| Team Spirit
Alumni of the Year Steve and Myrna Anderson Teach Bible Studies From Shanghai to London
AS AN INCOMING FRESHMAN at Seattle Pacific College in
1960, Steve Anderson frequently sang on campus, impressing
audiences with his baritone voice and all-American good
looks. Senior Myrna Axelson eventually found a way to
replace Steve’s accompanist — who happened to be her
roommate — and play for him herself. Though Steve now
teases that Myrna’s ploy to get closer to him was “a bit devious,” it became
the prelude to a long and fruitful team effort.
|Alumni of the Year Steve and Myrna
Anderson visited Tiananmen Square during a three-year stay
in China. In Shanghai, while Myrna taught Bible studies,
Steve counseled Chinese executives on leadership. The Andersons
will be honored
during SPU’s Homecoming,
January 30–February 1.
Married for almost 40 years,
Steve and Myrna Anderson
supported each other’s careers and raised a family. Now “retired,” the 2003 Seattle
Pacific University Alumni of the Year work together, teaching Bible studies from
Shanghai to London.
Myrna Axelson Anderson ’61 comes from a long line of Seattle Pacific alumni.
In the 1920s, Myrna’s grandfather, a Methodist pioneer from Eastern Washington,
moved his family west and built a home on Queen Anne Hill so that the children
could attend the College. Myrna’s parents met on campus and eventually married.
It was only fitting, then, that Myrna would begin dating her future husband on
an SPC choir tour during her senior
year. “At the time, it was scandalous for me to be so much
older,” Myrna says dryly. She and Steve Anderson ’64 were married three years
later, the month he graduated. Their first years of married life were normal
enough. Steve earned an M.B.A. at Stanford University, worked briefly at Boeing,
and took a job at what would later become KPMG Peat Marwick, one of the world’s
largest accounting and consulting firms. Myrna taught music in grade schools,
then stayed home to raise their two children, Mark and Kristin. As Steve was
transferred to higher positions at KPMG, the family moved, crisscrossing the
country every few years.
Kristin Anderson, now grown and working as a human resources
professional at Microsoft, remembers: “The biggest thing we did as a family was
to go to a two-week family camp in upstate New York. We did that every summer
for eight or
10 years. No matter where we were living, we’d pile in the car and drive there.
On the way, Dad was always saying something
like, ‘C’mon, we’re going to make family memories.
We’re going to visit the world’s biggest ball of twine.’”
MYRNA DISCOVERS BSF
Things took a turn for Myrna in the early 1970s, when she first attended Bible
Study Fellowship in Los Angeles. A British seminary professor ousted from China,
A. Wetherall Johnson, had landed in Southern California and started teaching
the Bible to a group of women. The fast-growing group became known as BSF.
Myrna, “From the time I walked into the first class,
I was arrested by the women’s in-depth, intensive study of
the Bible.” When Steve was transferred to St. Louis, Myrna joined other women
in starting a pilot BSF group there. When the Andersons moved to Boston and back
to Seattle, Myrna served as a BSF catalyst again, and a new chapter of the group
grew up in each place.
Finally it dawned on the Andersons why they were often transferred. It was not
so much that Steve needed a job with more responsibility, but that God was using
Myrna to help
start Bible studies around the country. Steve says now, “To me
that’s the genius of God at work, that he can multitask with the best of them.
I can picture God saying, ‘We gotta get Steve a job, because we need Myrna here,
here and over there.’”
God’s use of Myrna was made clear to Steve while they
were living in Seattle in 1990. Myrna had been expressing a desire to return
to New York City and help start a BS F group for working women. According to
her friend Sally Canfield, “Years before, when Steve and Myrna lived in Manhattan,
she used to walk the streets, praying for the people there.”
told Myrna they could never move back to New York, given his job constraints.
But one day, completely out of the blue, the CEO of KPMG called Steve with an
amazing request: “I want you to come back to New York.” Two weeks later, as they
looked for a home in Manhattan, the Andersons learned that friends had been praying
new BSF effort and Myrna’s return. Recalls Canfield, “Myrna hit the ground running.
She completely rebuilt a condo at the same time she was making contacts in churches
and sending out invitations. Within a few months, there were 100 women signed
up for a class. I call her a bulldog for God.”
THE WORD FOR STEVE: VISIONARY
Steve rose to partner in 1977 at KPMG and honed executive management skills that
would later be used in surprising ways. In his last few years before retirement,
as vice chairman–industries, he was instrumental in a major organizational re-engineering
of the firm, which among other things included managing an intense leadership
development program designed to cultivate the next generation of senior leaders
for the firm.
Ren Jurgensen, retired partner at KPMG, says, “I ’ve known Steve for more than
30 years, and he’s got all kinds of leadership qualities. I wish I could bottle
them. There are two
things he does best. First, he’s a very people-oriented person,
and second, he’s visionary. He thinks strategically.”
Steve’s sister Karen Anderson
Solem ’69 remembers when
Steve showed early initiative and vision as a 10-year-old. “We lived on 25 acres
in Naselle, Washington, and one day Steve
decided we needed a swimming pool,” says Karen. “He got into a tractor with a
scoop on it and started digging this hole.”
SPU President Philip Eaton laughs when he hears the tractor story and agrees
that the word to describe Steve Anderson is visionary. Serving on the SPU Board
of Trustees for 18 years, six of those years as chair, Steve worked closely with
Eaton as the then-new president crafted a vision for
“When Steve was chair of the Board,” Eaton says, “his gifts were the perfect
ones for the time he was here. As I was shaping the vision for Seattle Pacific,
he’d ask me questions
that sharpened my thinking. ‘Give me the short version,’ he kept saying to me. ‘And
think big,’ he would say. ‘What’s
the big idea?’
“Finally, I told him, ‘Engaging the culture, changing the
world.’ Steve said, ‘You got it right.’ Steve was immensely important to me in
those early years of my work here at SPU.”
RETIREMENT BRINGS A GLOBAL COLLABORATION
Following retirement from KPMG in 1994, Steve joined Myrna on the BSF bandwagon.
As Myrna puts it, “Life changed dramatically. At age 51, he wanted to retire
make himself available for something different, maybe ministry.
He’d always been restless. Now he began to roam worldwide, and his wings were
flapping at a higher speed.”
They decided to move to northern China and teach
English and business at a university. For a year they stayed in the rural north,
but soon they moved again. Explains Steve, “Myrna had always had a passion to
help launch a BSF group
in one of the big cities in China.”
But to live in Beijing or Shanghai, the two
needed a Chinese
government-approved reason, such as a job. Steve’s executive leadership skills
paid off. As a board member of American Standard Companies Inc., he was asked
to create a leadership development process, training Chinese employees at the
American Standard office in Shanghai. Once again, Myrna was
able to join a “wonderful team” and teach a pilot and first-year BSF class, this
time to an assortment of expatriate women from all over the world, within a Communist
After three years, the Andersons came home to what had
once been Myrna’s parents’ house in Bremerton, Washington. They stayed for only
a little while before their next big move.
Jean Nystrand, executive director
of BSF, called at the
perfect time: Could they continue a fledgling BSF program
Nystrand and her husband had started in England? The
Andersons took off again, this time to teach a men’s fellowship
and a women’s Bible class. Now, after teaching the
women’s day class for two years, Myrna hopes to help start an evening BSF program
for working women in London.
As Nystrand tells it, “It’s a great fit, and the Andersons are a wonderful team.
Steve is a great mentor for men. The situation in London is right up his alley,
working with men in
business. And Myrna loves teaching the Bible to businesswomen — it’s that entrepreneurial
bent of hers. England is
pretty cold spiritually, so we’re grateful they’re there.”
Reflecting on the
turns their lives have taken, Myrna says, “The British woman who founded BSF
in California, where I first took a class, was imprisoned in Shanghai in World
War II. We’ve been able to go back to China for her, in a sense, and then back
to her homeland of England.
“It’s amazing how God opened the door to China and
to London,” she continues. “It’s something only God could do. I never wanted
to be a ‘missionary’ or a pastor’s wife; we were both career-track people. Now
we find ourselves teaching the
Bible full-time. How does that happen? I didn’t think it would be like this.
But it’s been a joyful adventure.”
Steve agrees. “We can’t look back on our lives
the credit for this,” he says. “We couldn’t have done it on our own power. Whatever
has been accomplished has been
— BY MARGARET D. SMITH
— PHOTOS BY
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