Samuel E.Loliger was born into a Swiss family in Canton, Ohio, in September 1937. Two sisters came into the family after him. His father was a mill worker who had an eighth-grade European education. His mother was a 1928 graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University—a rare accomplishment for a woman in those times.
Sam was baptized and confirmed in the Evangelical & Reformed Church, which merged into the United Church of Christ in 1957. He has maintained church membership in the UCC ever since then, except for a couple years as a member of a Presbyterian congregation.
Sam was graduated from Heidelberg College in 1959 with a major in social studies education. After graduation he married a college classmate, and three sons were born into the family in the following years. After a year of teaching junior high school students in Amherst, Ohio, Sam and his wife moved to western New York where he taught public school grades 7-12 for four years.
In 1964 Sam began teaching at Niagara County Community College (part of the SUNY system). He earned a masters degree in sociology from the University of Buffalo and subsequently taught sociology courses at NCCC including the introductory course, courses in social problems, Industrial relations, marriage and family, and sex roles. He helped develop an integrated course called Experiencing the Liberal Arts, later co-teaching and administrating it. He also co-taught classes in the English department, including a class on nonverbal communication. He retired from NCCC in 1999.
Sam began dealing with his sexual orientation in 1976. Several elements converged to bring this to the fore. Homosexuality was much in the news with the Anita Bryant campaigns. He was researching the new course on sex roles that he would later teach. He participated in a self-examination retreat, called Koinonia. And he met Donald Behr that same year.
Sam served on the pastoral search committee at Zion UCC (Tonawanda, New York) that called Don to be their pastor. The weekend before Don was to be installed, Sam came out to him as bisexual. A week later, Don came out to Sam. The mutual attraction was strong and they began an intimate relationship. Both were married and had children at the time—Sam had the three older children and Don had two young children. In September 1977 they moved in together. Thirty-five years later, on October 1, 2012—with same-sex marriage now legal in New York state—they married in the living room of their home in Kenmore, New York.
Sam and Don met Bill Johnson, founder of UCC’s Gay Caucus, at the first National Gathering for LGBT persons in the UCC in Rochester, New York in 1981. At the second National Gathering a year later in Columbus, Ohio, Sam was elected to the Coordinating Council. At the next National Gathering before General Synod (1983) in Pittsburg, he was elected national co-coordinator, joining Loey Powell who was already serving in that capacity. Loey retired after a year and was succeeded by Jan Griesinger. Sam and Jan then served as national co-coordinators of the UCC Coalition for Lesbian & Gay (later LGBT) Concerns from 1984 to 1997 with Jan in Athens, Ohio and Sam in Buffalo. Sam notes that they divided tasks based upon what they each enjoyed and did not enjoy doing—the difference in personalities and style was a boon to The Coalition.
Sam’s proudest achievements in Coalition leadership were insisting upon diversity and inclusiveness in The Coaltion and establishing a new and different relationship with the UCC national offices. He took trips to New York City in order to meet and work with denominational leaders. Former denominational president Paul Sherry’s address upon his departure noted that relations with The Coalition had become more business-like and official while nurturing collegiality. During a period of denominational restructuring, the question of where and how The Coalition fits in arose. Noting that LGBT persons are connected to the church in all aspects, Sam’s encouragement led to The Coalition being given a voting seat on each of the denomination’s five new ministries.
Sam’s Coalition leadership put him in places where he never expected to be, working with the UCC General Minister and President and other church leaders in the UCC and beyond. He participated in the first meeting of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force’s National Religious Leaders Roundtable in Los Angeles. Sam played an important role in the Witness our Welcome conferences (2000 and 2003) and other ecumenical efforts. At the first WOW national event in 2000 he was recognized as one of the founders of the Welcoming Movement.
Loliger has been an active layperson in the UCC at Association, Conference and national levels by election to boards and councils, working groups, task forces, ad hoc committees and served as chair of the UCC’s Affirmative Action Council for a couple of years. He was elected conference delegate to the 1983 and 1985 General Synods. In all these settings he was “open and out” as a gay man.
Sam has been active in local and regional initiatives for LGBT and broader human rights. He served as co-convener of the Affirmative Action Committee at his college of employment. That group developed a policy prohibiting discrimination based upon sexual orientation before it was adopted in the whole SUNY system. He also served as advisor to the LGBT student/staff group and MASH (Make Aware and Serve the Handicapped) at NCCC.
Locally Sam served on the New York State Division of Human Rights Advisory Board and has held different leadership positions with HOME (Housing Opportunities Made Equal, a western New York agency promoting non-discrimination in housing). The latter continues to the present time. When hate-talk became prevalent on Buffalo talk radio, Sam became active with a group addressing this problem.
Sam is proud that he has been open and out since 1977 in all endeavors. Avocational pursuits include “stringer” journalism, reading, crossword puzzles, theatre and opera. Over the years Sam and Don have attended approximately 550 opera performances. Sam and Don each have four grandchildren that fill out their family. Sam died on January 2, 2014, following a lengthy illness.
(This biographical statement was written by Mark Bowman together with Sam Loliger.)