Margaret Ruth Leisy Steineger, a longtime supporter of state and local arts, civic and historical groups, passed away peacefully of natural causes on May 16.
Margaret, wife of longtime Kansas State Sen. Jack Steineger, was committed to making the community a better place and devoted countless hours and much energy to a wide range of endeavors. She was instrumental in preventing the demolition of Grinter Place Historic Site, helped establish the Wyandotte County Library, fostered arts throughout the state and provided numerous other benefits for the community.
She worked to establish the Friends of Grinter Place in 1960, later serving as board president. She was instrumental in helping preserve the building from neglect and listing it on the National Register of Historic Places. As a board member, she was instrumental in establishing a popular community event called Applefest, which celebrated pioneer activities and the historical significance of Grinter Place, and she helped establish the Grinter Barn Community Center. In 2009, she was named Friends of Grinter Place Friend of the Year.
She was a board member of the Junior League of Kansas City, Kan., where she helped establish the Wyandotte County library and served as an adviser for committees on education, community affairs, public affairs and cultural affairs.
She was an inaugural board member of the Kansas Arts Commission, when it was created in 1965 and served on the board for many years, including as chair in 1979.
She also served on numerous other boards, including the Kaw Valley Arts and Humanities Council, United Way, Landmarks Commission, Arts with the Handicapped, Tri-County Tourism Council, KCK Friends of the Library, Shepherd’s Center, Kansas Legislative Wives, Wyandotte County Bar Auxiliary, Community College Endowment Board and Parents as Teachers.
She was active in the Wyandotte County Historical Society, the League of Women Voters, Council of Clubs, Friends of the Library, Kansas City Ballet Guild, the Civic Ballet Association, the Women’s Philharmonic Association, Friends of the Philharmonic, P.E.O., the Kappa Kappa Gamma Sorority alumna club and the German-American Edelweiss Society.
She was a lifelong believer in the power of education, and in the 1960s and 1970s, she frequently served as a substitute teacher at Muncie Elementary School, creating lasting memories for many of the students she taught.
Through the years, many groups honored Margaret for her contributions. In 1978, she was named Citizen of the Year for Kansas City, Kan., and in 1989, she was awarded the Humanities Award by the Kansas Commission for the Humanities.
Margaret was born Feb. 8, 1926, in Newton, Kan., and grew up in Dallas, Texas. There, she graduated from Highland Park High School in 1944 and Southern Methodist University in 1947. Her father, Professor Ernest E. Leisy, taught at SMU, where he was instrumental in establishing the study of American literature.
She met her future husband while earning a master’s degree at the University of Kansas. They married in 1949 and moved to Washington, D.C., where he worked for the U.S. State Department. Between 1950 and 1957, Jack served as cultural attaché and the couple lived in Frankfort and Munich, Germany, and Baghdad, Iraq. They also traveled extensively in Italy, Austria, Spain, France and Switzerland.
In 1957, the couple returned to Kansas City, Kan., where the original Steineger family had settled in the 1860s. The couple quickly became active in local affairs. Jack was elected to the Kansas State Senate in 1964, serving for 28 years, and Margaret became active in numerous civic groups while raising four children.
She was always proud of her Mennonite heritage. Her grandfather, H.P. Krehbiel, helped found Bethel College in Newton, Kan,, which both her parents, Elva and Ernest attended, and she was well-versed in Mennonite history.
She is predeceased by her husband, Jack Steineger, brothers Dr. Melvern Leisy and James Leisy, an author and composer. She is survived by four children, John F. Steineger III of Denver, Col., Cindy Steineger Blair of San Diego, Calif., Melissa Steineger of Portland, Ore., and former State Sen. from Wyandotte County’s Sixth District Chris Steineger of Kansas City, Kan., and survived by one grandchild, Kisha Kristine Steineger of Lawrence, Kan.
A celebration of life will be held 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, June 14, at Grinter House, 1420 S. 78 St., Kansas City, Kan. The family asks that in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to Friends of Grinter Place, 1420 S. 78 St., Kansas City, Kan. 66111.