Larry Steinhart: Social worker, avid two-wheeler, multifaceted volunteer

Known by many for his wry sense of humor, Larry Steinhart, 84, died peacefully on July 3. He had been in home hospice for 13 months.

Originally from Los Angeles, where his Polish immigrant parents settled in the 1930s, Larry attended local public schools; after graduation, he transferred from UCLA to UC Berkeley in 1954 to complete a Bachelor’s Degree. His brother-in-law Irv, who had attended UC Berkeley, encouraged the move. Irv told Larry he could spread his wings in Berkeley and have a more fulfilled life. Let’s just say Irv was prescient!

Larry worked in a University of California library while he completed his undergraduate studies. In 1960, after graduating, Larry traveled across the country on his motorcycle for a research job for one of his professors. In Tarrytown, NY, his plan was upturned when a driver opened his car door as Larry approached on his motorcycle. With what turned out to be lifelong neck pain, Larry made his way back to the Bay Area and landed a social work job in Contra Costa County. Larry also participated in SLATE, the campus movement that preceded the Free Speech Movement. Though he was no longer a Cal student, he was regularly called upon to fix SLATE’s malfunctioning printing press.

Somehow, the 1960 accident, plus two subsequent motorcycle accidents in 1961 — with his future wife as his passenger — didn’t dissuade Larry from riding two-wheelers. For many years he was an avid cyclist, commuting to work on his bicycle, completing several one-day century rides, and a week-long back roads trip through the Gold Country.

In 1961, Larry was accepted to UC Berkeley’s Master in Social Welfare program. The previous spring, as his county job was coming to an end, Larry serendipitously met Bobbie (Klein), a recent arrival from Los Angeles who shared a friend in Larry’s political circle. Quickly, a romance blossomed and Bobbie moved into Larry’s perfectly adequate $65 a month Regent Street apartment in Berkeley. Larry’s social work job ended August 31st, and they married the next day, September 1, 1961 at the Alameda County Courthouse.

Larry received his MSW in 1963, and secured a job at Richmond’s Neighborhood House. He subsequently worked for Contra Costa County Child Protective Services and for several years at the UC Berkeley campus childcare program. During the renovation of the Steinhart’s Berkeley home, Larry left the childcare program to “apprentice” the trades. Following that five-year hiatus from professional work, he returned to social work half time at the Children’s Hospital Oakland Child Development Center. Larry remained at CHO until his retirement in December of 1994. From that time, and for another 10 years until Bobbie’s retirement, he was a sought-after handyman. Wherever Larry worked, he acquired the reputation as an ethical, sensitive, collaborative, sensible, supportive and often very funny colleague. He earned accolades for his homemade breads and other culinary contributions.

Larry loved and was devoted to Bobbie and they shared too-many-to-remember experiences and travel adventures. He loved and was supremely proud of his children, Rachel and Daniel, both of whom were devoted to him and remained intimately involved as Larry aged and his health declined. While they attended Cragmont Elementary School, Larry regularly volunteered in their classrooms. At Martin Luther King Jr Middle School he led “mystery rides” for Jack Ball’s cycling classes. Years later, he volunteered in a kindergarten class at Rosa Parks Elementary, until sitting on the little chairs became too much for his neck. Notably, Larry was a committed blood donor, providing over five gallons of life-saving type A+ and, on occasion, platelets. His other volunteer stints included the then-fledgling Berkeley Community Mediation program, the Berkeley AARP home-repair program, the ACLU phone line, and numerous progressive political campaigns. An early supporter of Howard Dean for president, Larry was instrumental in organizing monthly letter writing potlucks in the Steinhart’s’ home. The list of his contributions and impact on others is endless.

Larry is survived by his wife of nearly 60 years, his two adult children, granddaughter Maya, and step granddaughters Madison and Morgan. Larry was extraordinary. His death leaves a huge void. Please direct remembrances to your preferred social justice cause. For information about a planned memorial, email bobbie.steinhart@gmail.com