Stephen J. Atkins
Stephen J. Atkins, 78, passed away on August 1, 2023, ending his battle with Parkinson’s disease.
Steve was born July 12, 1945, in Dayton, Ohio, the son of Harry and Adamae (Rice) Atkins. In high school, he was an avid baseball player and dreamed of being in the big leagues. He performed in school plays, learning skills that would serve him well in his later “performances” in public life. He received his bachelor’s (1969) and master’s degrees (1974) from the University of Dayton. It was a combination of working in city hall in the mailroom while in college, and watching his fireman father, that inspired Steve to turn to public service and pursue his Masters in Public Administration.
Steve held city management roles in Escondido, CA, West Hartford, CN, Norton Shores, MI, Eau Claire, WI and Schaumberg, IL before coming to Iowa City in 1986 and becoming the City Manager there for the next 21 years, a tenure unheard of for many managers especially in an intellectually involved community like Iowa City. Steve oversaw numerous large projects—new sewer and water plants, the transformation of downtown, and many others—and managed the public response to a tornado, a flood, and acts of violence. He was beloved by city staff (at least most of them) for his ability to listen, consider new ideas, and be decisive when needed. Steve knew the names of all 500+ employees and was known for his philosophy of “management by walking around”; his door was always open.
Steve was a mentor to many, from job advice to how to tie a tie. Former Mayor Matt Hayek said of Steve: “He was a good man and a mentor to me. I remember meeting him not quite 40 years ago. Our families went out for dinner. Little did I know that at the end of his career, he would teach me a thing or two about local government. What a legacy he left his community.”
When not dealing with public issues, Steve loved raising his daughter, April, and seeing her become a young woman and have a family of her own. His granddaughter, Olivia, is Papa’s treasure. He consumed his quiet moments with painting and reading American history. And then there was baseball. Steve played on the City baseball team as a catcher. Though not his dream of the MLB, he enjoyed games played at the North Side diamond and at the ball field on Mormon Trek. Other spare time activities included serving on the Board of the Johnson County Community Foundation and the United Way of Johnson and Washington Counties.
Stephen is survived by his daughter, April; his son-in-law Rod Neuzil of Iowa City; April’s mother, Judy Atkins; his granddaughter, Olivia; his sister, Susan Atkins Dlouhy of Rockville, MD; his life partner, Karin Franklin of Iowa City; and nieces, nephews, and cousins.
He was preceded in death by his parents, his brother, Michael, and his very special grandfather, Mark Rice.
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