Remembering Director of Memorial Union, Steve Winfrey


Director of Memorial Union, Steve Winfrey, passes away at 53. Photo courtesy of Inside Iowa State.

Steve Winfrey, former director of the Memorial Union and adviser to Student Government, died at Israel Family Hospice House April 19 at 53 years old.

Winfrey was loved by his family, friends and co-workers. He held the title of the Memorial Union (MU) director for almost six years before losing his battle to pancreatic cancer. He contributed to renovations to the building and worked to create a welcoming environment for students of diverse backgrounds and majors.

“This is a great loss for Iowa State University,” stated Toyia Younger, the vice president of student affairs, in an email response.

Younger stated that Winfrey had deeply impacted the Memorial Union since his hiring.

“Steve revitalized the vision and mission of the Memorial Union, creating spaces and opportunities for Cyclones to make memories,” Younger stated.

Younger said Winfrey was collaborative in nature and a big dreamer.

“He contributed to numerous positive changes in and around the MU including the renovation of the top floors, the support of the National Pan-Hellenic Council Plaza, the refurbishing of CyBowl and Billiards, updates with the MU food court and more,” Younger stated.

Younger stated Winfrey understood that Iowa State’s “living room of campus” was so much more—it was a place where students could authentically be themselves, build friendships and community through clubs and organizations, express themselves through art, eat with friends and provide hands-on learning for hundreds of student employees.

Younger stated Winfrey treated the MU staff like family and got to know them individually through deep conversations, staffing late-night events and being present through tough days.

“Steve had the biggest heart—always finding the good in those around him and never taking credit for the immeasurable impact he had on others,” Younger stated.

Younger stated Winfrey knew that the MU is an incredibly important landmark at ISU that serves as a welcoming and familiar place for all students, alumni, and Cyclone fans. She added that he grew and expanded the offerings at the MU that will leave a lasting legacy at ISU for years to come.

Kristine Heflin, associate director of the MU for student engagement, said she was hired two years before Winfrey’s hiring as the director of the MU in 2017.

“Steve really had a vision for this building; I think he came at a time when we knew there were some repairs that were needed and we knew there were lots of spaces that needed updating,” she said.

Heflin said Winfrey had led the way with renovating the fourth, fifth and sixth floor for student services offices. Heflin added that the MU staff is working to do some wayfinding updates, repainting and refreshing; however, she sees Winfrey’s presence within the building’s different spaces.

“I think when you come in the building, for me, you actually see the kind of fingerprints all over the building, in the spaces,” Heflin said. “There are already plans in motion for updates this coming year that we’re hoping to continue with because we know that’s what he would have wanted.”

Heflin said Winfrey knew the names of everyone on the MU staff. She said he cared about the success of everyone on the staff.

“I think [he knew] his leadership team [well], but it’s also true for our custodians and the folks that work in event management,” Heflin said.

Heflin said Winfrey ensured she and the rest of the MU staff had a good work-life balance and it was evident he genuinely cared about his staff and everyone around him.

“I think everyone felt like Steve genuinely cared about their success professionally, but also as a person, he was interested in our families, he wanted to make sure we balanced work and life,” Heflin said.

Heflin said Winfrey understood the mission of the MU, and created a space where students could feel comfortable to be themselves.

“That’s really what he was working towards in all of his visions for the building– to really be a place for students to have the things that they need and be able to serve them and for people to feel like this is a place where they belong,” Heflin said.

Heflin said Winfrey had his own special leadership programs that he worked on specifically as the director and enjoyed working with students, mentoring them and ensuring they would be successful.

Edward Mahoney, a graduate student in computer science and professional student senator, said the passing of Winfrey has had an abrupt and significant effect on the Student Government’s members.

“None of us really knew he was sick,” Mahoney said. “It was all really sudden.”

Mahoney said he did not work with Winfrey often, but among other advisers, Winfrey especially worked to create a community and ensure the Student Government worked to make Iowa State a welcoming and overall accepting place.

“I’ve been a student here since 2017, and the changes to the Memorial Union have been one of the most memorable things about his engagement at Iowa State, ” Mahoney said. “What he did with the renovations of especially the [top] floors of the MU completely changed the look and feel of it.”

Mahoney said members of Student Government were upset and shared grievances for the loss of Winfrey at their meeting Thursday.

“Tears were definitely shed–he’s going to be missed within Student Government and at Iowa State,” Mahoney said.

A visitation was held Thursday at the Memorial Union, followed by a vigil service.

A funeral mass was held at 3 p.m. Friday, at Saint Cecilia Catholic Church, with additional visitation held for one hour before the Mass.

Friends and family gathered at CyBowl & Billiards at the MU Friday to celebrate Steve’s life.