Dr. Leona Glidden Running, 1916 – 2014
(I’m not sure of copyright on a picture I’d like to use, so see it here.)
When many people in theology and religion are asked about influences on their views, they’ll list major figures, such as Tillich or Barth. My tendency is to list people closer to home. I have indeed been influenced by Tillich, but the important influence was the man who introduced me to Tillich’s work, Dr. Gerald Winslow, who was then at Walla Walla University in the theology department. I disagreed with him a lot and enjoyed discussing with him. Walla Walla College, as it then was, provided a number of other influences, such as Lucille Knapp, from whom I took my first two years of Greek, and who influenced me with her love for scripture, but most importantly, I think, with her goal of keeping the poetry, emotion, and beauty of the text even while one was digging deeper into the technical aspects.
I should mention Dr. Alden Thompson, from whom I took 2nd and 3rd year Hebrew as well as Biblical Archeology, Dr. Malcolm Maxwell, who nearly got me to believe him while studying the Exegesis of Romans. No, in the end I couldn’t accept his reading of the text, but the experience was unforgettable. Time would fail me to mention everyone, but I do want to mention one person whose teaching I resented at the time, though I came to appreciate him deeply later. That’s J. Paul Grove. I remember doing Hebrew Prophets with him, and having to turn in three sermon outlines per week. I wasn’t going to be a pastor, so why should I be making sermon outlines? Great practice! I used the skill later. I’ve even preached a couple of times.
I also need to mention Dr. Sakae Kubo, because without his efforts I would never have met Dr. Leona Running. He hounded me about applying to graduate school and for a fellowship. I figured that any fellowship that would be awarded to just one person per year was unlikely to be awarded to me. He just gave me a look. I won the Weniger Fellowship and thus headed out to do my MA at Andrews University in a program offered by the graduate school in cooperation with the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary. There I met Dr. Running.
I was concentrating in Biblical and Cognate Languages, and she was to be my advisor. Many people have written about her academic accomplishments, which were considerable. There’s an excellent article in the Summer issue of Andrews University Research and Creative Scholarship. (The article is on page 3 of the PDF.) I want to talk about the person.
I’m not sure how to characterize her influence on me. There are so many ways a graduate advisor can influence a student. For many, it can be pure academics. Dr. Running cared about her faith and her church. She was an outstanding scholar. But she cared about her students. One of the first things she told me was that I needed to supplement my income by tutoring Greek and Hebrew. She taught the introductory classes and would tell the students I was available. I detected the possible influence of Dr. Kubo on this, since she had only just met me. Somebody had to tell her I could handle it! So I became a tutor besides my work at the library. While Dr. Running cared about her students, she was quite rigorous academically, and for students who had not taken introductory Greek or Hebrew (mostly the latter) as undergraduates, the one quarter introduction could be quite overwhelming. I remember not a few students calling me with just hours to go before a test, hoping I could bring them up to speed with a bit of tutoring.
While I was at Andrews, my uncle, Don F. Neufeld, died. This was a major blow to me. He was the one who had gotten me into biblical languages in the first place, and had himself become quite a serious influence on my life. I had spent many hours of enjoyable discussion with him, especially when I was a student at Columbia Union College during my freshman year. Dr. Running introduced me to thinking about grieving, to giving myself the time to grieve, and not to be concerned with how other people felt about it. She put every bit of the effort and energy into helping me through that time that she did into teaching me languages.
And she had energy. Energy and focus. She expected similar energy and focus from students. Sometimes this worked well for me. I took Akkadian and Middle Egyptian from her, and audited the second quarter of Syriac. I remember my final test in Akkadian. It was open book. Those who have studied cuneiform will realize how important that was. But when she presented me with the test, it was a legal size sheet of paper filled with cuneiform text on both sides. And no, they were not huge characters. I was devastated and tried not to show it. The idea that I could translate that within two hours at that point was ridiculous. But I dug in. I think I translated about a quarter of the total. I got an A. When I asked her about it, she told me she didn’t want me going over it. She wanted my first effort.
In Middle Egyptian, she wanted to improve my artistic skills. There’s this little chick one draws for the ‘w’ sound, and it occurs a lot. It was, she told me, quite easy to draw. I had but to make the effort. And she’d show me how to do it several times. My drawings of ‘chicks’ never did satisfy her.
She was also going to be the head of my thesis committee, but theology and politics got in the way, and my thesis was converted to a project, even though it was the same text that would have been a thesis. It was her recommendation that led me to go ahead with the project and get my degree rather than trying to fight it out. Her idea was that I would get into a doctoral program and who would care what my MA thesis was. For once she was wrong. Though I took some further graduate hours, studying linguistics, I never did enter a doctoral program.
There are actually some academic projects of hers that I discovered only after I had left Andrews. She was much more interested in teaching and in developing character. She kept in touch and took a long term interest in students. She probably talked to me more about advising on a Spanish translation of the Bible than on anything else. As the articles I referenced have noted, she was truly skilled in multiple languages.
Let me quote:
In 1957, Leona was accepted into the PhD program at Johns Hopkins University. She was interviewed by the renowned biblical archaeologist William F. Albright,who sat her down and began talking to her in Spanish,switched to French, then German and finally English.By the end of the conversation, Albright told her that she had passed her entrance exam. (source)