Medical 01

Frank Manuel Steele, MD

January 11, 1925 ~ January 7, 2021 (age 95)


of Kalamazoo, MI

Frank Manuel Steele, MD, died on January 7, 2021, at Friendship Village in Kalamazoo, four days short of his 96th birthday. A man who tried his best to live by Christian values, Frank exhibited caution and humility in his interactions with the world. He was a principled political conservative who embraced honesty, frugality and hard work. His mind was sharp and analytical. Frank was happiest when absorbed in a medical journal or a sporting event, preferably one in which Indiana University or the Chicago Cubs were participating. Indiana winning the National Collegiate Basketball Championship and the Cubs winning the World Series were high points in his life.

Frank was born on January 11, 1925, in Mishawaka, Indiana. He was the middle son of Leora Hahn and Frank Morton Steele, who were schoolteachers at Mishawaka High School. His father was also the head coach of the high school football team that won the Indiana State championship in 1930, using Knute Rockne's four horsemen offense. Frank had an older brother Richard, who was Frank's childhood companion. When the boys were still small, their mother gave birth to their youngest brother Jack, who was stillborn. Frank grew up during the Great Depression, and both the financial and medical realities of that time shaped his character. As a young boy, he learned to put cardboard in his shoes to cover the holes in the soles and to save all the money he made from his paper route. As an adult, Frank often described nearly dying of pneumonia as a little boy, before a local doctor administered a newly available sulpha drug, the first antibiotic on the market. One of his fondest, earliest memories was lying on his father's stomach in the sunroom of their house.

The influence of both his parents on Frank was evident. Like his father, Frank was a natural athlete who played high school basketball against John Wooden's South Bend Central team and became a member of the track team both in high school and in college. He set a long jump record at Mishawaka High School that still stands. On the other hand, his mother was a Latin and History teacher who urged Frank to study hard and learn as much as he could, and Frank excelled in academics. He also worked hard to become an Eagle Scout. When he was finishing high school, World War II was underway. He was recruited by the American military to participate in an accelerated bachelor's and medical degree program. As part of this program, Frank studied at DePauw University, his mother's alma mater, where he joined the Beta Theta Pi fraternity and participated in athletics. He then attended medical school at Indiana University, where he placed second in his class and lettered in track and field.

In high school, Frank had dated Joan Christoph, better known as Chris, who became his wife in 1948. They remained married for sixty-nine years, until her death in 2017. Chris's vivacity and social skills enriched Frank's life enormously, and she became the most important person in his life. After he finished his internship, the Navy transferred Frank first to Colorado and then to California, where Frank worked with quadriplegic veterans.

Once his residency in internal medicine concluded, Frank and Chris moved to Muncie, Indiana, where he practiced medicine and they raised their four children. Frank liked to entertain his children with wild tales that explained the origin of the faint scar on his cheek; for example, walking the plank on a pirate ship, he had been cut on his way into the sea. Frank also enjoyed family nights with everyone scrambling for a shortage of shoes, playing the card games "Spoons" and "Concentration," and participating in Hide and Seek. Camping was his favorite annual family vacation. Over the years, the family camped in Pentwater, in Wisconsin's Door County, in Maine, and across the American West. At night, he liked driving in the dark and singing "Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ral (That's An Irish Lullaby)," loudly and slightly off-key to his wife and children.

Following ten years of practice in Muncie, Frank accepted a two-year, post- doctoral fellowship in infectious disease at Northwestern Medical School. He was proud of being board-certified in three specialties: internal medicine, cardiology and infectious disease. After he left Northwestern, Frank practiced medicine in Kalamazoo, and for more than fifty years, he and Chris were members of the First Presbyterian Church.

When he retired, Frank and Chris became world travelers and daily birdwatchers, spending winters in Destin, Florida and summers at their cottage at Diamond Lake in Cassopolis, Michigan. Post retirement, Frank continued to study and learn. He took courses in computers, creative writing, and he read a great deal of nonfiction, including history, biography, sports and business. In their eighties, Chris and Frank moved to Friendship Village, where they reunited with old friends and made new ones.

Even though quarantine meant that he could not visit with his family during most of 2020, he remained cheerful and relaxed in his final months. One nurse told his daughters that Frank often joked and smiled, bringing light to other residents and the nursing staff during the last year of his life.

Surviving Frank are his three beloved "girls," Kathleen Steele (Joe Saccio) of Palo Alto, CA; Kerri Steele (Steve Nepstad) of Madison, WI; and Jane Steele (Peter Leininger) of Clark's Summit, PA. His parents Leora and Frank, his brother Richard, his wife Chris, and his son Tom all preceded him in death. But Frank leaves five grandchildren: Eva Steele-Saccio (Derya Rose) of San Francisco, CA; Andrew and Lucy Nepstad of Madison, WI; Cameron Leininger of Scranton, PA; and Justine Leininger of Denver, CO.

Frank's family are extremely grateful to the staff members at Woodside in Friendship Village for their kind, attentive care during a time of great stress. Services will be postponed until the pandemic ends. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the First Presbyterian Church in Kalamazoo.

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In Lieu Of Flowers

First Presbyterian Church
321 W. South Street, Kalamazoo

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