GENEVA — The life lesson of leaving something better than you found it makes for a lasting legacy.
The impact Deb Steward has had in the past 16 years at Hobart and William Smith Colleges underscores that motto.
Steward, Associate Vice President and Director of Athletics and Recreation at HWS, announced Tuesday she will retire from her position in mid-November after 16 years with the Colleges.
“When I accepted the position, at that point, I had no intention of retiring,” Steward said in a phone call. “As we have been working our way not only out of Covid but also in respect to where Hobart and William Smith athletics is headed with the growth of sport, I just felt like the ability to dig us out of the hole was going to take every ounce of effort to make sure that my staff was reset. It took more energy out of me than I expected. I really want my staff to have a leader that can have the energy that they require to be as successful as they possibly can be.”
HWS President Joyce Jacobsen appointed Associate Director for Athletics and Recreation and Director of Athletic Compliance Brian Miller to succeed Steward. Miller has been a member of the HWS athletics administration since 2009, holding the title of interim director of athletics for Hobart from 2018-20.
“It’s exciting,” Miller said of his appointment. “It’s my 13th year now at the Colleges, so I’m very honored and humbled to step in for Deb with her retirement. Now that we’ve combined both departments, I get a chance to work with the entire staff now.”
In the meantime, Steward and Miller will work diligently to make sure the transition is seamless when Steward’s retirement date, Nov. 19, arrives.
“I’m completely dedicated to making this transition as seamless as possible,” Steward said. “Brian and I have worked closely for a number of years. He’s been a fantastic colleague, a great teammate, extremely reliable and passionate about HWS.”
Steward served as the William Smith Athletic Director from 2005-20 before being named as Director of Athletics for both Hobart and William Smith Colleges. One month after Steward took on the role of leading both institutions, Covid-19 engulfed the United States. Suddenly, Steward faced a mountainous task ahead: Steer HWS athletics through the most uncertain time since World War II.
“We were probably as low as we’ve been in my 16-plus years here,” Steward said. “I’m proud of the fact that together, we were able to dig our way out of the halting of competition, to no students on campus, to returning our students on campus, to modifying how we practice and engaged with our student-athletes, to now returning to full schedules.”
By the time college athletics returned, the Colleges hired and rehired 25 coaches and established 12 new varsity programs to begin in the next five years, a process Steward said contributed to her burnout.
Nonetheless, she believes she has left HWS athletics in great shape.
“I feel like I’ve left (HWS Colleges) in a better place, especially considering the last two years where we were,” she said. “I couldn’t be more proud of the people who are in (coaching) positions as well as our student-athletes.”
Prior to coming to Geneva, Miller served as athletic director at D’Youville College. Working with Steward has prepared him well for the journey ahead, he said.
“She is unbelievable. Deb is someone who I have an incredible amount of respect for,” Miller said. “Just the fact that she was able to navigate and get us through all that craziness, she has incredible skills as far as building relationships, managing budgets.
“I’ve watched her over the years in how she handled first the William Smith department. She really has been a great role model and truly a great friend.”
Steward was honored with the 2014 ECAC Division III Female Administrator of the Year and the 2017 Women Leaders in College Sports Division III Administrator of the Year. She also broke the Colleges’ 24-hour fundraising record of more than $800,000.
Besides being able to recover and recuperate after a long 18 months of pandemic playbook planning, Steward said she looks most forward to saying “yes” to family and friends more often.
“My focus has been on supporting our student-athletes, and that comes with a pretty rigid schedule and at times, some uncertainty,” she said. “I do look forward to spending more time with family and friends and saying ‘yes’ to some fun things that are ahead.”