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Hickory Native Endows Lectureship at Divinity School

By Wayne Thompson
(910) 758-5237
Jan. 14, 1998

Hickory native, Dr. Sanford L. Steelman, has endowed the Margaret A. Steelman Lectureship at Wake Forest University's new School of Divinity.

The lectureship is named in honor of his wife.

Steelman said that the lectureship will focus on Judeo-Christian topics. The first lecture of the series will be held later this fall - a year before the School of Divinity's scheduled fall 1999 opening.

The school is expected to hire its first faculty members later this spring.

"In talking with my pastor, Dr. Bill Leathers, about some possibilities, I told him what I had wanted to do and he suggested two or three places," Steelman said. "I felt that Wake Forest was probably my top choice.

"I am more moderate in my theological thinking and thought they would do a reasonable job of presenting both sides of the coin," he said. "I think we should have input from all the various religions and denominations, otherwise, we get too dogmatic in our thinking."

Steelman said that he was particularly impressed with the wide variety of faiths and perspectives represented in Wake Forest's programming for its 1997-98 Year of Religion in American Life, which has featured such prominent and diverse voices as Rabbi Harold Kushner; Bill Moyers, a Baptist; and Tony Campolo, the evangelical leader scheduled to give Wake Forest's Founder's Day convocation address at 11 a.m. on Jan 22.

Through the Year of Religion's programs and activities, Wake Forest has explored religion's impact on the country and its culture - a contribution Steelman himself considers invaluable. "Religion is a very positive influence," he said. "It disturbs me now that we seem to be going in another direction.

"I hope that the lectures will give them (students) an appreciation for the importance of religion in their everyday life."

Bill J. Leonard, the divinity school's dean, said that the lectureship will enrich the academic life of divinity school students. "We are honored that Dr. Steelman will provide funds for our first lectureship," he said. "From the very beginning of the school, we can bring outstanding visitors to campus. It is a great legacy."

Born in Hickory and a graduate of Lenoir-Rhyne College, Steelman went on to earn a doctorate in biochemistry from the University of North Carolina in 1949 and earn distinction as a biomedical research scientist.

Steelman retired in November 1986 from Merck Sharp & Dohme Research Laboratories in Rahway, N.J., ending a 28-year career with the company that included more than 100 articles in scientific publications and five patents.

While living in New Jersey, the Steelmans helped begin three new Southern Baptist churches. The couple are members of Hickory's First Baptist Church and have two sons, Sanford Jr. and Brian.

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