Obituary: Paul Sidney Steiner / President of Oakmont firm designed models for industry

Jan. 12, 1929 - May 25, 2014

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Paul Sidney Steiner, 85, an engineer who spent much of his life manufacturing scale models for various industries, died Sunday at UPMC Shadyside due to an aggressive non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Mr. Steiner spent nearly 40 years as president of Visual Industrial Products, based first in Oakmont and then in Indianola, a manufacturer of scale models for a variety of industries.

The company changed its applications as industries came and went, designing models for the petrochemical, steel, space, nuclear and metalworking industries at different points during Mr. Steiner's tenure, though the evolution stopped at the advent of computer-aided design technology.

But the commitment to adaptation and learning new fields and technologies stayed with Mr. Steiner until his death.

His son, Craig Steiner of West Chester, Pa., said two days before his father died, he had hushed a conversation with a family member so he could pay closer attention to CNBC, a business news television channel.

"When he died, he was still sharp," Craig Steiner said.

"He was an engineer from day one till the day he died," said his daughter, Ilene Illovsky of Moraga, Calif.

Born in the Flatbush area of New York City's Brooklyn borough, Mr. Steiner had what his family described as a simplistic upbringing. He attended Haaren High School, a vocational school in Manhattan, and later briefly attended Brooklyn College and the Pratt Institute studying engineering and design. He also served in the Army Corps of Engineers during the Korean War at Fort Belvoir in Virginia.

Mr. Steiner arrived in Oakland in 1956 initially as a part of an expansion team of a steel company based in Delaware.

When the company started to perform poorly and the president felt that he needed to close or sell it, Mr. Steiner bought the company and became its president and chief salesperson, his family said.

Under Mr. Steiner, the company became Visual Industrial Products and made scale models for a variety of industries and applications.

Mr. Steiner's children recalled projects such as a petrochemical plant in Iran that Mr. Steiner was involved in 1979 while the shah was being overthrown, and a room-sized model of a nuclear power plant for the Smithsonian National Museum of American History's exhibit on the history of American industry.

According to his wife, Rochelle, Mr. Steiner took care of his employees, offering a four-day work week. The employees appreciated his kindness so much that they even voted against unionizing when the issue was raised, Mrs. Steiner said.

"When the industry was going down, he had about 12 employees," his son recalled. "He called his competitors, and he basically found everyone a job. When the last employee found a job, he closed the doors."

Following the business's closing in the late 1990s, Mr. Steiner worked for 10 more years in the industry before retiring.

After many years in Churchill, he and his wife moved to Shadyside to experience the conveniences and cultures of city living.

They became members at three theaters and traveled the world.

"Paul and Rochelle -- I don't think they ever had an argument," said Irving Beyda of North Bethesda, Md., who was Mr. Steiner's close friend and best man at his wedding. "They were very dedicated to each other and to their families."

Jodi Dickman of Pittsburgh, whose father was an exhibit salesman who worked with Mr. Steiner, also enjoyed getting to know the Steiners.

"They went everywhere together. They were very active as a couple -- very youthful, and very comfortable around people of all ages," she said.

"He was just a very gentle soul. You just got really comfortable with him as soon as you met him."

Mr. Steiner also took classes at Carnegie Mellon University in topics such as history, investment behavior and robotics through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

But Mr. Steiner's son remembers his father best as a family man -- specifically through viewing Mr. Steiner's interactions with his granddaughters.

"It was very, very sweet to watch him grow older and be more family oriented because he was less occupied by his business and just have all that love, which he showered on our children," Craig Steiner said.

In addition to his wife and two children, Mr. Steiner is survived by five granddaughters.

The family held a private service for Mr. Steiner on Monday, which was handled by Cremation and Funeral Care of McMurray.

Wesley Yiin: wyiin@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1723.



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