After more than 45 years in the classroom, Professor of Old Testament Frank Spina will retire at the close of the 2018–19 academic year — sooner than he had planned.
“I had no interest in retiring, because of my sense of God’s call to the classroom, my love for scholarship, how immensely I enjoy my colleagues, and the thrill I get in engaging students,” he said.
But a stroke in December 2014 caused Spina to reevaluate that timeline. “At the time of the stroke, I was planning to retire after 50 years,” he said. “Alas, I will retire after only 46.” After 2019 Spring Quarter, he and his wife, Jo-Ellen Watson, will move to Idaho.
“… I was planning to retire after 50 years,” [Spina] said. “Alas, I will retire after only 46.”
In 1973, gasoline averaged 40 cents a gallon, The Sting took home Best Picture honors at the Academy Awards, and Seattle Pacific College’s President David McKenna asked him, then a young PhD candidate, to meet him at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport.
McKenna had asked an old friend, theologian Stanley Walters, to recommend someone to teach Scripture at Seattle Pacific College.
Walters suggested Spina, his former Greenville College student who’d gone onto Asbury Theological Seminary and then into a doctoral program in Near Eastern Studies at the University of Michigan. Then a teaching fellow in Bible at UM, Spina was also a pastor of a Free Methodist church in Flint, Michigan.
“I interviewed, and a week or so later was offered a job,” remembers Spina, who’d never been to the Pacific Northwest. “The rest is history.”
With nearly five decades in the classroom, Spina now often hears from students that he taught their parents — or their grandparents. Considered tough and fair, he was named the 2000 Professor of the Year by students. “He taught me how to read Scripture in a new way, paying close attention to every detail,” said Elizabeth Stover, a senior double-majoring in communication and educational ministry. “I was challenged in every class session. The lessons I took from his classes will stick with me for a lifetime.” Stover is not the only student to think that.
“I was challenged in every class session. The lessons I took from his classes will stick with me for a lifetime.” — senior Elizabeth Stover
Once an undergraduate student of Spina, Douglas Koskela, professor of theology, now has an office across the hall from his former professor. “One of the most remarkable things about Frank as a teacher is the way he deftly combines formality — he calls students by their last names — with genuine warmth,” said Koskela, adding that he remembers clearly “Dr. Spina standing in his suit, with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye, saying, ‘Mr. Koskela, to be able to study the Bible is a wonderful thing.’”
The Bible’s importance is something Spina wants to leave with the SPU community. To that end, he will give the University $20,000 to begin an endowment. “Scripture has been important historically to SPU,” he said. “I want to continue that tradition by having a lectureship dedicated solely to Christian Scripture.” With a goal of $100,000, he said he hopes alumni and donors will follow his lead and contribute, as well.
“I want students to remember that I respected them enough to disagree with them, respected them enough not to allow them to be content with shallow arguments, respected them enough to make them aware that SPU is a university and not a Sunday school class, respected them enough never to dumb down what I taught them, and respected them enough to consider them adults,” he said. “I’m quite sure I did not always succeed in my efforts, but I never quit trying.”