Richard Litke Receives Generosity in Service Award

At Walla Walla University's commencement in June, Richard Litke received the first Generosity in Service Award, which has been created to recognize those who continuously uphold WWU's mission statement: "Excellence in thought; Generosity in service; Beauty in expression; Faith in God."

Litke has an extensive history with WWU, finishing 60 years of service to the university this year. His career began two years after he enrolled as a post-war freshman. Following his graduation in 1948, he was immediately hired to teach Greek and Hebrew for the theology department, something he started during his second (and senior) year as a student.

In order to accommodate the high number of veterans enrolled in the theology program, WWU asked Litke, whose language skills had been apparent from the moment he set foot on campus, to teach in addition to finishing his own coursework. Litke agreed, and so began six decades of inspiring dedication.

As he worked toward earning a doctorate degree in Ancient Near Eastern Languages at Yale University in 1959, Litke completed graduate work at Berkeley, Chicago and Michigan. This study enhanced his knowledge of ancient languages, and, just for fun, he added French to his repertoire while at Berkeley.

By the time Litke finished his doctorate, he had mastered Sumerian, Akkadian, Hittite and Arabic, along with three distinct Greek dialects, all in addition to the Koine Greek that he taught at WWU. His doctoral dissertation was published in the Yale Babylonian Collection in 1998.

In recent years, with the encouragement and inspiration of his wife Norma, Litke has undertaken another challenge: studying and demonstrating the relationship between Sumerian and Chinese. For this purpose, he taught himself Mandarin Chinese, further expanding the list of languages he has mastered. His project is currently being prepared for publication in two volumes.

Litke was born in 1921 into a German Communist family and grew up an atheist. He knew nothing of the Bible, Christ or church.

The summer after eighth grade, Litke attended meetings put on by a man who spoke of the stars and planets and an intelligence behind them. Intrigued, Litke attended each meeting, culminating in his baptism into the Seventh-day Adventist Church in August 1935. Following that summer, Litke attended Auburn Adventist Academy and graduated in 1939.

Currently, Litke rents two apartments. One is for sleeping and eating, the other is for visiting with and tutoring students. He always has time to meet with anyone who asks, and he loves every minute of it. His generosity in service continues to touch the lives of students and faculty at WWU.

"Dr. Richard Litke is indeed a worthy candidate to receive Walla Walla University's first ‘Generosity in Service' award," says John McVay, president of WWU. "He has served his God, his church, his university, and the world with distinction, inspiring both his students and his faculty colleagues to superior scholarship and serious Christian commitment."

August 01, 2008 / Walla Walla University
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Becky St. Clair, University GLEANER correspondent