Northwestern's third president dies

Northwestern College officials have learned that the college’s third president, Dr. Preston Stegenga, has died. Stegenga, who was president from 1955 to 1966, died in Sacramento, Calif., on Sept. 17 at the age of 86. 

Stegenga is survived by his wife, Marcia, and two children, James and Susan. A memorial service will be held Oct. 23 at 2 p.m. at the Sierra Arden United Church of Christ in Sacramento. Arrangements are under the direction of Nicoletti, Culjis and Herberger Funeral Home of Sacramento.

Stegenga became president of Northwestern Classical Academy and Junior College at the age of 31 and led the institution’s transition into a four-year college. During his tenure, Northwestern awarded its first bachelor’s degrees in 1961, received preliminary accreditation and more than doubled enrollment. The campus’s facilities also expanded significantly, with the construction of the Multi-Purpose Auditorium [now the DeWitt Theatre], Ramaker Library, Colenbrander Hall, Hospers Hall and what is now known as Granberg Hall.

The son of a Reformed Church in America pastor, Stegenga is cited for broadening Northwestern’s relationship with the denomination. He also strengthened the college’s efforts to provide a global education by getting churches involved in hosting and financially supporting international students, and by establishing exchange programs with schools overseas.

“Preston Stegenga’s leadership and guidance helped lay the foundation for the institution we are today,” says Greg Christy, current president.

Dr. Syl Scorza, professor emeritus of religion, was hired by Stegenga in 1959. He remembers the former president as a serious educator who cared about students, encouraged faculty development, and had a vision for Northwestern to become a liberal arts college.

Stegenga came to Northwestern after three years on the faculty at Berea College in Kentucky. Author of the history of Hope College published in 1954, Anchor of Hope, Stegenga earned a bachelor’s degree in history and German from Hope, a master’s degree in social sciences from Columbia University, and a doctorate in the history of education and political science from the University of Michigan.

Stegenga left Northwestern in 1966 to serve as adviser to the president of the University of Liberia in West Africa. In 1968, he joined the staff of California State University, Sacramento, where he served in such roles as director of the International Center, vice president for academic affairs and coordinator of the international student program. He retired in 1988 but served as special assistant to the president until 1991.

The former president of Sacramento’s World Affairs Council and the United Nations Association, Stegenga was inducted into the Multi-Cultural Educators’ Hall of Fame in 1996 and received numerous citations and awards from the California State Legislature, Germany and Venezuela, to name a few. He was awarded an honorary doctorate by Northwestern College in 1989, and he served on Northwestern’s Board of Trustees from 1991 to 1995. In 2003, Northwestern named its newest women’s dorm Stegenga Hall in recognition of his service to the institution.