Noted Religious Liberty Advocate Roland Hegstad is Dead at 92
From News Release, 21 June 2018 |
Pastor Roland R. Hegstad, well-known Adventist advocate for religious liberty, passed to his rest earlier this week on June 17. He was 92.
A 1949 graduate of Walla Walla University, he became an international expert on human rights, especially as it relates to religion. His work took him around the globe, including the old Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, beginning in the mid-1960s.
In 1959, at age 32, Hegstad accepted a call to the Adventist denomination’s General Conference as associate editor of Liberty magazine, a journal circulated to government officials, judges and attorneys as well as executives of other denominations. Within months, he was promoted to editor. Hegstad edited Liberty for 35 years until his retirement in 1994. Throughout those years, Liberty won multiple awards for excellence from the Associated Church Press. Its circulation exceeded 400,000.
Hegstad was also one of the most widely recognized Adventist preachers. In 1966, he delivered the annual address for Americans United for Separation of Church and State at Constitution Hall in Washington DC. His son, Douglas, learned personally of Hegstad’s speaking renown as he was commencement speaker at Douglas’ 8th grade, high school, college, and medical school graduations.
Earlier Hegstad pastored churches in Ephrata and Clarkston, Washington. Hegstad attended summer courses at Loma Linda University in the early 1950s then graduated from the Seventh-day Adventist Seminary in Washington, D.C., in 1954. In 1956, he left pastoral ministry to become book editor at the Southern Publishing Association in Nashville, Tennessee, and then editor of the periodical These Times.
For a lifetime of service and expertise in church and state affairs, Andrews University awarded him an honorary LL.D., “Doctor of Laws,” degree in 1991.
In retirement, Hegstad served as editor of Perspective Digest for the Adventist Theological Society, a role he continued until 2004. Early books he wrote include Rattling the Gates and Baseball, Apple Pie, and Liberty. He also authored Who Causes Suffering and Pretenders to the Throne, and co-authored Nobody’s Boy with Grover Wilcox, published in 2004. In 2005, he authored the last of a dozen books, The Incredible Power of Grace. In it, Hegstad wrote of his spiritual journey and aspirations, asking, “Can God really shine through us if we carry no cross to our Calvary?”
Born prematurely at home on April 7, 1926, in Stayton, Oregon, Hegstad weighed just two pounds. His mother put him in a large shoe box and placed him in the oven where the pilot light kept him warm.
A gifted high school student, Hegstad earned Oregon state’s first place for writing fiction. Offered a full journalism scholarship to Oregon’s Linfield College, he chose at the last minute the recommendation of his aunt, Sylvia Peterson, to attend Walla Walla College. He was introduced to the Adventist faith community and baptized while a student there. He graduated from Walla Walla in 1949 with degrees in journalism and theology.
Hegstad married fellow Walla Walla student Stella Radke in 1949. Son Douglas Hegstad was born in 1953; daughter Sheri Clarke in 1954 and daughter Kimberly Handel in 1965. His five grandchildren didn’t call him “Elder” or “Grandpa,” but “Yum Yum,” a moniker he earned because of the endless supply of sweet treats they found in his desk drawer and pockets.
By 2004, cognitive decline from Alzheimer’s disease began to interfere with Hegstad’s work and personal life. To the end, Stella held tight to memories and faith, improving every one of his days. Though he could no longer have a conversation, Stella enriched his life with daily visits, discovering she could make him feel good even when she couldn’t understand his words.
Hegstad died at Elternhaus, an assisted living facility in Dayton, Maryland, where he had resided for six years. Stella and Kimberly were at his side, sharing underlined Bible promises from Hegstad’s well-marked Bible and conveying abiding love.
“For me he will always be ‘Mr. Liberty,’” said Lincoln Steed, current editor of Liberty. “As a young man growing up in the church I listened spellbound to his tales of battling for religious liberty in the age of Communism. He was a dynamic speaker and had the gift of storytelling. . . . He was a model of the engaged editor who not only assembled a magazine but lived and breathed all that it stood for. He was one of the last of a breed of Adventist editors who defined who we are. He will be missed but never forgotten by those who cherish religious liberty.”
“As the editor of Liberty magazine for 35 years, Roland set the standard for what we see even today,” said Orlan Johnson, director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty (PARL) for the denomination’s North American Division (NAD). “He was a consummate professional, a great writer, and one of the early thought leaders in the Adventist church on the concepts of liberty and freedom for all.”
Alvin Kibble, NAD vice president for PARL, echoed these sentiments: “I want to express our sadness over the passing of Roland Hegstad: church leader, minister, author, editor, activist. Elder Hegstad served our church with distinction for many years and was a recognized voice in church councils and assemblies. His publications were deeply valued and offered much needed counsel and instruction. At challenging moments his counsel was a guiding force in matters of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty.”
He is survived by his wife, Stella; son, Douglas; daughters Sheri Clarke and Kimberly Handel; and 5 grandchildren. A private graveside service will take place on June 22; a memorial service is being planned for July. Condolences may be sent to Stella Hegstad at 17025 Oak Hill Road, Spencerville, MD 20868.
The photo of Hegstad was provided by the NAD communications office.