Verses from the Bible.
The Lord’s Prayer.
The Qur’an – in both English and Arabic.
The rousing sound of an African-American spiritual.
And a Muscogee Creek Blessing played on a flute.
All of these diverse cultural and religious elements marked the Memorial Service of Ira G. Zepp, Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies, which took place in Big Baker on August 29.
The service was a celebration of Zepp’s life – a life which many speakers and attendees noted was packed to the brim with family, friends, former students and former colleagues.
“He wove threads of compassion and integrity into our lives,” said former student Charles Moore in his memorial speech.
President Joan Develin Coley told the crowd that filled every inch of space in the chapel that Zepp was also an influence on her life. She joked that she keeps Ira in her top drawer in the form of mementos, emailed advice, and words of inspiration that he shared with her.
Ira’s daughter, Jody Zepp, remembered her father as being an advocate. Pam Zappardino said in her speech, Ira “lived and breathed nonviolence.” David Carrasco talked about how Ira loved the word “liberation,” and how he made a commitment to it. Carrasco also pointed out how Ira often used words such as “love,” and “grace,” in his vocabulary.
Even students who might not have known Ira Zepp can hear his lessons, his advice, through the words others remember him by as well as the words he left behind in his novels and other written works.
Even though Ira has passed away, his teachings still impact all of those who knew him.
Mahlia Joyce, Acting Director in the Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, can attest to this.
“In many ways, I credit Ira’s teachings, wisdom, encouragement, questions and commitment to justice, with shaping me to become ready to take on my current position,” Joyce said.
“I learned from Ira the importance of being both educator and student and to not only question the world as it is, but also to work on behalf of what it can be. Ira lived diversity. He didn’t just teach about it.”
Ira’s impact on Joyce’s life did began when she was first a student of his in 1993. Joyce emphasized that Ira was willing to understand where students were coming from and encouraged further development and exploration of their beliefs.
In addition, Joyce said that Ira and his classes caused for her a “huge shift in thinking,” by encouraging her to not only stand up for her beliefs, but to also reflect deeper on their origins.
For all the current students who never had the pleasure of knowing Ira, the one word that Joyce would use when referring to him is “healer.”
Joyce said, “Ira wasn’t afraid of questions and seeking truth. He taught us about how powerful questions can be to unite us, to facilitate dialogue and to bridge our differences. He said that, ‘teaching is about repairing the world, mending the world, restoring the world, perfecting the world.’ I can’t think of many things that are more healing than that.”
Here are some of Ira’s words as seen in his final book, The Pedagogy of the Heart, and read at the memorial service.