SFI Co-Founder Steve Kieffer Officially Retires
Steve Kieffer, one of the co-founders of the Signage Foundation Inc. (SFI) in 2001, officially announced his retirement from the SFI board on October 26. Kieffer, who sold his Sheboygan, WI sign company, Kieffer & Co., in 2008, had retired from active sign work at that time, and soon after had joined the SFI board.
Most recently, Steve played a major role in the October 10-11, 2012 National Signage Research & Education Conference (NSREC) by presenting both his Glossary of Signage Terms and his charted classification for types of signs. At SFI board meetings, Steve was typically the most active voice.
Previously, Steve already had received the sign industry’s top honor, the Kirk L. Brimley ISA Distinguished Service Award, in 2008. The Intl. Sign Assn. (ISA) presents this award each year to a member who demonstrates outstanding dedication and service to the association. Award recipients are sign professionals who have made a significant contribution to the sign industry over the years. Steve served as ISA chairman of the board in 2002. Fellow SFI board member Joe Rickman (Atlantic Sign Media, Burlington, NC), also a current SFI board member, served as ISA chairman of the board in 2001 when SFI was formed. He praised his colleague: “Having an unquenchable drive to further develop the knowledge base of the on-premise sign industry, in 2001, Steve Kieffer led the effort to form The Signage Foundation, Inc. (SFI), the independent research arm of the on-premise sign industry. The work to form SFI began with the approval of the ISA Executive Committee on 11/4/2002. Steve, Tom Allen and I were the founding members of the SFI Board of Directors. As SFI’s first president, Steve was instrumental in overcoming the challenges a new organization of this caliber encounters while simultaneously developing and executing numerous educational research projects that today have provided a foundation for our industry’s future. Steve’s unwavering perseverance to stretch the intellectual envelope of our industry has made all who were fortunate to serve with him better people, with greater knowledge not attainable without Steve’s stewardship of the knowledge base. Steve’s presence will be desperately missed; his impact will be felt for many generations, with his servant leadership being his resounding legacy to this industry and, especially, to the Signage Foundation.”
Similarly, Greg McCarter (Tubelite, Apopka, FL), a fellow SFI board member and ISA chairman (2004), praised Steve’s abilities and devotion to the sign industry:
“Steve is very skilled at helping people reach their best. He helps you want to succeed, and I have certainly been a benefactor of his encouragement. Anything that Steve wants to master or get involved in, he will study it. In a very short time, he will know more about it than you think is possible to know. He is off-the-charts intelligent, and has an uncanny ability to take complex situations that don’t even look like they tie together and come up with a simple solution.”
As ISA chairman in 2002, Kieffer was instrumental in building the ISA Government Relations Committee, which continues to grow and expand its efforts. In addition, he significantly helped shape public policy regarding the sign industry at both federal and state levels. Steve testified before the California Energy Commission to oppose proposed regulations, authored the Wisconsin Sign Association’s model sign ordinance, was a key member in four Underwriters Laboratories’ Standard Technical Panels and has chaired numerous committees on research and technical applications in the sign industry.
Steve was exposed to the sign industry during high school, while helping out in his father’s sign company in Sheboygan. Eventually, father and son joined forces and incorporated Kieffer & Co. in 1979. Steve altered the company’s focus to pursuing national sales accounts with repeat business needs.
Steve’s brilliant mind and passion for living large is reflected in his personal life as well. His volunteer work with the Boy Scouts of America has become a family tradition, as both of his daughters, Carolyn and Christine, followed his example. Steve was co-chairman of the Sheboygan Development Corp. Design Committee for the Sheboygan Harbor and Marina and helped, with his wife Lynn, to form the Sheboygan Youth Sailing Program. Steve helped with fund raising for the entire project and donated money to pay for the dock system and boat lift davit for the youth facility. An avid sailor himself, after having purchased a family sailboat, Steve launched full speed ahead into yacht-club races and local invitationals. For many years, he has also held a single engine commercial pilot license.
Lynn Kieffer, Steve’s wife of more than 40 years (who served as human-resources manager of the company), noted that her husband’s industry work was both challenging and rewarding on several levels. “What are most rewarding are the friendships he has developed over the years,” she said. “I think he will be honored that others saw value in his contributions.”
McCarter concluded, “I learned more from Steve Kieffer than I did in college. No one has done more for the industry than he has.”
Reflections of Steve Kieffer
As one travels through a career, they are fortunate if they encounter a leader who stands above all others in their knowledge of the industry while their drive to see it succeed is unparalleled. If this leader exhibits this with utmost character and integrity, and does not hesitate when making the hard decisions, one has truly witnessed a servant/ leader of the highest calling. Steve Kieffer is the on premise sign industry’s truest servant leader who selflessly “gave it all” without fail and has made an everlasting difference as his leadership fingerprints have permeated our industry.
Having an unquenchable drive to further develop the knowledge base of the on-premise sign industry, in 2001 Steve Kieffer led the effort to form The Signage Foundation, Inc., (SFI) the independent research arm of the on-premise sign industry. As the first President of SFI, Steve was instrumental in overcoming the challenges a new organization of this caliber encounters while simultaneously developing and executing numerous educational research projects that today are foundational to our industry’s future. Steve’s unwavering perseverance to stretch the intellectual envelope of our industry has made all who were fortunate to serve with him better people with greater knowledge not attainable without Steve’s stewardship of the knowledge base. Steve’s presence will be desperately missed, his impact felt for many generations, while his servant leadership being his resounding legacy to this industry and especially the Signage Foundation.