SIOUX CITY, Iowa – Morningside University presented two honorary degrees during the 2023 commencement ceremony at Elwood Olsen Stadium Saturday, May 13, 2023.

The first recipient was Evelyn Freeman, a 1947 graduate of Morningside and a Sioux City native. Freeman earned a bachelor’s degree in music from Morningside and a teaching credential from Briar Cliff. She became the first African American teacher hired by the Sioux City School District in 1955 and was honored by the City of Sioux City in 2018.

Freeman’s late husband, Dr. Lawrence C. Freeman, graduated from Morningside in 1948 and is a Korean and World War II Veteran. Evelyn’s husband Lawrence is who she credits for pushing her to become a teacher in the school district she attended. There is now a sculpture in the likeness of Evelyn Freeman that was unveiled as a part of the Celebrating Community Project at the Martin Luther King Jr. Transportation Center in Sioux City.

“I want to encourage this graduation class of 2023 to continue to dream big, work hard, and keep God close to your heart,” Freeman said during her remarks at commencement. “Don’t be afraid of challenges and step out on faith. Your education will lead you to help others. So, make sure you do for others because it’s the right thing to do, and you will see the blessings every day of your life.”

Freeman now resides in Mitchellville, Maryland. Freeman lives there with her middle daughter, Vikki, and her husband Michael.

The second recipient of an honorary degree is Dr. Bruce Forbes ’70. Dr. Forbes served Morningside as a religious studies professor for 40 years and received every teaching award offered by Morningside in his time.Bruce ForbesBruce Forbes received an honorary degree and spoke to the class of 2023 at commencement Saturday.

Forbes was more than a professor to many of his students, serving as a mentor for students and colleagues. He also served on many committees and could be found frequently at campus events. He welcomed international students into his home over holidays and led in May Terms and Morningside in Italy.

Upon his retirement from Morningside, a full list of every student Forbes taught was produced. That list included 5,660 names, and only scratches the surface of his impact at Morningside.

Forbes is still active in the community and is an active scholar in his field. He has edited and authored publications on a range of religious studies subjects. For a portion of the last two decades, Forbes has been researching holidays, leading him to publishing a pair of books: Christmas, A Candid History and America’s Favorite Holidays: Candid Histories. This research has made him a national go-to expert on holidays, including appearances on news outlets like CBS Sunday Morning.

About Evelyn Freeman

Evelyn Freeman is a 1947 graduate of Morningside for whom music and teaching have always been central to her life. She was born and raised in Sioux City and attended Central High School before moving on to Morningside to earn her bachelor’s degree in music, then later earning her teaching credential from Briar Cliff. She married her teenage sweetheart and 1948 Morningside alumnus Lawrence Freeman the same year she graduated from Morningside. Together they welcomed three daughters: Rochelle Carleigh (Narcisse), Vikke Renee (Burke), and Cheryl Lynee Freeman.

Freeman was an accompanist before and during college, accompanying many well-known professional singers that came through the city and serving as the accompanist for the dance studio at the School of Music Conservatory. She also taught piano lessons and played piano for Mt. Zion Baptist Church where she and her family were members.

In 1955, Freeman became the first African American teacher in the Sioux City Community Schools, teaching third grade for six years at Lincoln Elementary School. In 1961, Freeman and her family moved to California seeking better professional opportunities. There, she began teaching in the Compton Unified School District as a traveling music teacher, teaching 29 elementary schools, assisting and developing school choirs, and producing special holiday music events before retiring in 1992.

In addition to her teaching responsibilities, Freeman developed a handbell choir at Holman United Methodist Church, her home church of more than 50 years, and served as an accompanist for the children’s choir. She has also served on the board of directors for the Southeast Symphony, the Jester Hairston Scholar Group, and the National Association of Negro Musicians – all of which are organizations that strive to develop young musicians.

Today, Freeman lives in Mitchellville, Md., where she still teaches occasional piano students while playing and practicing piano daily. Her husband of 67 years passed away in 2014, but Evelyn continues to enjoy a full and meaningful life while residing with her middle daughter, Vikki, and her husband Michael, and enjoying visits from her other daughters, three grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren. 

About Dr. Bruce Forbes

Dr. Bruce Forbes, a 1970 alumnus, taught at Morningside for 40 years where he held the Arthur L. Bunch Chair of Religious Studies, an endowed chair. During his tenure Forbes received every teaching award Morningside offered, including the 2002 Lucille and Charles Wert Faculty Excellence Award; the ODK Faculty of the Year Award in 1982 and 2002; was one of the first three recipients of the Sharon Walker Faculty Excellence Awards when they were established in 2003 and became the first faculty member to receive the award a second time in 2007; and was honored with the title of professor emeritus upon retirement.

Forbes’ formal doctoral studies were in the History of Christianity, with a specialty in American religion; his dissertation studied relations between Christianity and Dakota Indians in southern Minnesota from 1834 to 1862. Teaching in a small department at Morningside, however, developed his background as a generalist who taught a wide range of courses. In addition to the history of Christianity, another of Dr. Forbes’ special interests is the analysis of popular culture. With Jeffrey Mahan, he established the religion and popular culture program unit as part of the national American Academy of Religion and served as co-chair for its first six years. He co-edited Religion and Popular Culture in America and wrote its introductory chapter. Forbes also was co-editor of Rapture, Revelation, and the End Times: Exploring the Left Behind Series.

His more recent focus has been upon holidays, first as the author of Christmas: A Candid History, published in 2007.  Later he published America’s Favorite Holidays: Candid Histories with chapters about Valentine’s Day, Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.

Forbes is an ordained United Methodist minister and is a frequent speaker at colleges, workshops, civic groups, and churches throughout the Upper Midwest. He holds his bachelor’s degree from Morningside, a Master of Theology from Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, and a Doctor of Philosophy from Princeton Theological Seminary.