(Published June 15, 2021)
Steve Harms fell in love with the J immediately when he first toured the facility seven years ago. An avid cyclist since riding in the Little 500 while in college at IU, in 2014 Steve suffered a bad accident and shattered his femur (why he now walks with a limp), for which he needed strong and constant rehab after surgery and three months of healing. He checked out the Mordoh Fitness Center on friends’ recommendations (and it helped that he only lives about seven minutes away, in Butler Tarkington) and the rest is history. He’s been a regular ever since, working out three times a week on the elliptical, stationary bike or upper body strength machines.
Over time, as Steve was exposed to additional aspects of the J and its staff, he began to realize just how vital a resource the J is to the wider community – not just as a place for physical fitness and health but also for early childhood education, the arts and more. His personal values system also lines up closely with those the J espouses: “Being compassionate, understanding, being a good role model, a good teacher, giving back to the community. The things that are important to me, they track the core Jewish values right down the line,” he said.
For those reasons, along with his experience being heavily involved with the YMCA of Greater Indianapolis (as a member of its board, a past president of the Jordan Y branch and a YMCA Man of the Year honoree), it was a no-brainer for Steve to decide he wanted to spend some of his time in semi-retirement from his 40-year career in real estate and law helping to make the J even better. “It became apparent to me – this is a big family here and we do so many good things,” he said. “As I learned more and more about all the things the JCC does, I said, ‘I want to get involved. I want to use whatever skills I have to help.'”
Learning to Lead
Steve joined the J’s Board of Directors in 2020 after participating in the agency’s Frank-Larner Leadership Program at the suggestion of Kent Newton, a current JCC Vice Chair. About the program, Steve said, “I would recommend it to anybody, any age, any background. It’s a great exercise in self-analysis. You really get a better idea of your strengths, your weaknesses, where you might want to focus on changing, your relationships with people, just the whole spectrum of your life.”
Steve also gained mentors and colleagues through the leadership program. “My philosophy is, there’s a reason we have two ears and one mouth – I just think it’s very important to listen. [Two-time past JCC board chair] Keith Pitzele is a great sounding board and resource, a real strong force for the J, and [JCC Life Board Member and past Jewish Federation president] Claudette Einhorn is a fountain of information,” he said. “And I was so impressed with [fellow program participants and board members] Mindy Simon and Chelsea Cantu that I asked them to be my Vice Chairs, along with the existings (Newton, Becky Miller, Eric Ratner and Jason Rich).” Steve looks forward to sharing his experience with a new class of participants when the leadership program resumes, likely sometime this fall.
Over the past year, Steve has helped guide the JCC through the COVID-19 pandemic and welcomes the opportunity to lead the organization into brighter days ahead through his one-year term as board chair. “I would rather devote my time to the J than about anything else. To say I’m excited may be an understatement. For me, it’s exciting to be able to be involved in something that is so important to our community. I want to give it everything I’ve got, and I will. [There will be challenges, but] we’ll meet them, beat them and come out better,” he said.
What Makes Steve Smile
Steve and his wife Meg have two grown sons (Jeff and Evan), two granddaughters (Stella and Sofia) and a seven-year-old Bernese Mountain Dog (Emma; at 120 pounds, “she walks me!” he said). When not at the J, Steve likes to spend time in his woodshop (look out for a handmade kudos box at the Welcome Desk, where people will be able to leave nice notes about JCC staff) or grilling out on his Weber. To wind down at the end of the day, he’ll read a Harlan Coben or John Grisham thriller or watch a Coen Brothers, Martin Scorsese or Godfather movie. Steve also enjoys reading history books and counts Barack Obama and Abraham Lincoln among his heroes: “[I admire] people who have been able to meet adversity and, through courage, intelligence and common sense, [are] able to meet and overcome significant obstacles.”