Former State Fair Community College President Dr. Stephen Milton Poort died on July 14 in his home in Germantown, Tennessee, at 81, according to his obituary. Poort was born in Topeka, Kansas, on Sept. 16, 1939, to Milton and Edith Poort. His obituary listed Poort, who originally started as a high school teacher, as having had a 35-year career in post-secondary education.
“He helped to begin State Fair Community College in Sedalia, MO where he served as the first Dean of Academic Affairs,” the obituary said.
Continuing, it listed he served at several other institutions for other positions in education, such as Vice President for Instruction and Campus Director. He served as the president of Three Rivers Community College in Poplar Bluff, before returning to State Fair Community College to be the third president. In addition, he was married to Donna Marie Dunlap for 58 years and they have two daughters, Kelly and Nicole, along with five grandchildren.
According to a SFCC information release, Poort was the fourth employee to be hired by the college when it first opened in 1968, serving as the college’s first Dean of Academic Affairs until 1972. During this time, SFCC was known as “Plywood U” due to how the college did not yet have permanent buildings and used temporary structures for classes instead. As the release noted, Poort returned to serve as school president in 1997 and he retired in 2003, during which two facilities were built on campus, the Daum Museum of Contemporary Art and the Davis Multipurpose Center.
“Steve (Poort) really had a heart for education,” SFCC President Dr. Joanna Anderson said. “Obviously, when you look at the amount of years he dedicated to serving as, you know, starting out as an instructor in a school system, and then moving into (the) community college realm and leadership, and eventually being State Fair Community College president, (which) was his final position…
“I would just say, professionally, that Steve liked to grow things, build things, and he was very interested in that whole construction building process here at State Fair,” she continued.
Anderson said Poort’s impact on the college was significant with two important facilities being built on campus during his presidency.
As Faith Lovell recalled, who was an administrator during Poort’s presidency, it was Poort who first hired her to work at SFCC in 1969 or 1970. She noted she worked with Poort for a total of five years: two years after she was hired, and then for three years during the 1990s. However, when Poort was away from State Fair, she said they never totally disconnected, especially when he was the school president at Three Rivers Community College.
“Steve was always happy,” she said. “We knew him … for his reputation as a great jokester. And he inspired laughter wherever he went, with the community, with the college. I don’t mean that he wasn’t a serious educator … but he was just a happy, inspiring person wherever he was.”
When she first worked with him, Poort’s approach was to be inclusive, according to Lovell.
“Everybody had a responsibility, everybody was included, everybody was part of the team,” she said, finding it to be true when Poort returned to the college.
Lovell noted it was great to work with him, citing how being happy to be at work was something that was contagious around Poort. She recalled he was as hospitable and charming when he came back to the college as when he first met him.
“The first thing that you notice about Steve is his personality,” Bob Hoskins said, citing it as strong.
Hoskins was on the Board of Trustees at the time of Poort’s school presidency.
“I don’t think he ever met a stranger,” he continued. “He can walk up and, you know, start talking to somebody, and he’ll find out something (that’s) of interest to both of them.”
As school president, every idea he had was a good idea, according to Hoskins, but you had to “reign him in” sometimes. He explained Poort was a good talker, was enthusiastic about everything, and wanted to do many things. He noted Poort was always upbeat and had energy, regardless of the time of day.
“He definitely loved the college,” Hoskins added.
According to Lovell, Poort never forgot the day that he hired her.
“Steve was my mentor and I mourn his passing,” she said. “He was a friend, colleague, a mentor, and, you know, most of all, he opened the door for me to become an educator and I will forever be grateful to him for that.”
According to Anderson, he was a significant contributor and leader of their institution, adding they send their condolences to his family.
“We’re sad… to learn of his passing,” she said. “But, you know, he will be remembered for the building, and the progress our institution made while he was here.”