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Van R. Reiner, former Bethlehem Steel executive who became president and CEO of Maryland Science Center, dies

Van R. Reiner, former Bethlehem Steel executive who became president and CEO of Maryland Science Center, dies
Van R. Reiner began his Bethlehem Steel Corp. career in 1974 in the coke oven department in Lackawanna, N.Y. He left the company when it was sold to International Steel Group Inc. in 2003. (Handout)

Van R. Reiner, a former Bethlehem Steel Corp. executive who later became president and CEO of the Maryland Science Center, died June 5 of undetermined causes at his Bel Air home, family members said.

He was 70.

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“Van’s death is a tremendous loss for the Maryland Science Center family,” said Mark Potter, who succeeded Mr. Reiner as president and CEO when he retired in 2017. “He was an institution here.”

Van Ralph Reiner, the son of Ralph Vincent Reiner, a mechanical engineer, and his wife, Anna Ruth With Reiner, an English teacher, was born in Lakewood, Ohio, and raised in Cleveland.

After graduating in 1966 from Rocky River High School, he earned a bachelor‘s degree in chemistry in 1970 from Wittenberg University, and a master’s, also in chemistry, in 1972 from Lehigh University. He took advanced management courses at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Duke University and Harvard University.

Mr. Reiner began his Bethlehem Steel Corp. career in 1974 in the coke oven department in Lackawanna, N.Y. He spent a decade at that plant until being promoted to assistant superintendent of the coke ovens at the Burns Harbor plant in Indiana in 1984.

In 1987, he became assistant superintendent of Burns Harbor’s plate mills, which took large slabs of steel and fabricated them into plate that was used for bridges, railroad cars and ships.

“I just fell in love, I absolutely fell in love with rolling steel,” he told The Sun in 2000. “To me it was fascinating to take 20- or 30-ton hunks of steel and heat them up to 2,300 or 2,400 degrees and make them into something that somebody wanted to buy.”

In 1998, Mr. Reiner was named president of the Bethlehem’s Lukens Plate Division in Coatesville, Pa., and two years later, relocated to Baltimore when he was promoted to president of the company’s Sparrows Point Division.

Mr. Reiner explained in a 2002 Sun article that the ills of Bethlehem and the U.S. steel industry overall resulted from “an oversaturation of the availability of worldwide steel. The supply has outstripped the rate of need, and, because of that, Sparrows Point has been affected.”

He took umbrage when the Sparrows Point facility was described as being a “dinosaur.”

“Here at Sparrows Point we have the most modern coal mill in the world and a world-class blast furnace,” he told The Sun.

“As far as the steelworkers and retirees go, there is a sense of frustration. But they should know that if their pension goes, mine goes, too. If their health insurance is adversely affected, mine is, too,” he said.

Van R. Reiner, left, and Edward St. John, chairman of the board of St. John Properties, look out a window at the Maryland Science Center in 2011.
Van R. Reiner, left, and Edward St. John, chairman of the board of St. John Properties, look out a window at the Maryland Science Center in 2011. (Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun)

While working for Bethlehem, he was a board member of the Inner Harbor’s Maryland Science Center, and after leaving the company when it was sold to International Steel Group Inc. in 2003, Mr. Reiner agreed to serve as the science center’s interim president and CEO, until being given the position permanently in 2004.

Mr. Reiner’s mission was to keep the museum fresh and “disabuse people of the notion that having fun and thinking are contrary states of being,” The Sun reported in a 2005 story. “Some people are like ‘Science? Ewww,’ ” he said.

“Van was a local and national leader of informal science education to which he was totally committed,” said Mr. Potter, a Millersville resident. “He greatly expanded the center’s outreach programs, which he took to schools, students and their families. He was very proud of that.”

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He added workshops for home-schooled students, a summer camp and overnight camp-ins in the science center.

Mr. Reiner was a committed environmentalist who also cared deeply about social issues, family members said.

“He was committed to sustainability, things that were environmentally friendly, and renewable energy. He cared about the stewardship of the Chesapeake Bay,” Mr. Potter said.

Other accomplishments during his tenure included creating new educational programs that focused on science, technology, engineering and math, otherwise known as STEM.

“What I am thinking about is what we can do at the Science Center to influence more students to consider STEM as a field of study,” Mr. Reiner told the Baltimore Business Journal in a 2017 interview. “We’re in the business of introducing people to the fundamentals and fun of STEM. I’m always thinking about what we can do to either set the spark or keep the spark alive [in students].

“I think about that. While I think about that, I think about how we do it as efficiently as possible. I spend a good deal of my time in the developmental area, trying to find people who are willing to support or underwrite our activity.”

Mr. Reiner launched a $7.5 million fundraising campaign whose goal was to improve the science center’s infrastructure. In three years, he increased private donations from $713,000 to $1,377,000, reduced debt by $3.5 million over six years, and cut operating costs by 24 percent over a decade.

“Van was incredibly kind, loyal and very sincere and down-to-earth,” Mr. Potter said. “He loved his job here. He enjoyed working with kids and was always very engaged. His death is a huge loss for the Science Center.”

Mr. Reiner had been a member of the board of The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, Maryland World Class Consortium and Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore, and was chairman of the board of Pierce’s Park in Baltimore. He also served on the STEM and Gifted/Talented advisory boards for the state Department of Education.

A model railroad buff who collected both HO-gauge and Lionel trains, he enjoyed setting up his Lionel trains around the family Christmas tree each year. At his death, he was planning to build a large HO layout, family members said.

His favorite real-life railroad was the Santa Fe, said his daughter, Rebecca Reiner of Framingham, Mass.

Mr. Reiner was a member of First Presbyterian Church in Bel Air, where he had been clerk of the session.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at his church, 224 N. Main St., Bel Air.

In addition to his daughter, Mr. Reiner is survived by his wife of 48 years, the former Shirley Crane; two sons, David Reiner of Bryn Mawr, Pa., and Timothy Reiner of Singapore; a sister, Ann Reiner of Portland, Ore.; and seven grandchildren.

Van R. Reiner and Shirley Reiner attend the Maryland Science Center's Solstice gala in 2011. He became the center's interim president and CEO in 2003, assumed the permanent position in 2004 and retired in 2017.
Van R. Reiner and Shirley Reiner attend the Maryland Science Center's Solstice gala in 2011. He became the center's interim president and CEO in 2003, assumed the permanent position in 2004 and retired in 2017. (Colby Ware / For The Baltimore Sun)
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