H.F. Steenberg baptism

Windows No. 14: H.F. Steenberg

The Rock who served with integrity and compassion

Editor of Sedaven: origin and growth
Dr Paul Coetser B.A, M.A, M.Ed., D.Ed.

H.F. Steenberg: The Rock

Two boys dorm escapees are making their way to the girls dorm late at night. “Chip, chips, here comes the Rock!” warns one of them. “How do you know?” asks the other. “Look over there, you can see his flashlight coming.”

The “Rock,” of course, is a reference to none other than Pastor H.F. Steenberg. Perhaps he was known as the “Rock” because of the meaning of his last name. (Steenberg = Stone mountain) Perhaps it was because he lived in the house partway up the “koppie.”(hill)

HF Steenberg Principal and administrator
Pastor H.F. Steenberg

I would like to think that he was known as the “Rock” because he stood steadfastly for principles, fairness, and integrity like a rock.

But who was he?

H.F. Steenberg: The academic

H.F. Steenberg (Hendrik) was born in Ermelo and grew up in a fairly poor home. After high school, he earned a degree in teaching, but that was just the beginning of his academic career. He was also qualified in Afrikaans, History and Theology. He earned a master’s degree from Andrews University and travelled throughout the USA studying school systems. Later he completed an M.Th. degree from the University of South Africa.

H.F. Steenberg: School principal and Conference president

H.F. Steenberg became the principal of Sedaven in 1971 and remained there till the end of 1986 when he became the president of the Transvaal Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. He served as the conference president until a year prior to retirement when he declared his unavailability due to retirement plans. His last year was served as a pastor again. A heart attack claimed his life at the age of 73.

He was always an energetic, hard worker. At one time, while at Sedaven, he served on more than 45 committees!

H.F. Steenberg: Various remembrances 

Evert Potgieter Toe Lr. Steenberg die koshuisvader was, was hy “Slobby” Ek onthou hoe ons almal een aand in die top dorm na ligte uit hard in die donker gepraat en gelag het oor iets wat Slobby die dag gedoen het, en toe skielik Lr. Steenberg se stem: “Slobby sê, gaan slaap nou of julle kry almal pak!” Ek dink dit was daardie aand dat my respek en liefde vir hom begin groei het. Jare later sou ek op Sedaven skoolhou, met “Slobby” as my hoof. (FB: Sedaven Memories)

My first and greatest memory was of Pierre Steenberg‘s father. Ps. H.F. Steenberg was principal and our History teacher. I remember his small finger couldn’t bend so when he pointed a finger that would also stand up. When he scolded us he’d say he’d jump down our throats so deep that his shoe laces would stick out of our ears and his wife would cry for him.(Diane Vosloo, FB: Sedaven Memories)

H.F. Steenberg had a great love for beekeeping and he managed to start a fairly successful beekeeping industry at Sedaven. At one stage the school had more than 70 hives that were kept at various places on the school farm and on farms around the school. When it was time to “harvest” the honey pastor Steenberg would take some boys at night time to a group of hives and together they would take out the honey combs. Back at school, the next day, the honey would then be processed in the “honey-room”. In this way many students learnt the basics of bee keeping which became a valuable skill and hobby in later years. H.F. Steenberg also planted several hundred special eucalyptus trees which produce a specific kind of flower that makes a qood quality honey. These trees are still a landmark on the Sedaven farm. (P.Coetser).
Drakensberg trip: Some of us went with “The Rock” in his Peugeot station wagon the night before. Climbed the gully and slept at the hut taking some kit and tools. Early the following day several of us went back down to the parking area to meet the school bus with the others. A half-drum was tied to poles, carrying more cement, spades and other tools. This too was carried up the gully to the hut!! I recall a few of us went down a third time to assist the weary and heavy laden stragglers. What a trip…!!! (Marrick Schoonraad, FB: Sedaven Memories)

H.F. Steenberg building toilet on mountain
H.F. Steenberg joins a mountain group organized by P.Coetser to build toilet on Mont-Aux-Sources
Paul Coetser: some of my own memories:

I served under and together with H.F. Steenberg from 1971 to 1980 when I was called to Helderberg College. I have only the best of memories of these years of serving together.

One of the most significant leadership qualities that I remember is that Ps. Steenberg never poured cold water onto any of my ideas. When I suggested something, even if he did not really like the idea, he would always give me the green light and say, “Go ahead, try it”. Then he would not withdraw, but give me every possible administrative support within his power. Here I think of projects like taking students on Bible camps, taking students on mountain hikes, starting a school vegetable garden in the area below the Teachers’ flats, arranging a “Big Walk” to collect funds for a school combi, etc.

A second characteristic of H.F. Steenberg’s leadership style was to have a committee for everything. There must have been 20-30 standing committees at Sedaven! One of the bookshelves next to his desk was dedicated to a number of small black books in which each committee kept it’s minutes. [The ‘committee-concept” is pretty much part of Adventist management style, but I never really caught on to it and later when I became school principal I reduced the number of committees significantly.]

Through his many years of service at Sedaven High School various opportunities and job opportunities came his way, such as an offer to head a college faculty. He was also offered the position as a member of the Provincial Council – unopposed. That position came with prestige, lots of money, and a bright future. However, his calling was to Sedaven and later to the Conference.

 Was all the hard work really worth it?

H.F. Steenberg: Family man

H.F. Steenberg playing with his son
Frolicking with son Pierre
We had two standing arrangements with my parents: every night when dad came home – when he did not have some kind of meeting – he would play with us “riding the bull”. He would be on his knees on the carpet, one of us would be worrying him from the front and the other was on his back. Then the bull would buck and kick up backwards in an attempt to throw the rider off! We will never forget the bull-bull games! The other standing appointment was that once a month, on a Sunday, we could choose any activity that we liked, as long as it did not cost money, and we would then enjoy this as a special family-time treat! A few times dad also took us fishing. (Pierre in a personal letter, January 2017)

H.F. Steenberg: Pastor

The position of school principal does not only entail educational leadership and management. It demands and provides many opportunities also for pastoral service. H.F. Steenberg was a pastor in his heart of hearts. He spent many hours counseling students, staff and church members. He was regularly involved in preaching in the local church and in many pulpits across the Conference. One of his greatest joys was to be asked to baptize students who have given their hearts to the Lord.

From time to time in the years after dad passed away, some or other Sedavenite would contact me (Pierre) to tell their story. Stories that until now were not known by more than a few people. Stories of changed lives attributed to Pastor Steenberg’s intervention. Stories of Pastor Steenberg going to people’s homes in his vacation time to salvage certain situations. Stories of he and his wife giving students in tough situations a refuge in their home. (Personal letter from Pierre Steenberg).

Due to the sensitivities around these stories we choose not to mention names, but  there are countless individuals who remember gratefully what H.F. Steenberg and aunty Mavis meant for them!


Editor’s note: If you have any comment on this post or have a story about H.F. Steenberg that you would like to share, please post it in the comment box below or on our Facebook page. Do remember to “like” our page as well.

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  • Ian Hartley

    Our eldest daughter, Charmaine, boarded with the Steenbergs in Johannesburg when she was doing her dentistry degree. She had nothing but good to say about the family. I enjoyed working with him and teaching their youngest son Pierre at Sedaven who was a live wire with lots of questions. His life was too short. Mavis was a real asset at Sedaven. She loved each student as far as I could tell. Ian Hartley