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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

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Leonard Steinbach, a man of purpose and many passions, dead at 71

A life lived by the mantra ‘If not now, then when?’
A headshot of Stony Brook alum Leonard Steinbach along with The Statesman group photo in 1974. Steinbach passed away at 71 on Jan. 19. PHOTO COURTESY OF RUTH BONAPACE 

Shortly after graduating from Stony Brook University in 1974, Leonard Steinbach, who also went by “Lenny” and “Len,” threw a party on the Brooklyn Bridge pedestrian walkway with his friends. They set up chairs, tables and John Marburger, the president of Stony Brook at the time, had attended the party. 

“If not now, then when?” That was a phrase Steinbach lived by before his sudden death at the age of 71 on Jan. 19. During a wellness check, he was found unresponsive in his home in Forest Hills the day after not showing up to dinner with his friends. Although no autopsy was done, the medical examiner ruled his cause of death was a heart attack. 

Steinbach lived life seizing every opportunity. 

“He just had a capacity to keep going and doing,” Ruth Bonapace, a former managing editor of The Statesman and Stony Brook alum of 1976, said. “He was very spontaneous but also purposeful.”

Bonapace recounted the time when she and Steinbach planned on meeting at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine to attend the summer solstice concert held there. She had to wake up around 3 a.m. to get there at 4 a.m., and she and Steinbach went to grab breakfast before heading home afterward. While talking, they had planned to meet up later that day to see an exhibit in the Museum of Modern Art. After visiting the museum, Steinbach persuaded her to attend another concert with him later that night. 

“[That] was like a typical Len thing,” Bonapace said. “One of his things which I was thinking about when this happened was one of his philosophies was ‘if not now, then when?’”

Similar to Bonapace, Bob Schwartz — former business manager of The Statesman and Stony Brook alum of 1974 — recalled his favorite memory of Steinbach.

“He once took me up on the roof of the Guggenheim Museum … up on the roof of the rotunda,” Schwartz said. “To me, that was a very typical Lenny story: ‘Let’s do something strange in a museum that very few people get to do.’”

Steinbach was the first Chief Technology Officer at the Guggenheim Museum. 

“He was one of the first people to come up with the tunneling protocol with private internet connections which is actually used now,” Lawrence Rubin, former photo editor of The Statesman and Stony Brook alum of 1974, said. “He didn’t invent it, but he was able to employ it.” 

Steinbach also worked as the Chief Information Officer at the Cleveland Museum and as a teacher in Hong Kong for a few years. His friends recall him being passionate about the arts.

“He always had a unique perspective on things, he had a way of looking at things a little bit differently than anyone else and I think that drove a lot of his creativity,” Schwartz said. “He was a very creative person.”

Bonapace shared similar views of Steinbach. 

“He was really brilliant not just in his field, but was obsessed with the arts and had so many different interests like the circus,” she said. “I think to me the circus embodied one of the main things he will be remembered for.”

After Steinbach and his friends graduated from Stony Brook, he organized trips and activities for them to do to stay in touch. At first, he would invite people to the U.S. Open Tennis Championships because the stadium was not far from his house. When his friends started getting married and having kids, he organized trips to the Big Apple Circus. 

On his circus trips, he would make sure to buy each of his friends’ kids a circus book inscribed with the words “from Len.” 

“He wanted to instill his love of circus arts to the adults but also to the kids, and that’s why he bought them the books. Len just got this enormous amount of pleasure out of the idea that his circus books have lived on with these kids,” Bonapace said. “I remember him telling me with enormous pride that he went to a friend’s house and there on a bookshelf are all these circus books — like maybe five or six of them on a kid’s bookshelf.”

Steinbach pictured with a clown nose at the Big Apple Circus. He loved organizing and taking trips to the circus. Courtesy of Ruth Bonapace

Bonapace went on to describe how Steinbach “opened the world to other people.”

Steinbach was not just knowledgeable about the arts but also chocolate, Schwartz shared. 

“He gathered chocolate from all over the world, and at least once a year he’d bring me chocolate from some obscure place,” Schwartz said. “My wife and I, late last year, we were in Ecuador which is a country that has a lot of chocolate. I actually brought back a bunch of chocolate to give to Lenny and sadly didn’t get it to him soon enough.” 

However, Schwartz explained that every year he hosts a beef bourguignon dinner at his house with a group of his friends, which included Steinbach.  

“A whole bunch of us are having dinner together at my house [really soon], and I’m sure we’re going to distribute Lenny’s chocolate and everybody will take a bite,” Schwartz said.

Another passion that Steinbach had was technology. 

“His expertise in technology and museums was unsurpassed by anybody,” Schwartz said. “Lenny was a very handy guy who could fix anything, whether it was air conditioners or televisions or boats.”

Steinbach also loved collecting and rebuilding radios.

“Another one of his passions [was] radios. I have one of his radios that he gave me because he started giving them away … he had too many. He would collect radios from the 1940s, ‘50s,” Bonapace explained. “He got a lot of satisfaction out of the fact that he could turn this radio on that was like 80 years old.”

His love for rebuilding radios traces back to his childhood. 

“I remember … his parents were into fixing TVs, and he lived in a place that was filled with old television sets. It was kind of funny,” Rubin said. 

Steinbach spent a year traveling the world and learning about new cultures. He spent his 60th birthday skydiving and loved going to concerts and museum exhibits. In the summers, Steinbach and Schwartz would take a week off from work and go to Maine together.

 Bonapace described Steinbach as “living his inner child,” and “not ashamed to do that, he was very proud of it.” 

During his time at Stony Brook, he got the name “Lump” after Rubin found him asleep on the floor of the Stony Brook Union and mentioned that he looked like one. Rubin explained that Steinbach was “offended at that.”

“He definitely had an influence on my life in a very good way. I was really honored to know such a guy. I don’t really meet many people like Lenny,” Rubin said. “It’s really sad that he’s gone and I’ll miss him a lot. Even though I didn’t talk with him [as much after Stony Brook], I always knew he was there and I would always email him.”

Steinbach on Rubin’s dorm bed checking out a camera. This was taken on Aug. 14, 1973. Courtesy of Lawrence Rubin.

Steinbach was born on July 11, 1952 to Julie and Gerson Steinbach, and is survived by his younger sister Sharon Steinbach. He graduated from Stony Brook in 1974. He was married briefly before he got divorced and never married again. 

Steinbach was loved by many and will be remembered for his love of cultures, Belgium chocolate, the circus, as well as his adventurous soul and knowledge.

“He was the kind of person that had a lot of knowledge but wasn’t selfish with his knowledge. He didn’t just keep it inside, he wanted to inform, educate [and] share his passions with other people hoping that it would ignite passion in them,” Bonapace said. “People say ‘huge loss,’ but it’s just like ripping a part of my life away.”

A Statesman reunion at Stony Brook University on April 1, 2017. Steinbach is second from the right. Courtesy of Ruth Bonapace.
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About the Contributor
Mariam Guirgis
Mariam Guirgis, Assistant News Editor
Mariam is an Assistant News Editor at The Statesman. She is a second-year journalism minoring in political science. When she's not editing news articles, she is deeply involved with her Church community, planning events and hanging out with friends.
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Comments (4)

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  • M

    Marsha Pravder MirkinFeb 19, 2024 at 4:55 pm

    So very sad but a wonderful article. Lenny was one of those people who was friendly and positive in the way he interacted with all of us at Statesman. He contributed so much to the paper and did so with a smile. This is a beautiful article about a beautiful man…may he rest in peace,..
    Marsha Pravder Mirkin

    Reply
    • B

      Bob TiernanFeb 26, 2024 at 6:15 pm

      Lenny was always thoughtful and innovative in everything he did.
      Thanks for a moving article about someone who loved Stony Brook and The Statesman.

      Reply
      • S

        Sharon SteinbachMar 6, 2024 at 2:41 pm

        Hi Bob, this is Lenny’s sister. Thank you for your lovely comment. To this day, he still has many friends from his Stoney Brook days who are saddened by this shocking news. If you are local, you are welcome to join his friends and I for a memorial celebration of his life. Please feel free to share.

        Sunday, March 31, 2024, New York City
        Where: Dixon Place, 161A Chrystie Street, New York, NY 10002
        Doors Open: 12:30 pm
        1:00 pm: Service led by Rabbi David Evan Marcus followed by Eulogies and Audience Tributes
        2:00 to 3:30 pm: Reception, Socializing, Refreshments

        Reply
    • S

      Sharon SteinbachMar 6, 2024 at 2:39 pm

      Hi Marsha, this is Lenny’s sister. Thank you for your kind words! If you are local, you are welcome to join his friends and I for a memorial celebration of his life. Please feel free to share.

      Sunday, March 31, 2024, New York City
      Where: Dixon Place, 161A Chrystie Street, New York, NY 10002
      Doors Open: 12:30 pm
      1:00 pm: Service led by Rabbi David Evan Marcus followed by Eulogies and Audience Tributes
      2:00 to 3:30 pm: Reception, Socializing, Refreshments

      Reply