When asked about their father’s message in his life and work, the three Sterner sisters answered almost in unison. “Love,” they said. The Anderson University Heritage Award honored the evangelical author, broadcaster and missionary Rev. Dr. R. Eugene Sterner Sunday. Though failing health prevented the 94-year-old Sterner from attending the ceremony, his three daughters talked about his life. (photo: Sylvia Sterner Johnston accepts the 2006 Heritage Award on behalf of her father from Dr. James Edwards).
“He always said he couldn’t have done it without his family, especially my mother,” said his oldest daughter, Sylvia Sterner Johnston, 69, Indianapolis. “(This night) is pretty nice.” About 450 people attended the dinner and ceremony. Established in 1994, the Heritage Award is an annual honor given to someone who has “advanced the mission of Anderson University.”
Sterner grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania and traveled to Indiana to attend Anderson University in 1934. He put himself through school by working odd jobs and married Mildred Rabberman who worked at the Gospel Trumpet.
Before he finished his degree an opportunity came up to minister to a congregation in Ellwood City, Pa.
Ordained in the Emlenton Camp meeting, Sterner preached first in Pennsylvania, then in Louisiana, where he finished his bachelor’s degree in psychology and speech.
He also preached in Alabama and Ohio as he completed a graduate degree in theology at United Seminary.
In 1953, he returned to Anderson to become executive director of the Radio and Television Commission. During his tenure, he helped reorganize church leadership, and, in 1957, started writing Christian books and booklets.
Even though Sterner’s work often kept him from his family, his daughters still felt connected to their father.
“Growing up, one thing we knew was, more than anything he wanted to do God’s will,” the youngest sister, Peggy Sterner Hogue, 58, Hurricane, W. Va. “Our mother always told us he was trying to do the work of God, and that was a very secure feeling.”
And when he became speaker for the Christian Brotherhood Hour in 1968, they could also hear the sound of his voice.
“I loved to hear him preach. It was always very clear and not overly learned,” said middle sister Kathy Sterner Hogue, 60, Charleston, W. Va.
Today, the program broadcasts worldwide is known as Christians Broadcasting Hope.
As they grew up, the three stayed close: All chose teaching as a profession and spent at least part of their careers teaching English.
Peggy and Kathy have even more in common: They married two brothers, giving them the same last name.
In time, the three women would add seven grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren to the Sterner clan.
“I’m the first grandchild, and when I came along I was the first male,” Sylvia’s son Todd Wilson, 44, who works in public affairs at the University of Illinois, said with a smile. “I got all the attention.”
Throughout their lives, they said, they were guided by their father’s message.
“Love and respect,” Kathy said. “God loves us, and he wants us to love each other.”
— LINDSAY WHITEHURST is a reporter with the Herald Bulletin in Anderson, Indiana. Visit the Herald Bulletin online at www.theheraldbulletin.com.