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04/30/2014 | Created by Darla Martin Tucker

During a festive banquet held in an elegantly decorated Troesh Conference Center, La Sierra University’s alumni celebrated the accomplishments of their fellow alums whose work has impacted their fields of endeavor and their church.

Alumni, their families and friends gather in the Troesh Conference Center for the Fellowship Banquet & Vespers April 25. (All photos by Natan Vigna)
Biology Dep. Chair John Perumal accepts a College of Arts & Sciences Rising Star Award from university President Randal Wisbey on behalf of Donald Perez.
H.M.S. Richards Divinity School Rising Star awardee Pastor Raewyn J. Hankins speaks; university Provost Steve Pawluk, background.
School of Education Rising Star Nedd Brown reacts to his award.
Zapara School of Business Rising Star Brian Wright speaks during the alumni banquet.
College of Arts and Sciences Honored Alumnus Carol Haviland comments on her award.
La Sierra University President Randal Wisbey and Divinity School Dean John Webster (right) present the Divinity School Honored Alumnus award to Peggy and Charles Chavez, parents of Stephen Chavez.
President Randal Wisbey and School of Education Dean Ginger Ketting-Weller (right) present the school's Honored Alumnus award to Jayabarathan Chelliah.
President Randal Wisbey and Zapara School of Business Dean John Thomas (right) present the school's Honored Alumnus award to Richard Rawson.
Calvin J. Hanson, Class of 1956, receives the Alumnus of the Year Award.
La Sierra vocal group United directed by Sergio Leiva perform for the banquet's vespers service.

The annual alumni weekend fellowship banquet and vespers held April 25 at the conference center in the Zapara School of Business included musical performances by La Sierra’s students and awards for four Rising Star alums, four Honored Alumni, and the Alumnus of the Year. A sell-out crowd of 280 people attended the event.

Each of the university’s three schools and its college nominates the recipients of the Rising Star and Honored Alumni awards with nominations approved by the Alumni Board.  The Rising Star Award is generally given to alumni who are younger than age 40, who have graduated within the past 15 years, and who are already distinguishing themselves in their profession and in their lives.

The university Alumnus of the Year is chosen by the president and his team and also approved by the Alumni Board.

La Sierra’s College of Arts and Sciences, the H.M.S. Richards Divinity School, the School of Education and the Zapara School of Business respectively selected the following Rising Star and Honored Alums for this year’s awards.

Rising Stars went to Donald Uden Perez, a 1994 biology graduate and a board certified otolaryngologist at Kaiser Permanente, Riverside; Raewyn J. Hankins, a 2004 religion graduate and senior pastor of the Victorville Seventh-day Adventist Church; Nedd Irwin Brown, a 2004 administration and leadership master’s degree graduate and associate dean of graduate medical education at the University of South Dakota; and Brian Wright, a 2004 business administration graduate and current player development and scouting manager for the National Basketball Association’s Orlando Magic.

Honored Alumni awards were given to Carol Peterson Haviland, a 1964 English degree grad, author and recently retired English professor of California State University, San Bernardino; Stephen Kent Chavez, a 1974 religion graduate and coordinating editor of the Adventist Review; Jayabarathan Chelliah, a 1978 administration and leadership master’s degree grad and founder of four education institutions in India; and Richard Lee Rawson, a 1983 business administration graduate and chief executive officer of Loma Linda University Medical Center in Murrieta.

Alumnus of the Year went to Calvin J. Hanson, a 1956 graduate of La Sierra University, former assistant secretary-treasurer of the Northern California Conference Association and risk manager for the General Conference Insurance Service in Riverside. Hanson was a key leader in the effort to stop the late-1980s sale of the La Sierra campus when it was owned by Loma Linda University. La Sierra transitioned into its own identity as a separate institution in 1990.

“You were a significant leader and a significant voice in the conversation,” said university President Randal Wisbey in introducing Hanson to the awards banquet audience.

Hanson responded, “Yes, it was an interesting venture.” He credited his wife, Carol, and a friend with spearheading a prayer group over the pending sale of the La Sierra property by the Loma Linda University Board of Trustees. The prayer group formed into a committee, the Concerned Friends of La Sierra, which met weekly for 10 months toward finding ways of saving the Riverside campus. “Let me just say we left almost no stone unturned,” said Hanson.

Through a series of connections, the group was invited to make a presentation to the Loma Linda board just before a final vote on the proposed sale of the property. Hanson said he discussed the physical and financial aspects of the consolidation while other presenters discussed other matters and reasons the campus should be saved.

“We were able to convince the board that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea,” Hanson said. “What we have today is the great leadership of [La Sierra University presidents] Fritz Guy, Larry Geraty and Randal Wisbey, a fine student body, an endowment that is about twice the size of what the net sale would have been, and a campus that is twice the size it was when we were trying to save it. What I say is, praise the Lord.”

The alumni audience erupted in applause and a standing ovation for Hanson.

The evening’s Rising Star awardees and Honored Alumni also commented on their La Sierra experiences.

Perez says he is very proud of the training he received from La Sierra University and shares this gratitude with current students by encouraging them to work hard, enjoy their classes, and take pride in the quality of their education.

After graduating from La Sierra, Hankins earned a Master of Divinity degree at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University in 2008. At both Andrews and La Sierra, Hankins graduated summa cum laude and received the Dean’s Award from La Sierra.

Her experience at La Sierra gave her “wings,” Hankins said in a prepared speech. “I learned to soar as part of a community that recognizes God’s call and values my voice.”

She continued, “I was challenged that the gospel is not only about God and I, now and in the sky, by and by, but the gospel of the kingdom is about you and me, and them and us together, building healthy communities and societies based on our hope in the One who is to come.”


A week before the alumni awards banquet, Hankins was in a rear-end car accident that totaled her car and resulted in splinted teeth. “Yet, I will take my LSU alumni license plate cover, transfer it to a new vehicle and continue on. And should I crash again,” she said, “I will do the same, dust off my LSU wings and accept the grace and courage to rise again.”

In receiving his Rising Star award, Brown cited the influence of another alum, George Harding, Class of 1949 and psychiatrist at Loma Linda University Medical Center. “George Harding convinced my father to go into psychiatry when I was 6 months old,” said Brown. “Now I work at the institution where my father finished his career. It’s amazing how the Lord works.”

“Dr. Oliver told us to search for truth,” Brown continued. “Jesus said ‘I am the truth,’ and I became very solid in that in my masters degree [studies].”

In his remarks Wright stated La Sierra allowed him to pursue his passions in athletics and academics. He added that La Sierra’s professors meet students where they are and propel them toward where they want to go. “I’m a big believer in pursuing your passion,” he said.

Haviland received the Honored Alumni Award from the College of Arts and Sciences for her extensive career and contributions as a professor and researcher of English, teaching English and writing. She said that at La Sierra she learned that studying and teaching English was not about policing and that her education here “made all the difference to me. I’m thankful to La Sierra for a richer view of teaching.”

Chavez said in a video statement that he initially viewed an education as a means of deriving all the right answers. “But then I realized it’s about who you are,” and that it encompasses love, peace, justice.

“I’m prouder than ever to be an alumnus of La Sierra. I am thankful for this honor. I am humbled,” Chavez said.

Chelliah, the School of Education Honored Alumnus, established the Tamil Nadu school, the Mount Zion College of Engineering and Technology, College of Nursing and most recently the International School. “I’m thrilled to be back home here,” he said. “La Sierra laid the foundation for my future career for which I am so thankful. It propelled me to take a leap into adventure.”

“This is a great honor,” said Zapara School of Business Honored Alumnus Rawson in his remarks during the awards banquet. “La Sierra has meant so much in my life.”

Rawson said he met his wife 32 years ago while attending La Sierra and cited the influence of professors Bailey Gillespie, Richard Rice, and Madelyn Haldeman. “They introduced me to Jesus Christ and gave me a profound appreciation of grace. It’s made all the difference in the way I lead and the way I serve. We cannot transform organizations unless we ourselves are transformed.”

To view an album of photographs from the fellowship banquet and other alumni weekend activities, please visit