Remembering Rod Steele

In Tribute and Loving Memory: Sparking Life Co-Founder, Rod Steele

January 13, 2021

Sparking Life is mourning the loss of a pioneering giant and a transcendental member of the greater philanthropic community. J. Rodman Steele, Jr., 79, passed away at his home in West Palm Beach, Florida on January 13, 2021.

Rod SteeleRod’s devotion to sports and intellectual pursuits led him to co-found Sparking Life, with Dr. John J. Ratey, an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. An internationally recognized expert in Neuropsychiatry, Dr. Ratey is one of the world’s foremost authorities on the brain-fitness connection. Immediately after reading Ratey’s seminal book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, Rod met with him to propose the idea of forming a 501-c-3 nonprofit organization. Together they created Sparking Life and took on the mission to spread the word that physical exercise enhances brain development, improves mental health, reduces addictive behavior and helps maintain mental acuity as we age. At the time of his death, Rod was Sparking Life’s Chairman Emeritus.

He was also a loving husband, father and grandfather, exceptional lawyer, athlete, veteran, philanthropist, author, adventurer and friend to many. Service to others was part of his DNA.

Rod grew up in Elsmere, Delaware. His father was a career military man, and after World War II and the Korean War, Army Colonel Joseph Rodman Steele was stationed in Alaska. There Rod attended high school, worked summers in his younger days and visited frequently throughout the rest of his life. Rod graduated from Anchorage High School, where he played multiple sports and was an exceptional basketball player earning MVP honors. He returned home to Delaware to attend the University of Delaware, where he played NCAA Division I varsity basketball, was a member of the Sigma Nu Fraternity and graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Civil Engineering. Rod attended the Dickinson School of Law, now of the Pennsylvania State University, where he obtained his law degree.

Following law school, Rod joined the Army and became a Captain in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps and served in Vietnam, receiving the Bronze Star Medal. After his tour in Vietnam, he worked at the Pentagon and continued his education obtaining a Master of Laws degree in Patent Law and Trade Regulation from The George Washington University. While at the Pentagon, he received the Army Commendation Medal.

After his honorable discharge from the Army, Rod went into private law practice specializing in patent, trademark and copyright matters. During his career, he built an international practice and was co-founder and managing partner of Steele, Gould and Fried in Philadelphia, West Palm Beach and Miami; followed by partnerships with Eckert, Seamans, Cherin and Mellott; Akerman Senterfitt; Quarles and Brady; and Duane Morris, where he was Of Counsel at the time of his death. Rod has been listed in “The Best Lawyers in America” 2006 to 2021 and received numerous accolades, awards and recognition in his specialized area of the law, including Who’s Who of Patent Lawyers, Florida Legal Elite, The Best Lawyers in America and SuperLawyers.

A lifelong athlete, Rod was an active triathlete and represented the United States overseas in four International Triathlon Union (ITU) Age-Group World Championships as a member of USA Triathlon’s distinguished Team USA.

His longtime commitment to the environment and passion for outdoor adventures from Alaska to Costa Rica led to the creation of the Florida nonprofit organization, Rainforest Conservation: Alaska to Osa, Inc. Over a half dozen years, he and his son Ryan explored programs and land acquisition opportunities for preservation and reforestation in Costa Rica, where Ryan has been involved in conservation efforts. The mission of Rainforest Conservation is to preserve rainforests through property acquisition to restore and maintain critical habitat for native species, to generate knowledge through scientific research; and to advance environmental education. His loyalty and devotion to his alma maters throughout his life was extraordinary. At the University of Delaware, he served on the Advisory Council, College of Engineering and was the benefactor of the Marion H. Steele Symposium, an annual event in honor of Rod’s Aunt. At the Dickinson School of Law, he served in numerous leadership roles including as President of the General Alumni Association, Board of Trustees, Board of Counselors, Board of Overseers and Leadership Council Advisory Board.

At the Penn State Dickinson School of Law, Rod established in 2020 the Steele Family Leadership Program in Gender and Racial Equity to promote diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives; support victims’ rights; and seek solutions to race and gender injustice and inequities through programming and research focused on the intersectionality of gender and race.

Rod also served on and chaired many non-profit boards and has been legal counsel to others throughout his life including serving as: Chairman, Enterprise Development Corporation; Chairman, West Palm Beach Water Advisory Task Force; Chairman, South Florida Science Museum; Chairman, Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens; Board Member, St Andrews School, Boca Raton, Fla.; Board Member, Palm Beach County Cultural Council; Board Member, YMCA, West Palm Beach and Philadelphia; Board Member, Charcot Marie Tooth Association; Board of Directors and Treasurer of Florida PDMP Foundation.

Rod is survived by his wife Karen, son Ryan, son Kevin and his wife Tracy and three grandchildren Addie, Ainsley and Grayson. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that in celebration of Rod’s life, memorial gifts may be made to Sparking Life (; the Steele Family Leadership Program in Gender and Racial Equity ( or c/o Penn State Dickinson Law, 150 S. College Street, Carlisle, PA 17013); or Rainforest Conservation: Alaska to Osa, Inc., (Rainforest Conservation: Alaska to Osa, Inc., 3300 South Dixie Highway, 1-261, West Palm Beach, Florida, 33405).

Rod was interred with generations of family members in the Lower Brandywine Cemetery located at 101 Old Kennett Road, Wilmington, DE. A graveside memorial service was held in January. A Celebration of Life will be scheduled in West Palm Beach at a date yet to be determined. To send condolences visit:

Remembering Mike Shafai

In Tribute and Loving Memory: Sparking Life Board of Directors Member, Rod Steele

October 21, 2017

It is with great sadness and a heavy heart that we honor the recent and sudden passing of Mike Shafai, 47, a member of the Sparking Life Board of Directors.

In a short period of time Mike injected a vibrant energy and enthusiasm through his significant contributions to the Board and our organization. He was passionate about the Sparking Life mission and was in the process of building a local infrastructure in Colorado Springs. These efforts to provide a running-based support program for individuals entering rehabilitation for various addictions was designed to serve as a proof-of-concept model to be later scaled out across the country.

Professionally, Mike was a Vice President with Morgan Stanley Wealth Management in Colorado Springs, CO, and had been with the firm since 2002. He worked with families, corporations and non-profit organizations providing investment management, financial planning and corporate retirement solutions.

He said that he joined Sparking Life because he knew first-hand how running and other forms of cardiovascular exercise can help individuals overcome life’s little challenges and help them lead happy, successful and balanced lives.

In his spare time, Mike volunteered extensively with Colorado’s largest non-profit running organization, the Pikes Peak Road Runners. Through PPRR he led group runs, directed and timed races, and served on its Board of Directors, all in an effort to spread the word about the benefits of exercise.

He and his wife, Stephanie Wurtz, typically finished several marathons each season, and logged over 3,000 miles of running and cycling together in any given year.

Please read this article in the Colorado Springs Gazette to learn more about Mike’s life and impact on the community. In lieu of flowers, those wishing to pay their respects can make a donation via the Donate button to the Pikes Peak Road Runners.

Mike was a consummate ambassador for our cause, as well as a kind and generous soul. He was respected and admired by all those who knew him, and will be sorely missed. Sparking Life will seek to recognize the life of Mike Shafai at a point in the near future by creating a lasting tribute to his memory.

— The Sparking Life Board of Directors