Memorial at Noble honors Steve Kanner
Steve Kanner loved creating spaces that brought people together and fostered a sense of belonging and community. That is exactly what his memorial at Noble Elementary School is designed to do.
Kanner, a Heights High graduate (1978) and father of Mira Whitaker-Kanner, a Heights Middle School seventh-grader, was treasurer of the Noble PTA when he died unexpectedly in August 2015.
The PTA worked with his wife, Karly Whitaker, to install a memorial—a weeping cherry tree and a bench—on the school playground. “To see people sitting on that bench, listening to kids laughing and watching them play—there’s nothing that would make Steven happier,” said Whitaker.
The dedication of the memorial was held at Noble Elementary School on Sunday, July 1, the morning after Mira’s bat mitzvah, which included many out-of-town family and friends. The community was also invited to celebrate the life and legacy of Steven Kanner, a man who was deeply committed to his neighborhood public school.
“Steve believed that schools aren't just for the children; they’re community centers for everyone,” said Whitaker.
Kanner’s involvement at Noble included establishing a scholarship fund so that all students could participate in after-school activities, spearheading a potluck dinner to engage the families of refugee students, and organizing speaker series for Women’s History Month that included female judges, business owners, elected officials to engage students and present examples of what women could accomplish. As someone who majored in women’s studies and childcare at Miami of Ohio, Kanner was a “passionate feminist,” according to his wife.
He was also everybody’s cheerleader, said Summer Watterson, who took over the PTA treasurer job following Kanner’s death. “Steve believed in every bad idea,” she said. “He would always say, ‘How can we make this work?’”
His constant desire to bring people together combined with his free-spirited approach to life will be well represented by the memorial on the Noble playground. “Karly nailed it with this idea,” said Watterson. “The tree, a living thing that will bring beauty to this space, and the bench, a place for people to sit and be together. To me, that’s who Steve was.”
The school’s PTA helped Whitaker organize an online fundraiser to purchase the tree, bench, and the accompanying plaques. The tree bears a bronze image of the famous “War is not healthy for children and other living things” painting, while the bench features a Bruce Springsteen quote that was a favorite of Kanner’s: “It ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive.”
Whitaker hopes the space will be a comfort to her daughter, a place she can visit and think of her father. “Mira was definitely a daddy’s girl,” said Whitaker.
Krissy Dietrich Gallagher
Krissy Dietrich Gallagher is a longtime resident of Cleveland Heights, a graduate of the Heights schools and a former Coventry School teacher. She is a freelance journalist under contract with the CH-UH communications department.