By Jeff Keeling
Steve Baldwin was late for his own retirement reception last week. The longtime community development coordinator for Johnson City, City Manager Pete Peterson said, “knew everybody would wait on him, and that they’d understand.”
“He was in Bristol, two days before retirement, securing a $273,000 grant for some home rehab work that we’re going to get done this spring and summer,” Peterson said. “That’s a true example of Steve’s dedication to the job.”
Ask Peterson, Eastern Eight Community Development Corp. Director Retha Patton, Congressman (and former Johnson City commissioner) Phil Roe or anyone in the know, and you’ll get essentially the same description of the 1971 Science Hill High School graduate.
“Just about every project we’ve done in Johnson City is because he made the introduction,” Patton said. “He brought resources together.”
Roe, who has attended Munsey Memorial United Methodist Church with Baldwin for years, said he began learning of Baldwin’s professional prowess after being appointed to the planning commission.
“I’ve know what a tremendous person Steve is for a long time, but when I entered public service it really became apparent his passion was to provide low-income people adequate housing, and if there was ever a magician at doing it, it’s Steve Baldwin,” Roe said. “I have so much respect for how many people’s lives he’s impacted.”
Said Peterson: “Steve is recognized across the state and the Southeast as being a leader and an innovator in coordinating housing activities, identifying the needs of those who need help, and finding creative ways to leverage state and federal dollars.”
Baldwin has seen significant changes in community development since taking a post with the First Tennessee Development District in 1975, fresh out of East Tennessee State University. He started with Johnson City nine years later, when the climate was still one more dependent on top-down help from federal and state government.
“Most of the programs we’re involved with have constricted,” Baldwin said. Those changes have simply allowed Baldwin to flourish in his role as a connector of needs with resources, and he said he’s not sure the new model isn’t the way things should be.
“These are citizens of our communities, and I think we’ve got a responsibility, so it doesn’t necessarily bother me that there may be a shift from federal and state down to local,” Baldwin said.
“Then it’s up to the locals to decide what kind of quality of life they want to have for all their people, which is where I think it belongs.”
Peterson said Baldwin will be missed, but has set up a good plan of succession. He’ll be going on to a part-time job at Munsey as a missions coordinator. And he may or may not have more time for his many other passions: among them, travel with his wife, Leanna, annual Civil War history trips with his son Josh and friends Alan Bridwell and Todd Smith, singing and music in civic groups, and a legendarily rabid support of University of Tennessee athletics.
Baldwin also has a two-and-a-half year old granddaughter that has changed his life, from his daughter Rachel, and he said he plans, “to try to get reacquainted with my golf clubs, hopefully get a little golf game back.”
Baldwin said he hopes the years-in-the-making creation of, “a lot of really great partnerships and connected networks that are working well together and leveraging resources” will serve the community and the region for years. Peterson called him, “extremely compassionate,” and someone who “loves his fellow man regardless of their status or place in society.” Baldwin hopes he’ll continue exercising those traits in his new role at Munsey.
“It’s not really retirement,” Baldwin said. “It’s being repurposed. That’s the way I feel about all of this. I’m just repurposing for whatever the good Lord’s got in store for me.”