Soden what now? History professor wins high award

Annika Bjornson | News Writer

Soden smiles in front of the bookshelves at Cowles Library, where he has contributed many boxes of archival documents on Protestantism and PNW history.

Whitworth history professor and folk singer, Dr. Dale Soden, has received the Robert Gray Medal from the Washington State Historical Society. This is the highest award offered in recognition of long-term achievements toward Pacific Northwest history.

A native Washingtonian, Soden has made contributions that “focused on the ways the PNW has been significantly influenced politically and socially by individuals who were highly motivated by religious convictions.” states the Washington State Historical Society’s website. “[This] includes examinations of the role that African American pastors and churches played in the civil rights struggles on the west coast.”

Soden was born in Spokane and raised in Bellevue, Washington. He has taught at Whitworth since 1985 and during that time has significantly contributed to the Cowles Library archival materials related to Protestantism in the Pacific Northwest.

President Beck Taylor offered his congratulatory remarks to Soden.

“Dr. Soden is a consummate Whitworthian and long-time contributor to Whitworth’s mind-and-heart mission,” wrote Taylor. “His scholarly prowess has benefitted his students and lovers of history alike. The areas of study that owe Dr. Soden thanks include Northwest religious life, civil rights, and the role of Christian higher education, to name a few. And, of course, as Whitworth University’s institutional historian, Dale has narrated the university’s story in ways that are compelling and instructive to those of us who call Whitworth our home today.”

The role of Christian higher education is important in Soden’s approach to teaching.

“I think that historians at Christian universities should try to speak to other scholars and individuals who are both Christian and non-Christian,” Soden said. “I hope on some level, I’ve made a small, small contribution to that…You know, [the award is] not coming from a Christian organization, but it’s coming from a large group of my secular peers, even though almost all my writing is about religious people.”

Senior history major Camryn Ennis, an advisee of Soden, claims that he is one of her favorite professors. 

“One of the best things about Dale as a professor is the singalongs that he invites all his students to,” Ennis wrote. “‘Roll On Columbia’ is a classic favorite, known by heart by every history student at Whitworth! Because of this little tradition, his encouragement, thoughtfulness, and general love for his students and for the history he teaches, Dale is an icon at Whitworth.” 

As Whitworth’s institutional historian, Soden is passionate about sharing the story of the university.

“I have always believed that the more deeply you are connected to the community or the place in which you live and work, the stronger the connection and hopefully a sense of responsibility to that community,” Soden said. “I think we live in a world where forces are largely trying to isolate us and disconnect us…So having a sense of being a part of something larger than yourself, now going on 30 years, is very important to me in terms of trying to convey.”

Soden’s favorite personal publications include A Venture of Mind and Spirit: An Illustrated History of Whitworth University, The Reverend Mark Matthews: An Activist in the Progressive Era, and Outsiders in a Promised Land: Religious Activists in Pacific Northwest History. Overall, though, Soden considers his greatest accomplishment to be his marriage to Dr. Kathy Storm, professor of Psychology at Whitworth.

When asked about his teaching philosophy, Soden emphasizes empathy. “I’m not really interested in teaching the notion that history repeats itself…I’m more interested in having students ponder what it means to try to put yourself into the shoes of people that are sometimes in the distant past and therefore not easy to relate to…And I, as a Christian, believe that one of the most important commandments is to try to love your neighbors as yourself.”

This award comes toward the end of Soden’s teaching career. Though Soden was surprised to receive it, he has been honored by the outpouring of support he has received from the Whitworth community and has enjoyed sharing the celebration with them.