C.Y. Stephens technical director retires after 40 years

After more than 40 years, Steve Harder retires from technical director. His retirement reception will be held from 4-6 p.m. Thursday at Stephens Auditorium.

Courtesy of Iowa State Center

After more than 40 years, Steve Harder retires from technical director. His retirement reception will be held from 4-6 p.m. Thursday at Stephens Auditorium.

Maggie Curry

After more than 40 years, Steve Harder will say goodbye to C.Y. Stephens Auditorium. There will be a retirement reception from 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday on the stage of Stephens Auditorium. Attendees can enter through the south stage door.

Staying for 40 years was not something Harder had planned.

“I had opportunities to move up in management,” Harder said. “It was a job that always seemed to be interesting enough, [and] I wasn’t looking for anything else.” 

Harder officially joined the staff in 1975 and became technical director in the 1980s. He had been around Stephens since its opening in 1969.

Harder was a student at Iowa State when he joined the stage crew for the last “Stars over VEISHEA” performance in the Armory. When the show moved to Stephens Auditorium the following year, Harder went with.

From there, Harder worked his way to foreman, the position in charge of the crew on event days. Harder is only the second technical director in the history of Stephens. He recalls the first technical director, Lou Barger, as having difficulty adjusting to the different events that came to campus.

“He was old school,” Harder said. “[Lou Barger]’s parents had been in traveling theater.” 

During Barger and Harder’s time, events at the auditorium evolved to include large-scale traveling rock musicians, comedians, theater and orchestra concerts. Harder was present to see how former president James H. Hilton and Clifford Y. Stephens’ idea for the Iowa State Center as a learning center came to fruition.

“It was a window to the world,” Harder said. “The internet wasn’t there. You didn’t have 500 cable channels.”

Over the last 40 years, Stephens Auditorium has been a place to expose students to different cultures and experiences, hosting Russian ballets even during the Cold War. Harder especially appreciated the Martha-Ellen Tye Youth Matinee Series for introducing children to live performance.

“Everyone’s used to videos at home,” Harder said. “For people to have the opportunity to see live performance [is] truly special.” 

One thing Harder hopes the university continues to do after his retirement is focus on supporting the center and maintaining the live performance spaces, which are approaching 50 years.

Another enjoyable aspect of Harder’s job was the students he worked with. In his time with Stephens Auditorium, Harder had the opportunity to see multiple groups of student leaders come and go. He said he felt working with the students helped him as a parent and being a parent helped him with the students.

“Interacting with university students keeps you fresh,” Harder said.

Former students have gone on to professional careers in theater, including the Des Moines Civic Center director.

Harder and his wife spent the week following his retirement preparing to move to Colorado, where their children currently live. They expect their first grandchild in July.

For more information, visit the Iowa State Center website