Kurt Stepnitz retires from Michigan State


(photo by fellow recent retiree Robert Jordan) Kurt Stepnitz at the 2017 Symposium

Kurt Stepnitz retired in early May 2018 after 37 years at Michigan State University. Kurt has earned many UPAA awards, including the Master of the Profession award as well as being named a Fellow of the University Photographers' Association of America. Holly Whetstone of MSU wrote the following of Kurt’s 29-year association with the MSU College of Agriculture & Natural Resources’ magazine Futures and kindly gave permission for the article to be re-published on the UPAA blog.

Michigan State University (MSU) photographer Stepnitz began his MSU career in 1981 working for the MSU-U.S. Department of Energy Plant Research Laboratory. Having learned a great deal about plants and agriculture during his first few years on the job, he became a natural fit for Futures when then-editor Christine Erb approached him to shoot the spring/summer 1989 issue.

When asked about his favorite memory of working on the magazine, Stepnitz said there were far too many to single out just one, though a few seconds later, he had a couple to share.

Once when Robin Usborne was editor, Stepnitz remembered, “We went up to the Northwest Horticultural Research Station in Traverse City to cover a field day, along with videographer Scott Allman. Afterwards, we were invited to Bel Lago Winery for a tour with MSU researchers Ron Perry and Stan Howell. We had quite a bit of wine in the cellar that evening. It was so much fun, just hilarious. That’s when Robin decided to go into the viticulture business and changed up her career.”

On another adventurous shoot, Stepnitz asked then-editor Jamie DePolo to pose for the cover.

“She stood on a stepladder in the middle of a south campus corn field to pose for a double exposure with the rising moon behind her,” he said. “She was a champ!”

In 2003, Stepnitz went to work for University Relations (now MSU Communications and Brand Strategy), all the time continuing to work on Futures, as well as covering all sorts of MSU assignments – from commencement events on campus to research around the globe.


(photo by Kurt Stepnitz) A family prepares for the day in the Karwan Bazaar slum in Dhaka, Bangladesh, February 15, 2013. This was part of an MSU story about a researcher's work on exposing the selling of human organs on the black market.

A few days after his retirement party at The Hop Cat in East Lansing, Stepnitz and his wife Kharla moved to Minnesota to be near their daughter, son-in-law and adored first grandbaby, Collette Louise (called “Lettie Lou” for short).

He looks forward to spending time with family, restarting his own photography business and enjoying a more urban experience in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. The couple plan to get their gardening fix at their daughter’s home, where a couple of raised vegetable beds await their attention.

Stepnitz said he appreciates all of the wonderful memories and friendships he’s developed over the years along the banks of the Red Cedar River, and looks forward to settling in his new home near the Mighty Mississippi.


(photo by Nora Ann Bennett) Kurt and Kharla Stepnitz


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