Steven Poenitz, Indiana Conference president who worked alongside Wrate described him as “a gem of a Christian” who had “saved my ‘hide’ many a time as an educator and department chair.  

December 13, 2021

Longtime educator, Herb Wrate, dies at 83

Former educational superintendent for the Wisconsin and Indiana Conferences, Herb Wrate, passed away on Nov. 15, 2021, at age 83. 

His son Steve Wrate confirmed the death but didn’t give immediately cite a cause. In a Facebook post, Steve wrote that his dad “leaves a rich legacy of love for God, dedication to family, a passion for education, and a life of service to others.” 

For 10 years as a teacher and 30 years as an educational superintendent, Wrate dutifully served the Northern New England, Indiana, Iowa-Missouri, and Wisconsin Conferences of Seventh-day Adventists.  

Following retirement, he was called back to interim superintendent work four times. His influence has reached around the world through his teaching, supervision, and mission work.  

Steven Poenitz, Indiana Conference president who worked alongside Wrate described him as “a gem of a Christian” who had “saved my ‘hide’ many a time as an educator and department chair.  

“There’s got to be a special niche for Herb near the Master Teacher. He was a joy to share stories with and pray with.” 


Biographical Sketch 

Herbert Oakley Wrate was born on April 26, 1938 in Battle Creek, Michigan, to Joseph and Oneta Wrate.  

He was preceded in death by his parents and siblings: Glenna Briggs, Doris Underwood, Leon Wrate, and Fern Palfi.  

He is survived by his wife, Phyllis; son, Steve (Sonia) Wrate; daughter, Collene (Ron) Kelly; grandchildren: Nathan (Vivi) Kelly, Kristiana (Ian) Carney, Andrew Kelly, Jennifer (Tony) Thao, David (Kristen) Kelly, Julie Kelly; and one great-grandchild, Clara Thao. He is also survived by his brother, David Wrate; and sisters, Irma Church and JoAnne Snelling.  

A celebration of life service will be held on Sabbath, Dec. 18 at 4 p.m. at the Berrien Springs Village Church.  

Memorial contributions identified as the “Wrate Memorial Fund” may be made online; or by mail to Indiana Academy, 24815 State Road 19, Cicero, IN 46034. 

The following story featuring Wrate ran in the Lake Union Herald in April 2017. 


A Lifetime of Service 

Debbie Michel 

When Herb Wrate attended a camp meeting two summers ago, little did the 78-year-old know he would once again agree to serve as Indiana Conference’s interim education superintendent.   

Schools were set to open in a few months and the new conference president needed to find an interim until a permanent replacement was found.  

Standing on the sidewalk outside the chapel, Herb asked the Indiana Conference president Steve Poenitz for some time to talk it over with his wife Phyllis. Fifteen minutes later Herb returned with his answer: yes. 

“When the Lord asks me to do something, I just felt that’s what I was supposed to do,” Herb explained from his home near Terra Haute, Indiana. 

Fifty-six years after Herb, a history major, graduated from Andrews University and sent out his first resume for a teaching job, he continues saying “yes” to serving in Adventist Christian Education. “I believe in Adventist education,” he declared. “I’ve been a classroom teacher, I’ve been a principal, I’ve been a superintendent of Adventist schools. You know I believe in it!” 

This belief started from an early age. “It probably started in my mother’s womb,” he joked. 

Born in Battle Creek, Michigan, he was the youngest of eight children with parents who sacrificed for their children’s sake.  

“It never crossed any of the eight of our minds that we would ever attend the public school. It never crossed our minds that we wouldn’t be in Sabbath School and church,” he said. “My parents were committed Seventh-day Adventist Christians.” 

A few months after his birth, the family moved to a three-room home on the outskirts of town so the children could walk the half-mile to church and school. 

The home had a pump and path in the backyard. “You know what that means?” he asked with a twinkle in his eye. “It’s a water pump to get out water and the path means there was an outhouse there,” he said. In those days, “Adventist education was more important than a car or bathroom in our house.” The family didn’t get a car or bathroom until Herb was a junior at Battle Creek Academy.  

The family sacrificed on one salary. While his father worked in a factory making cereal boxes for Kellogg’s and Post, his mother worked in the home.  

At Andrews University, Herb met “a lovely lady who attracted my attention and I made an excuse to ask her for a date.” He then married nursing major, Phyllis and together they raised two children, Collene and Steve. 

As they traversed the country from North Carolina to Kentucky to Maine to Kentucky to Indiana to Maine to Wisconsin and back to Indiana, Herb rose through the ranks from teacher to principal to education director. 

It was while serving as principal in Maine, at the Pine Tree Memorial School, that he was groomed to take on the arduous role of director. “The superintendent of the conference, who also served as youth director, saw something in me that I never thought of but he started mentoring me to be superintendent and youth director.” 

He didn’t have to wait long to apply that training because when the superintendent accepted a position in the Michigan Conference, it created an opportunity for him to serve as education and youth director of the Northern New England Conference.  

Though his positions and locations changed over the years, one thing that remained was his steadfast belief in Adventist education. 

“When I give a sermon on Adventist education, I tell them this, if you want your child to be a Lutheran, send them to Lutheran school because there are good Lutheran schools. If you want your child to be a Mennonite send them to a Mennonite school because there are good Mennonite schools—good teachers and good Christian Mennonites. If you want them to be Catholic, send them to a Catholic school—that’s what they’re training them for—to be Catholics. If you want your child to be a worldly child, send them to a public school. There are good teachers in public schools. But if you want your child to be an Adventist send them to an Adventist school.”  

He said that these sentiments may not sit well with everyone. “But it’s true! If we believe Jesus is coming soon then we need to do everything we can, whether its homeschool or church school, even a Lutheran school, it’s better than a public school.” 

One lesson he learned is that it takes the work of many to make a school successful and it’s necessary for teachers and ministers to form a close alliance. “If pastors know the teachers and teachers know the pastors and they’re praying for each other, it’s a lot less hassle,” he said. 

The couple has passed on their cherished legacy by ensuring that their two children and six grandchildren attended Adventist schools, going as far as having the conference help them set up a trust fund for this purpose. 

His wife Phyllis who attended public schools during her early years because her father didn’t become an Adventist until she was 12, said, “I say it over and over again, how blessed we are. We grew up in Adventist homes. We’ve been so blessed to grow up in homes with Christian parents where their children’s salvation were the most important thing to them. I know I can say that for my mom, that our salvation was the most important thing to her.” 

The couple’s unwavering support of Adventist education has not gone unnoticed. As a group of conference administrators and educators gathered to close their meetings last May [2014], Herb was invited to the front of the room. Words such as “integrity”, “commitment”, “compassionate”, and “kind” were used to describe him and he was presented with a token of appreciation in recognition of his more than 50 years of pointing students, teachers and parents to the Source of truth. When the room full of people rose to their feet and gave him a standing ovation, Herb found himself becoming emotional, choking back tears. “I was embarrassed,” he humbly said months later. 

But it’s a fitting tribute, according to Indiana Conference President Poenitz, of an unselfish man who retired numerous times but was always willing to serve where needed, even if it meant driving two hours each way to the conference office each day. Poenitz recalls one snowy day when Herb got stuck in a ditch and a farmer used his tractor to rescue him. Once Herb was out of the ditch, he just kept going — an illustration of his unyielding spirit of service. 

You can watch more of the interview here

Record of Service 

Mount Pisgah Academy (North Carolina), secondary dean 

July 1962 – Jan 1967    
Kentucky-Tennessee Conference, elementary teacher 

July 1968 – June 1971   
Pine Tree Academy (Maine), principal 

July 1971 – Sep 1978   
Northern New England Conference, conference education director 

Oct 1978 – May 1984   
Indiana Conference, conference education director 

June 1984 – May 1990   
Iowa –Missouri Conference, conference department director (education and communication) 

June 1990 – August 2000   
Wisconsin Conference, conference education director 

August 2000 - June 2001  
Wisconsin Conference, interim education director 

Jan 2006 – June 2006  
Indiana Conference, education administrative help 

July 2010 – Jan 2011  
Indiana Conference, interim education director 

June 2015 – June 2016   
Indiana Conference, interim education director

Debbie Michel is the director of communication for the Lake Union Conference.