Steadman Upham, anthropologist and president emeritus of The University of Tulsa, died July 30, 2017, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, from complications following surgery. He was 68 years old.
Upham served as president of The University of Tulsa (TU) from 2004 through the spring of 2012 and returned later that year at the request of the Board of Trustees to replace his successor. Upham retired as president in 2016 and planned to return to TU as a faculty member in the Department of Anthropology. At the time of his death, he was developing a course on the migratory history of humans.
Previously in his career, Upham served as president of Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, California (1998-2004); as dean of the graduate school, professor of anthropology and vice provost for research at the University of Oregon (1990-98); and as assistant professor of archaeology, then associate professor and associate dean of the graduate school at New Mexico State University (1981-90). He completed his doctorate in anthropology at Arizona State University in 1980.
Under Upham’s leadership, TU achieved dramatic gains in campus growth, academic development, fundraising, community service and engagement, campus life, and student body profile.
TU’s sustained development during the Upham era included new doctoral programs in chemistry, physics, and anthropology, establishment of the Oxley College of Health Sciences, a growing roster of interdisciplinary research institutes, increased internationalization of the curriculum through the Center for Global Education, creation of the Office of Diversity and Engagement, and partnership with the University of Oklahoma to establish the OU-TU School of Community Medicine.
Upham oversaw TU’s Embrace the Future Campaign (2004-11), which raised $698 million for campus growth, endowed scholarships, endowed faculty positions, and other priorities.
Himself a former college basketball player and recreational long-distance runner, Upham understood the value of athletics both as a personal pursuit and as a way to build community around the university. His appreciation of Golden Hurricane athletics and regular attendance at games made him a respected and beloved figure among TU’s student-athletes.
In one of his most visible and far-reaching achievements, Upham led TU in establishing the True Blue Neighbors initiative, a service program that partners TU closely with the Kendall-Whittier neighborhood and with service organizations throughout Tulsa. True Blue Neighbors has seen year-after-year increases in volunteer contributions from TU students, faculty, and staff (70,255 hours in 2016), and it continues to be the primary vehicle for the university’s community engagement. In 2008, Upham led the university in forging the Gilcrease Museum management partnership with the City of Tulsa – an arrangement that has benefitted both institutions, spawned a master’s program in museum science and management, and enabled a $65 million expansion of Gilcrease with funds from the successful Vision Tulsa sales tax ballot.
Upham also worked with the late Walt Helmerich and family, along with other donors, to establish the Helmerich Center for American Research, which houses the expansive Gilcrease Documents Archive. In 2015-16, Upham led a major coup by representing the center during the acquisition of The Bob Dylan Archive – a joint effort with the George Kaiser Family Foundation.
Scholarship remained an important part of Upham’s work. In 2006, he wrote and edited a book showcasing the photographs of Edward S. Curtis, a renowned chronicler of Native American culture and people starting in the 1880’s. The book resulted from a relationship Upham developed with the grandson of Curtis, who agreed to have the images from hundreds of unpublished glass negatives printed for the first time.
In all, Upham wrote or edited 10 books and wrote more than 75 book chapters, journal articles, and other professional writings. His dissertation research focused on the Southwestern Pueblo tribes of Native Americans, especially the Hopi people, and included several summers of archeological excavation at Chavez Pass, Arizona. His later field work uncovered what was then the earliest example of eight-row corn in the Americas, dated to 1225 B.C.
Upham’s interest in anthropology was kindled during an extended trip that he and his wife, Peggy, took through Mexico and Central and South America in 1974-75. The couple visited a number of pre-Columbian sites along their route. When their Volkswagen bus was impounded at the border of Costa Rica, they continued by other means, making it as far as Cochabamba, Bolivia, before having to return to the U.S. In 2012, Stead and Peggy returned to South America and completed the final leg of their trip to Tierra del Fuego, nearly 40 years later.
Besides being united in their leadership roles at TU, Stead and Peggy shared a passion for art. He was an accomplished painter, working mostly in a meticulous abstract pointillist style using acrylic gel paint; she is a silversmith specializing in wearables. When it was time to recharge, the Uphams often retreated to their second home in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where they maintained studio space.
Upham found time for extensive service on the boards of organizations. His roles included commissioner of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges; chairman of the Board of Directors of the Council of Graduate Schools; president, National Physical Science Consortium; director of The American Mutual Funds; director of the St. Francis Health System; director of the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce; director of the American Council on Education; director of the National Collegiate Athletic Association; director of the College Football Playoffs; and director and chair of the Tulsa Community Foundation. In 2014, the Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice honored Upham at its annual awards dinner. In 2015, TulsaPeople Magazine named him Tulsan of the Year; he also was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame that year.
Upham is survived by his wife of nearly 46 years, Peggy; their son, evolutionary biologist and Yale postdoctoral fellow Nathan Upham; their daughter, Portland architect Erin Upham, and her husband, Alejandro Lopez; their grandchildren, Orion and Aadrock; and by countless colleagues and friends.
A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. on Saturday, August 19, at the Donald W. Reynolds Center on The University of Tulsa campus. Members of the community are invited.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests a gift to The Steadman and Peggy Upham Endowment for Community Service and Outreach at The University of Tulsa, www.utulsa.edu/giving or 918-631-2565.
Ninde Brookside Chapel ninde.com 918-742-5556