In high school, it wasn't sermons but songs that made the Rev. Stephen Lamont Polley famous for his voice. He was the only male soloist in the New Castle High School choir, and his award-winning baritone took him to state competitions.
Years later, when Rev. Polley had traded choir risers for church pulpits, his wife, Betty, unsuccessfully tried to have him return to music.
"He said he was using his voice differently," she said. By then, thousands of congregants in several area churches had heard him delivering sermons or counsel.
Rev. Polley, who was called the "energizer bunny" for his tireless leadership of several congregations and religious organizations across nearly six decades of devotion, died on Feb. 13 of congestive heart failure. He was 85 and lived at the Sherwood Oaks retirement community in Cranberry.
Had things gone differently, Rev. Polley may have spent his life teaching Bronte, not the Bible. After a stint in the Army, the Mercer County native enrolled at Grove City College. The plan was to become an English teacher, but after graduating in 1951, he received a different calling.
So it was back to school -- to the Pittsburgh-Xenia Theological Seminary with his wife, Betty Kwiat, a New Castle girl who'd admired him from afar in high school. It wasn't until he returned from the Army that they saw each other again -- in a church, naturally -- and "that was it," she said. They were married for 64 years.
Mrs. Polley worked as a secretary while Rev. Polley attended seminary, earning her "PHT" degree along the way.
"It's 'Pushing Hubby Through,' " she explained.
Two more divinity degrees (a master's and, in 1975, a doctorate from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary) would follow along with multiple stints at area churches, including a first job at the Mt. Jackson United Presbyterian Church in New Castle and more than 26 years at the Northmont United Presbyterian Church in McCandless, where he eventually was named pastor emeritus.
Rev. Polley held pastor positions at the Cranberry United Presbyterian Church and the Calvin Presbyterian Church until 2011, as well as a tenure as executive presbyter at the Beaver-Butler Presbytery in Zelienople from 1984 to 1996. Leadership in numerous other local organizations would earn him several honors, including an emeritus status on the board of directors of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.
It was a resume so long that his wife had to trim positions when it came time to write an obituary, but throughout the years, it wasn't hard to find the busy pastor. Of course, his motorcycle helped.
The "motorcycling minister" used his Honda Goldwing for house calls and hospital visits, as well as for the release it gave him from the demands of his job, his wife said.
He rode it until last summer.
In addition to his wife, Rev. Polley is survived by two daughters, Denise Gagne of McCandless and Miriam Polley of Ambridge; a son, Jonathan L. Polley of Cranberry; and three grandchildren.
Visitation will be held 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. Friday at Glenn-Kildoo Funeral Home and Cremation Services Inc., 130 Wisconsin Ave., Cranberry. An additional visitation will be held at the funeral home 10 a.m. Saturday until the memorial service begins at 11. Military honors will then be held at Northmont United Presbyterian Church, 8169 Perry Highway, McCandless.
Memorial contributions can be made in support of the Stephen Polley Scholarship Fund, c/o Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, 616 N. Highland Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15206 or Northmont United Presbyterian Church, 8169 Perry Highway, Pittsburgh, PA 15237.
Erich Schwartzel: email@example.com or 412-263-1455.