Verley and Pearlean Sangster: 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award

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​Where do great leaders come from? Is a person born a great leader, or are their leadership gifts “born” of life lived, risks taken, opportunities given, adversities experienced, successes celebrated and the investments of other people over time? In late 1960, Verley Sangster was a young businessman who had recently lost his tavern due to revenue issues. It was at this crossroads that Verley met Bob Biehl, a man from South Bend, Indiana, who saw potential in Verley and asked to train him in the insurance business and organizational leadership. It was during this season that Verley was first introduced to the mission of Young Life through a Young Life breakfast club that was being led by Chuck Lahman.
Following this initial introduction, Verley began serving on the South Bend Young Life committee, one of the first organized committees in Young Life. In 1971, Chuck Raymond arranged for Verley and his wife, Pearlean, to be adult guests at Frontier Ranch, in Colorado. The Sangsters were blown away by what they witnessed at camp that week, and came away with a passion to see more urban kids experience what they had seen.

It was October of 1973 when Verley made the transition from volunteer to Young Life staff person Verley Contact Work.jpg
when, at the age of 33, he became the director of the Young Life Center on the west side of Chicago. This center provided many resources to the community, including legal and medical aid for residents, in addition to urban youth development work. The Young Life Center ran four Young Life clubs, including two high school gatherings run by area director Jim Chesney; while Verley led a Thursday night club for high school kids and a Friday night club for middle school kids from the local neighborhood. Verley’s vision and pioneering ways can be seen in these early days as he led what some might argue to be the first of our present-day WyldLife programs.

Again, seeing the need and opportunity to serve every kid, it was under Verley’s leadership that his assistant, Amy Mannier, and former Young Life kid and volunteer, Angela Reeves, started one of the very first clubs for teen mothers. Angela would go on to join Young Life staff following that, while Verley became area director in late 1970.

Eight years later, Verley was promoted by Young Life President Bob Mitchell to the position of National Urban Training director, a role that he served in from 1978 to 1989. In 1989, President Doug Burleigh appointed Verley as the vice president of U.S. Field Ministries. As stated on page 104 of the book Made For This, “In this role Sangster oversaw the six field directors, the Ministry Resources director and the associate field director for women. Over the course of sixteen years, Sangster had come a long way from his first position as an area director in Central Chicago. Doug Burleigh said he sensed in Sangster, ‘A man deeply committed to a prayer ministry with this mission and one who draws from significant spiritual resources in his own personal life. I believe Verley is uniquely qualified to hold together and unite this diverse field team in the United States Leadership.’” Once again, as Denny Rydberg took the helm as president of Young Life, Veryley’s influence in the mission continued, even as his title was changed to director of Multicultural Ministries.

In 1994, 21 years after Verley Sangster came on Young Life staff, he left Young Life to take on the position of president for the Center for Urban Theological Studies (CUTS) in Philadelphia, which he held until retiring in 2004.

Verley and Pearlean Sangster.jpgVerley Sangster is a great leader, whose legacy lives on in and through the mission of Young Life. His pioneering courage and visionary insight served to shape the mission’s work with multicultural and urban youth, teenage mothers, middle school and high school kids, and significantly impacted the training and equipping of countless staff and volunteers. Through life lived, risks taken, opportunities given, adversities experienced, successes celebrated and the investments of other people over time, Verley Sangster has been a gift to many within and outside of the Young Life mission. 

Verley and Pearlean, thank you for your service and for your ongoing representation of the Young Life mission. We are proud to call you our own, and are privileged to honor you as the recipients of our 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award.