SEATTLE — William Sacherek and Liselotte “Lilo” Lamerdin aren’t Seattle Pacific University alumni. They don’t have children who attended the school. Still, the Mukilteo couple has given an extraordinary gift to the Christian university.
They recently donated to SPU two rare paintings by African-American artist Charles Ethan Porter. The still-life painter, born in Connecticut in 1847, was once championed by Mark Twain. He worked in Paris during the era of Claude Monet and other great Impressionists. But he died back home in 1923 in poverty and obscurity, according to SPU art history Professor Katie Kresser.
The untitled paintings — one a vase of flowers, the other a bowl with onions — were unveiled at a presentation Tuesday in the First Free Methodist Church adjacent to the SPU campus. Seattle Pacific University was founded in 1891 by the Free Methodist Church of North America.
“My prayer with these paintings is that no matter how obscure you think you are, you are going to change the world,” Sacherek told SPU students at the event.
The unveiling was more than a thank you to Sacherek and his wife. The couple made their gift in appreciation of SPU’s John Perkins Center for Reconciliation, Leadership Training and Community Development.
“The center is modeled after the life and legacy of John Perkins, a sharecropper’s son in Mississippi,” said Tali Hairston, director of the university’s John Perkins Center. Hairston said Perkins experienced the horrors of racism in Mississippi, including threats from the Ku Klux Klan, beatings and the death of a brother at the hands of police.
“After moving from Mississippi to California, he found faith in Jesus Christ,” Hairston said. “He felt called to go back to Mississippi and share the love of Christ. He returned to try to figure out a way to love again and forgive.”
Perkins, 85, is co-founder and president of the John and Vera Mae Perkins Foundation in Jackson, Mississippi. The foundation was the inspiration for the John Perkins Center at SPU. Started in 2004, the center was a first, a partnership among SPU, the foundation, and Christian leaders around the Northwest.
“It’s the ministry of reconciliation,” said Hairston, adding that students involved in the center live out their faith by reaching out to others.
Perkins returns to SPU each year. After Tuesday’s presentation of the paintings, he delivered the 11th annual John Perkins lecture to students in the church.
None of that explains how a retired Boeing executive and his wife came to donate their paintings to the university.
At one of the SPU Perkins Center conferences, Hairston said, “this man walked up to me and said ‘Thank you.’ ” It was Sacherek, who had gotten to know some SPU students through Mukilteo Presbyterian Church, his faith community.
Maribeth Lopit, SPU’s director of advancement, said Sacherek now shows up on campus every week to work with students as a mentor. “I want to encourage them. This is very different from other campuses. It’s Christian-based and a forceful advocate for change,” said Sacherek, 69, who once lived on Seattle’s Queen Anne Hill.
Before retirement, Sacherek worked in major outside production for Boeing, which involved parts coming from Asia. He was later a benchmarking manager at the company. Lamerdin is a violinist with the Mukilteo Community Orchestra.
They collect other art, and Sacherek said the Porter paintings are the first of other donations they plan to make to SPU. He explained how he came to have the African-American artist’s works. As a boy in Connecticut, he shoveled snow and mowed the lawn for a neighbor, Louis Hawley.
“I was the beneficiary of these paintings from Mr. Hawley,” Sacherek said during his talk. “Mr. Porter had spent months in the Hawley home, and was allowed to paint there. In exchange, he gave a couple of paintings.”
Sacherek said his “Connecticut Yankee” upbringing didn’t include interaction with African-Americans, but “I had a neighbor who supported Mr. Porter.” And as a child of the 1960s, he saw on television the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement.
“Children my age had to have troops to go to school. People couldn’t use bathrooms or lunch counters,” Sacherek said. At SPU, he sees a place “that equips us to serve in a Christlike fashion.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Find information about Seattle Pacific University’s John Perkins Center for Reconciliation, Leadership Training and Community Development at http://spu.edu/depts/perkins.