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Roland R. Hegstad, longtime Liberty Magazine editor dies at 92

Hegstad was both an extraordinary editor and mentor

Roland R. Hegstad, longtime Liberty Magazine editor dies at 92

[Photo courtesy of Liberty Magazine]

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Long before he began a 35-year run as editor of Liberty magazine, Roland Hegstad had a decision to make.

That choice helped change the direction of his life from a secular goal of being a sports editor at a daily newspaper to Christian ministry. A veteran denominational worker, Hegstad died June 17 at age 92 in Dayton, Maryland, after a lengthy illness.

Pastor Ted N.C. Wilson, president of the Seventh-day Adventist church, said Hegstad "was a wonderful church leader in the area of freedom of conscience and religious liberty. He served with absolute distinction is his capacity as an editor and was an excellent speaker who helped keep a strong focus on the need for religious liberty.” (The full text of Wilson’s tribute is below)

Wintley Phipps, who worked with Hegstad when both were at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, said, "When people contribute to your sense of calling, and your sense of worth, they give you more than money could ever buy, and that’s what he did. [Roland] did more than I could ever imagine because of his encouragement and counsel."

And Adult Bible Study Guide editor Clifford Goldstein, who followed Hegstad as Libertyeditor, recalled his colleague as someone who "did not just teach me editing. I learned a lot from Roland about just what it meant to be a Christian."

College Crossroads

Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon, had accepted Hegstad as a journalism student; he was promised a sports section editorship for the student newspaper. Walla Walla College, then a small, Seventh-day Adventist school nearly 300 miles to the east in College Place, Washington, also accepted him. (The school became Walla Walla University in 2007.) 

He was not an Adventist but, as Hegstad told Adventist Review in 1994, his aunt was. During what he called "a family crisis" just before college began, he took the advice of that aunt—Sylvia Peterson—who told the young man he could find answers to questions such as "Is there really a God" at the Adventist school.

He earned a bachelor's degree at Walla Walla in 1949, the year he married Stella M. Radke, who survives. Five years later, Hegstad earned a master's degree from the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary.

Beginning as an evangelist in the Upper Columbia Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Hegstad quickly segued into editorial work. In 1954, he became associate editor of These Times, joining the magazine's staff in Nashville, Tennessee. Two years later, he was named book editor for the Southern Publishing Association, which published the journal.

In 1959, the Adventist church’s world headquarters called Hegstad to serve as Liberty magazine's editor; he simultaneously served as associate director of the church's Public Affairs and Religious Liberty department. During his tenure, Liberty received the Associated Church Press' "Award of Merit" for general excellence six times, and 80 other awards. In 1971-72, Hegstad also served as interim editor of Insight magazine,the denomination’s journal for high school and collegiate students published by the church-owned Review and Herald Publishing Association.

"An Unapologetic Adventist Magazine"

Speaking with Adventist Review in 1994, Hegstad said his most important contribution to Liberty wasn't winning awards, but rather establishing "its identification as an unapologetic Adventist magazine."

He told William G. Johnsson, Adventist Review’sthen-editor, "When I became [Liberty] editor, the name Adventist did not appear in Liberty, and editorial policy prohibited articles on doctrine or policy."

He changed that, though not without opposition—but also not without approbation: "Within a few years, circulation increased from 165,000 to more than a half million."

Hegstad added, "I try to bring the wisdom of God's Word to bear on issues and to communicate it, both in print and in illustrations, in a way intelligible to the secularists who make up a high percentage of our readership."

One of Hegstad's happiest accomplishments was helping to negotiate the opening of a Seventh-day Adventist publishing house in the former Soviet Union at the height of the "cold war" between the USSR and the West. He viewed the eventual collapse of the Soviet regime and the subsequent opening of much of the formerly communist world to the preaching of the gospel as a "prophetic event."

In retirement, Hegstad created and edited Perspective Digest, a lay-oriented theological publication for the Adventist Theological Society. His books included "The Certainty of the Second Coming," written with Edward E. Zinke; "Pretenders to the Throne"; and "The Mind Manipulators."

Encouraged, Mentored Authors

While Liberty editor, Hegstad often found and nurtured new writers, including Goldstein, who admitted he "tried to dazzle him with my golden prose," submitting an article on anti-Semitism that was short on detail.

"A couple weeks later I get this very blunt, to the point response," Goldstein, who worked with Hegstad for 10 years, recalled. "Roland was not an editor you could bamboozle. He saw right through it. He said you’re a good writer, but you’re lazy. He told me he never expected to hear from me again. I went back, did my research, sent him the article, and he [published] it."

Goldstein said Hegstad's editing prowess was legendary: "Long before computers, there was Roland’s famous red pencil. He would red pencil my work, and he was hard on me. But I realized, this guy’s brilliant. Even to this day, decades later, now and then, I’m editing something, and Roland’s voice will pop me into my head."

Hegstad's legacy is valued by the current Liberty editor, Lincoln Steed, who knew the family for decades.

"Growing up under his editorship—it’s the passing of a giant in Adventism," Steed said. "He filled that role admirably. He was a great technical editor and an energetic force at the time.

Roland Rex Hegstad was born in Stayton, Oregon, on April 7, 1926. An eighth-grade teacher in his hometown of Wauna, Oregon, encouraged his writing interests, which continued through high school and at Walla Walla College.

Along with his wife of 70 years, Stella, he is survived by a son, Douglas, of Loma Linda, California; daughters Sheryl Clarke and Kimberly Handel; and four grandchildren. Hegstad and his wife were members of Spencerville Seventh-day Adventist Church in Silver Spring, Maryland.

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Below is the full version of Ted N.C. Wilson’s tribute to Roland Hegstad: 

A wonderful champion of religious liberty has gone to sleep in Jesus. Elder Roland R Hegstad, for many years the editor of Liberty magazine, was a wonderful church leader in the area of freedom of conscience and religious liberty.  

He served with absolute distinction is his capacity as editor and was an excellent speaker who helped keep a strong focus on the need for religious liberty. As we all know, the price of liberty, and religious liberty in particular, is constant vigilance. Elder Hegstad helped maintain that vigilance at a high level.  He was one of the church’s finest editors and had a tremendous intellect which he used in his dedicated service for the Master and the Advent movement.  

It was a great personal privilege to count Elder and Mrs. Hegstad as family friends since I was about ten years old, when my father served as Columbia Union Religious Liberty director and Elder Hegstad worked in religious liberty. 

On behalf of the world family of Seventh-day Adventists, Nancy and I share our sympathy and Christian love with Mrs. Hegstad, and the Hegstad children: Doug Hegstad, MD, Shari Clarke, Art Major, Kimberly Handel, RN.In recent years, Elder Hegstad has been at the wonderful Elternhaus Retirement Center in Dayton, Maryland, where my parents and Nancy’s mother spent their last years in a very caring Christian environment with worships, vegetarian meals, and loving Christ-like personal attention. It was a privilege for our family to visit Elder Hegstad at Elterhaus and sing for him. When we sang to him, at times he would sing along with us.......he loved Jesus and proclaimed biblical truth......the next thing he will know is seeing Christ coming in the clouds of glory!  This is the message he proclaimed and for which he lived.  

Let us pray for the Comforter to come especially close to Mrs. Hegstad, Doug, Sheri, Kim, and grandchildren at this time. Praise God for Christ’s soon return!