Northwestern College to award honorary doctorate to retired missionary nurse

Northwestern College will award an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree to Arlene Schuiteman of Sioux Center, a missionary nurse who served more than 30 years in Africa, during graduation on Saturday, July 18. The commencement ceremony will begin at 8 p.m. in De Valois Stadium.

After eight years as an Iowa country school teacher, Schuiteman earned a nursing degree and served in South Sudan from 1955 until 1963, when she was expelled from the country at the start of a civil war. Schuiteman returned to the U.S. and earned a bachelor’s degree in public health nursing from the University of Iowa. She traveled next to Ethiopia, where she helped open a nursing school and taught wound care and other medical skills for more than a decade. She concluded her missionary service in Zambia in the 1970s and ’80s.

“Arlene is exemplary in her service to the church as well as humankind in general,” says Jeff Barker, a recently retired Northwestern theatre professor who wrote two books and several plays based on Schuiteman’s daily journals. “Her goal in life has been to honor God and celebrate his work in the world. She followed God’s call to obedience even in the face of great personal sacrifice.”

Barker says Schuiteman served patients creatively, improvising ways to provide treatments in environments that often had serious limitations. Over the years, she advanced from nurse to clinic leader, nurse educator and, eventually, a national medical leader in Zambia.

“When she wasn’t in front of a class, working at the clinic or assisting in surgery, she might be found folding hospital laundry,” says Barker. “There was never a task that was beneath her. At the same time, she was known to be calculating how to reorganize and reinvent so a task might be made safer and more efficient.”

Northwestern students have performed Barker’s plays about Schuiteman throughout North America and in Ethiopia and Japan.