.
In a statement, NKU President Jim Votruba called Mr. Steely “the human cornerstone of this university.”
“Frank Steely was given the Herculean task of building a university from the ground up – and he succeeded,” Votruba said in a statement.
A native of a small town in western Kentucky near Murray, Mr. Steely earned degrees from the University of South Carolina, the University of Kentucky and Rochester University.
He was dean of Clinch Valley College in Virginia when he was named president of Northern Kentucky State College in 1969. The school changed its name to Northern Kentucky University in 1976.
In the first year, classes at the college were located in houses and barns and the music practice room was held in a renovated dog kennel.
“We had no staff, no students, no budget and no buildings,” recalled Ken Lucas, the former congressman and a founding member of NKU’s Board of Regents. “We literally started from scratch.”
Milestones during Mr. Steely’s tenure included the merger with Salmon P. Chase College of Law in 1972, the move to the Highland Heights campus, and the first conditional accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
Mr. Steely is survived by Pelfrey; his first wife, Isoetta Steely of Fort Thomas; son, William Steely of Clarksville, Tenn.; daughter, Lisa Steely of Jacksonville, Fla.; five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Visitation will be held from 3 to 7 p.m. Thursday (12/2) at First Baptist Church, 4410 Alexandria Pike in Cold Spring, with services to follow.
Burial will be at 2 p.m. Friday (12/3) at Hazel Cemetery in Hazel, Ky.
Memorial gifts may be directed to the Northern Kentucky University Foundation, Suite 221, Lucas Administrative Center, Highland Heights, KY 41099.
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Northern Kentucky University's First President Passes Away
This may not seem like big news to some, but it is to Matt and me. Without Frank Steely's leadership, NKU may never have succeeded and he and I may never have ended up there. Frank Steely, though I never had him in class, was a mentor to me. I spoke with him several times during my time at NKU, and as a member of Phi Alpha Theta, the school's history honor society. Steely was an amazing man who will be missed but whose legacy will last forever. From the Cincinnati Enquirer: