They celebrated both a new degree and retirement at this year’s Ivy Cutting in June
At the tender age of 70, the Rev. Marilyn S. Hair was likely the most senior member of Seattle Pacific’s Class of 2023. Technically, Marilyn graduated summa cum laude with her bachelor’s degree in biology last November, but her participation in the June Commencement and the Ivy Cutting ceremonies was significant for her and her husband, Richard B. Steele, professor emeritus of moral and historical theology at SPU.
The June ceremonies not only honored Marilyn’s academic achievements, they also marked Rick’s retirement from Seattle Pacific after 28 years as a professor in the School of Theology. Rick was appointed to the faculty at SPU in 1995 and served in various administrative capacities over the years including chair of the Theology Department, acting co-dean of the School of Theology, and academic dean of Seattle Pacific Seminary.
Likewise, Marilyn is no stranger to academia. The baccalaureate degree she received from SPU is actually her fourth academic degree. She earned a bachelor of arts degree in religion and psychology from Carroll College, followed by a master of divinity degree from Yale Divinity School. Marilyn worked in ministry as an ordained clergywoman in the United Methodist church before she became interested in the life sciences and eventually earned a master of public health degree from the University of Washington.
In 2004, Marilyn was helping her daughter Sarah Steele with a summer course of anatomy and physiology at SPU. Sarah was born with a rare musculoskeletal disease and severe physical disabilities that required around-the-clock attendant care. Marilyn became Sarah’s full-time attendant and caregiver while Sarah took the summer class. It sparked Marilyn’s interest in the life sciences, so she enrolled alongside her daughter to take courses toward a biology degree.
“Sarah’s four years at SPU were the happiest of her life,” Rick wrote in an email. “And despite the topography of our campus, which is hardly friendly to wheelchair users, she flourished here.”
Sarah thrived, Rick said, because of SPU’s extraordinary efforts to accommodate her: retrofitting a dorm room that allowed her to participate in residence hall activities and working to make the campus more accessible. Sarah graduated from Seattle Pacific in 2007. She passed away 10 years later in November 2017.
“One of my most treasured photographs of my daughter was taken of her at the 2007 Ivy Cutting,” Rick said, so when SPU’s administration invited him to be the speaker at this year’s Ivy Cutting — the last Ivy cutting of his career and also the one where his wife would be in the Ivy circle as a graduate — Rick was pleased to accept.
It was the completion of his University Foundations class, after all, that allowed Marilyn to meet the last requirement she needed for her biology degree from SPU.
“It was wonderful to have Marilyn in my [University Foundations] class,” Rick said. “She studied as hard as any student in the class and made many excellent contributions to in-class and online discussions, adding her rich experience — as a former pastor, a former member and president of the Board of Trustees of the International Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva Association, a former Outreach and Ethics Core officer at the UW School of Public Health, and a spouse and mother — to the class’s understanding of how Christian ideas relate to real-life situations.
“Let us all celebrate today, remembering that our blessings transcend our troubles, and that being mindful of our blessings is what enables us to persevere through our troubles,” Rick said in his remarks at the Ivy Cutting ceremony.
Marilyn and Rick embody this charge of staying focused on their blessings in order to persevere through life.