COLUMBIA — Dr. Arvarh Strickland was more than an academic figure. He was a groundbreaker, a mentor, a coach and a friend.
About 200 of Dr. Strickland’s colleagues, friends, family and acquaintances gathered Saturday morning at Missouri United Methodist Church to honor the legacy of MU's first African-American professor. Dr. Strickland died Tuesday at the age of 82.
Rev. Amy L. Gearhart, senior pastor at Missouri United Methodist Church, officiated the service and spoke of Dr. Strickland's values of love, hope, education, racial dignity and responsibility to young people.
Among those in attendance were brothers of many generations of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, who surrounded Dr. Strickland's casket and bid him farewell with the fraternity's somber hymn.
In a letter from the Alumni Association of Tougaloo College, read by Robert E. Weems, Dr. Strickland was remembered as a “giant who paved the way for those to follow behind.”
“This should inspire us to do even more to promote the causes he challenged,” Weems read.
Russell Zguta, chair of the MU History Department and longtime colleague and friend of Dr. Strickland’s, also spoke during the service. Zguta said Dr. Strickland’s handling of the “sometimes raucous” history department illuminated the importance of common sense and common decency in leadership.
“In my first few years at the university, Strickland was one of the few people who continuously asked me how things were going,” Zguta said. “In a way, he became my informal mentor.”
Wilma King of the MU Black Studies Program credited Dr. Strickland as the prime mover in the creation of the program, informing the congregation that it will soon become its own department.
In addition to Dr. Strickland’s legacy as a figure of MU academia, he also co-founded the Minority Men’s Network with colleague Eliot Battle.
Steve Calloway, who spoke on behalf of Minority Men’s Network, said the current members of the organization are standing on the shoulders of Dr. Strickland’s hard work.
“His life stands as an example of what it means to serve our community,” Calloway said. “Because of him we stand taller, we walk proudly, and we speak boldly.”
Those who knew Dr. Strickland saw his home with his wife, Willie, as a place of refuge, where one could enjoy delicious food and warm fellowship.
Charles Sampson, who is also part of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, described Dr. Strickland as a big brother who familiarized Sampson with Columbia when they first met, more than 25 years ago.
The last one to speak was Rev. Otto Steinhaus, member of the Columbia chapter of Kiwanis International, a civic club that expands over 80 nations. Dr. Strickland served as president of Columbia Kiwanis from 1987 to 1988, and Steinhaus said his spirit of inclusiveness of all people was evident in all that Dr. Strickland did.
The proceeding was called to a close by the congregation’s strong voices singing the hymn, “It is Well With My Soul.”
Supervising editor is Simina Mistreanu.