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“A Towering Presence” – Remembering Bernie Steckler

October 1, 2020

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Bernie Steckler, a much-beloved and longtime member of Seattle University’s faculty, passed away Sept. 23. Described by colleagues as “irrepressible” and “brimming over with good cheer,” Steckler served on SU’s faculty for more than 30 years before retiring in 1996. Originally a professor of chemistry, Steckler was instrumental in developing Matteo Ricci College, eventually serving as its dean.

Widely regarded as an exceptional teacher, leader and shaper of Seattle University, and stalwart champion for Jesuit education, Steckler is remembered by colleagues for his effervescent spirit, collaboration with others and central commitment to students.

“Bernie loved having one foot in the hard sciences and the other foot in the humanities,” says John Eshelman, professor emeritus and former provost and executive vice president. “He reveled in being part of Matteo Ricci College and its commitment to effective teaching and learning. The development of the art of teaching fit with his encompassing concern for students. But, deeply as he loved MRC, he never forsook his earlier love, chemistry.”

“When I first came to Seattle University in 1976,” remembers Steen Halling, professor emeritus of psychology, “one of the greatest sources of pedagogical and intellectual stimulation was the collaboration with fellow faculty under the guidance of Bernie Steckler. I remember with great fondness how he artfully created a place for genuine dialogue and creativity in his home.”

Ki Gottberg, professor of theatre, echoes the sentiment, saying, “When I came to SU as an adjunct, lo, so many years ago, teaching for both Theatre and Matteo Ricci, it was my good fortune to be taken under Bernie’s capacious wing. His unstinting curiosity and determination to nurture the various intelligences in students was foundational to my nascent pedagogical approaches. His great humor and unflagging support made him a towering presence at SU. I remain ever grateful.”

 “Bernie Steckler had enormous enthusiasm and energy which he combined with an attitude of respect and appreciation for the MRC faculty,” says Halling. He was infamous for calling faculty late in the evening to talk about new ideas but we really did not mind because of who he was! When he became Dean of MRC, he brought the same presence and spirit to the students that he had brought to the faculty. I am deeply grateful for Bernie’s warmth, concern and constant search for new approaches and understanding.”

“For Bernie,” Eshelman says, “exploring an idea or a topic was not finding a quiet place to read and think about it. It was having a dialogue (a favorite term for Bernie, preferably as a verb), a conversation, teasing out the implications. It was a communal activity, not a solitary task. He always had a dozen ideas he wanted to explore. There was no keeping a lid on Bernie. Truly a great asset to the campus.”

“He so loved mixing it up with others,” remembers Dave Madsen, professor emeritus of history, “first blue-sky-ing an idea and then working through the details of a proposal, a curriculum and finally its implementation and evaluation. We joked that there wasn't a meeting that Bernie didn’t love nor the opportunity to call for one that he would pass by. For new faculty like me, he was welcoming, encouraging and always supportive. Always smiling, always enthusiastic and gregarious in the extreme. He truly made a community of MRC.”

Steckler brought the same zest he had for his work to all aspects of his life, including music. “Bernie had an excellent singing voice and he loved to use it,” Eshelman remembers. “He was an enthusiastic part of an informal group of faculty and staff that styled itself ‘Singers Anonymous’ during its brief life and also sang with the SU choir under Joy Sherman for a few years. Good vocal chords combined with discipline and enthusiasm made him an ideal part of any singing group.”

Steckler is survived by his wife of 66 years, Joyce, four children, 10 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Additional information on celebrating Steckler’s life will be shared as it is available.

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