woman of steele
Sara Steele retires after 37 years at Free Will Baptist Bible College
by Jack Williams
To find out more about Free Will Baptist Bible College, visit www.fwbbc.edu.
She walks through five-foot openings with a half-inch to spare. She does not leap tall buildings, however, and she calls on the nearest man whenever there’s something heavy to move. But make no mistake. This silver-haired dynamo is a true woman of steel—Sara Steele, that is.
Mrs. Sara Steele, secretary to the academic dean at Free Will Baptist Bible College, will retire on June 30. She came to the college 37 years ago after working three years as a secretary at Nashville’s Parkview Hospital and six years with the National Life and Accident Insurance Company.
She began churning out work the hard way, on a manual typewriter, as secretary to Registrar Robert Picirilli, and continued as his secretary when he became academic dean. Twenty-nine years later, Dr. Picirilli retired, and Sara inherited her second academic dean, Dr. Milton Fields.
Long-time boss, Robert Picirilli, said, “Sara was not just my secretary for all those years, she was in effect an assistant registrar and dean. She cares about the students. No one could have been more faithful, loyal, and trustworthy—either to me or to the college.”
Known for her straight-talk, Sara says, “I enjoyed working here, and will miss the faculty and my coworkers. But I will not miss getting up at 4:45 every morning.”
Her future plans include trips with good buddy Sandy Ritter, without the worry of coming home early from vacation to get ready for the next semester. She will finally get to shop for groceries and run errands in the daylight.
A life-long resident of Nashville, Sara and her husband Wayne have been married 46 years. Wayne retired from the Tennessee Highway Patrol and now works security detail at the State Legislature.
“The hardest (and the most enjoyable) part of my job,” she says, “was graduation. The stress of keeping all the details straight regarding caps, gowns and hoods really pushed me. Who knows? I may get a part-time job on the docks after all my experience loading and unloading boxes.”
Around FWBBC, diminutive Sara is as well known for her dual roles as Minnie Pearl and the Bag Lady as she is for her duties in the academic dean’s office.
“Sara could go on stage with her Minnie Pearl routine,” said Milton Fields. “She’s that good.”
“I always loved the faculty,” Sara declares. “I enjoyed helping them with their tests. Maybe I spoiled them a bit, but they’re great people and good friends.”
When asked who influenced her most, Sara said, “Dr. LaVerne Miley was my hero. I could read his handwriting!”
Mrs. Steele served in the administrations of four FWBBC presidents—Dr. L.C. Johnson, Dr. Charles Thigpen, Dr. Tom Malone and current president, J. Matthew Pinson.
“I’ve been here for all of them except one,” Sara says. “But I have an excuse for not serving with L.R. Ennis. After all, I was just four years old when he was president.”
Editor of Contact Magazine for more than 30 years, Jack Williams now serves as the director of communications at Free Will Baptist Bible College.