Bio: Dr. Ira Zepp, 2015 posthumous honorary degree recipient
Dr. Ira G. Zepp ‘52
Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters (Posthumously)
Accepting the award is daughter Jody Zepp ‘94, Maryland Teacher of the Year
Ira G. Zepp, Jr., a 1952 alumnus and professor emeritus of Religious Studies at McDaniel College, dedicated the better part of his 79 years to our community on the Hill, inspiring generations of students to lead lives committed to service, activism and peace.
He joined the faculty in 1963, first as dean of the chapel, then as professor of Religious Studies, and continued to teach full time until his retirement in 1994. His electrifying courses on taboo topics at the time like human sexuality, death and racism packed classrooms and changed lives, as did his serious scholarship and prolific writings on a wide range of subjects, from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X to the culture and religion of Islam.
Zepp was a mentor, role model and friend to many, dating back even to his undergraduate days, when he was nicknamed the “Big Easy” for his broad shoulders and even temper on the football field and awarded the Bates Prize for outstanding male student at graduation.
He graduated magna cum laude from Drew Theological Seminary and served churches in Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey before joining the faculty at then Western Maryland College. He earned a Ph.D. in 1971 from St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore and studied theology in Edinburgh, Scotland and Gottigen, Germany, as well as at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the Hartford Seminary and in Cuernavaca, Mexico. He also spent a summer studying Christian-Marxist dialogue in Eastern Europe and was a Fulbright scholar in India in 1967.
A three-time winner of the Distinguished Teaching Award and the 1989 Maryland Professor of the Year, Zepp’s good works inspired others to honor him with special forms of recognition. These include the Distinguished Teaching Award, the Ira and Mary Zepp Center for Nonviolence and Peace Education and the McTeer-Zepp Scholarship. He was also a founding director and the inspiration behind Common Ground on the Hill, and both taught and took classes at its summer programs on campus that foster an appreciation for diversity through music, art and philosophy.
Among the dozen books he authored were also those that celebrated his beloved college and hometown, including: “Sacred Spaces of Westminster”; “A Grateful Memory: the History of Baker Chapel”; and “The Journey Outward: Protest & Service In An Uncommitted Generation, a History of SOS and Hinge at Western Maryland College,” which he edited. After his death Aug. 1, 2009, more than 600 family, friends, colleagues and former students of Zepp attended a service in Baker Memorial Chapel to honor him.