By Carly Kwiecien
As a retired teacher and the second vice president of the Board of Directors at Friendship Botanic Gardens, Steve Kahn is a seasoned leader in the Michigan City community.
For 33 years, Kahn taught physical education and health at Krueger Middle School. He also coached football to children of different ages for 25 years, spent 15 years coaching basketball and coached his son’s little league baseball for countless seasons.
“I’ve always been around sports,” Kahn said. “For my very first job, I was a summer playground supervisor with the Michigan City Parks and Recreation Department. They used to have summer programs at all the summer playgrounds in town. I helped run the playground and umpire little league baseball. Back then, it took place during the day when the parents were at work, so us playground supervisors ran the leagues.”
In 2008 when he retired from his teaching career, Leslie Samelson, former coworker of Kahn’s at Krueger and Board Member at the Gardens, asked him to begin volunteering his time once a week.
“There were about five or six of us [grounds crew members] back then,” Kahn said. “I started helping because we were losing help. At the time, the Gardens were in need of volunteers that were serious about dedicating their time because it was hanging on by a thread.”
He began by simply cutting the grass, which improved the aesthetic of the Gardens.
“When I was little, I’d drive by this place and see the entrance sign, but I didn’t know exactly what it was,” Kahn said. “Even though I had grown up in Michigan City and had lived here my entire life, I had never come to Friendship Botanic Gardens until I came in on my first Tuesday here to work with the grounds crew.”
After volunteering for four years, Dr. Houck, president emeritus of the Gardens, invited Kahn to be a part of the Board of Directors.
“It was about then that I got my friend John Leinweber involved,” Kahn said. “One thing led to another and he eventually became the new president of the board. Once he got involved, this place started taking a turn for the better. It’s incredible to see the transformation of the Gardens from just a few years ago to what it is now. It’s pretty rewarding to see the changes, and I hope it will continue to grow.”
Kahn, like many others, was unware of the Gardens for a long time, despite living in the area his entire life.
“It’s really a hidden treasure,” Kahn said. “It’s been right in our backyard the entire time we’ve lived here and there are still so many people in Michigan City who have never been here before. My favorite thing about being at the Gardens is seeing people’s reactions once they experience its beauty for the first time.”
Kahn’s favorite corner of the Garden is the Celebration Side. Since the first time he was at the Gardens, he could tell it was a special place, one where he soon found peace and comfort.
“Once I started coming here regularly, I’d grab a golf cart and sit by Lake Lucerne at night to contemplate, take a break and just think,” Kahn said. “I immediately fell in love with the place. It grows on you more the more that you’re here.”
He also loves the Persian Rose Garden because it reminds him of the roses his mother used to grow.
“I like to walk the trails a lot in the fall and spring when the weather is beautiful,” Kahn said. “They’re very unknown and are not traveled often. It’s just a nice place to be.”
When Kahn isn’t at the Gardens, he likes to spend his days surrounded by his family. He has five grandchildren, two of which play tee-ball locally.
“I also have a part time job at my church doing custodial work, helping where I can,” Kahn said.
Golfing is also another hobby of his that he enjoys playing in his free time.