February 10, 2017

Former World Church Education Leader George H. Akers Passes to His Rest at 90

George H. Akers, who was Education Director for the Seventh-day Adventist world church from 1985 to 1990, passed to his rest Feb. 4, 2017, in Collegdale, Tennessee, at the age of 90. His wife of 68 years, Imogene, and several family members were at his bedside.

An ordained pastor as well as an educator — he’d earned a doctorate in curriculum and instruction from the University of Southern California in 1966 — Akers was employed in denominational service from 1947-1998, and served throughout the movement’s educational system. He began his career as a dean and teacher at a Seventh-day Adventist academy, and, on the way to denominational leadership, spent many years teaching and serving as a the first dean of the School of Education at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. He was also president of Washington Adventist University, then known as Columbia Union College, in Takoma Park, Maryland.

Along with his administrative roles, Akers was a prolific writer on educational topics. A 1993 article in the Journal of Adventist Education on “Nurturing Faith in the Christian School,” received a 1994 Distinguished Achievement Award from a secular organization, EdPress, now the Association of American Publishers.

“It is the nicest work ever given to human beings, to teach our students how to live by faith, by a simple ‘thus saith the Lord.’”

In that article, Akers stressed the importance of instilling Seventh-day Adventist beliefs in the hearts and minds of students: “It is the nicest work ever given to human beings, to teach our students how to live by faith, by a simple ‘thus saith the Lord.’ These heavy-duty spiritual survival skills must be built into young lives now, in our classes, on our campuses.”

It was that commitment to the conveyance of Adventist faith which colleagues in the Adventist Church’s educational system and leadership warmly remembered.

Akers “contributed much to the ministry of education over the many years of his career, particularly in regard to enhancing the expression of faith through educational processes,” said Ella Smith Simmons, a veteran educator and a general vice president of the world church.

“Dr. George Akers was a prince of a man,” noted Lisa Beardsley-Hardy, current Education Director for the world church.“He was alert and had a warm sense of humor.He cared deeply about people and the work of education and this shows through even in his picture on the line-up of directors of education at the General Conference Headquarters that I pass by everyday.He will be missed but his good influence lives on.”

George H. Akers, whose resemblance to President Richard Nixon once got him waved into Camp David, flashes the "V for Victory" sign in 2009. Akers passed to his rest at the age of 90. (Courtesy Chattanooga Times Free Press)

Larry Blackmer, North American Division vice president for education, said “Dr. Akers set high standards for his students and Adventist education across this division. His legacy is hundreds of Adventist leaders who have sat at his feet and caught his vision of Christ-centered Adventist schools sharing Jesus with tens of thousands of students every year.”

Humberto Rasi, a retired education director for the world church, succeeded Akers in that role, and remembered their work on the conferences which led to hundreds of essays for the Christ in the Classroom series of books. Rasi praised Akers as "an eloquent expositor of the foundational concepts of Adventist education and a trusted mentor to two generations of teachers and leaders."

And Beverly Rumble, editor emeritus of the Journal of Adventist Education, said Akers had “his strong commitment to the integration of faith and learning,” but also had his humorous moments. When Rumble and several colleagues visited Akers at their home in Michigan one winter, the party walked out a fair distance on the then-frozen Lake Michigan.

“He laughed when I said that walking on water was a skill I could use back at the office,” Rumble recalled.

Born in Maryland

George Hillry Akers was born in Rock Hall, Maryland, on June 18, 1926, the son of the late Hillry B. Akers, a boat captain, and Kitty Smith Akers. He had two sisters, Miriam Dalecki, who preceded him in death, and Eolin Ann Tripp, who survives.

Akers attended Rock Hall public schools and graduated from Shenandoah Valley Academy. He then attended the school now known as Washington Adventist University, graduating with a certification as a teacher. Subsequent studies led to his doctoral work at U.S.C.

In 1949, Akers married Imogene. They had two sons, Douglas Allen Akers, who passed away in 2001, and Daniel Akers. Along with his wife and surviving son, Akers is survived by four grandchildren, Daneen Akers, Deeanne Akerson, Kallen Thornton, and Cade Akers, as well as five great-grandchildren.

‘Presidential’ Access

It was during his time in Takoma Park that Akers gained a rather unique moment of access. The year was 1970, and Richard Nixon was President of the United States. As evidenced in photos from that time, Akers was a doppelganger — a look-a-like — for the 37th President. One Sunday, he and some students and leaders from the college were having a picnic near Thurmont, Maryland, home to “Camp David,” the Presidential retreat created by Dwight Eisenhower.

An idea was suddenly hatched, to near-disastrous results.

With Akers in the front of the car, the group pulled up to the main gate and informed the Marine standing guard, “Our president is ready to go through.” It wasn’t a total untruth, per se, since at the time Akers was their president — the head of a Seventh-day Adventist college about 90 minutes by car to the south.

The young Marine waved the party through and phoned ahead to the main building, only to hear that the actual President Nixon was already on the premises.

In a few moments, the college party became the subject of intense attention from the U.S. Secret Service. After questioning all concerned, and a highly detailed inspection of their car, Akers and his companions were sent away. An agent told Akers his “visit” helped the agency, which had not contemplated the unannounced arrival of a presidential look-a-like.

Recalling the incident some 40 years later for the Chattanooga Times-Free Press, Akers noted that the Marine who waved them through was “shamed” over the innocuous deception.

"I felt so sorry for him, that he blew it in some silly look-a-like situation," Akers told the newspaper in 2009. "We tried to invite him to the university for a weekend … but he wasn't interested in any of that. To think I brought so much pain and disaster to another person, just really hurts me."

According to an obituary notice in the Chattanooga newspaper, a funeral service for Akers is to be held on Feb. 11 at the Collegedale Seventh-day Adventist Church. Interment will follow at the Rose Hill Cemetery in Berrien Springs, Michigan.