La Sierra's stars recall university's influences

La Sierra's stars recall university's influences
La Sierra's stars recall university's influences

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March 5, 2009
By Darla Martin Tucker

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – ( )Lilly Bond Nelson, a Seventh-day Adventist educator, wasn't sure what to do a few years ago when a doctoral program in Los Angeles required Sabbath attendance.

La Sierra University's education program offered an alternative, but Nelson had a full-time job, a family and faced a long commute to Riverside. Clifford Jaqua, former chair of La Sierra's department of administration and leadership in the School of Education, encouraged her with a promise of assistance.

"He said, if you want to do it, we'll find a way," Nelson recounted during La Sierra's Homecoming Fellowship Banquet on Feb. 27. Inspired by his support, she enrolled and began driving to LSU two nights a week. "What I found were instructors who were truly interested in me," she said. "…I felt served and it transformed me into wanting to [perform] service for others."

La Sierra University President Randal Wisbey, school deans and university leaders honored Nelson and nine other alumni during the fellowship banquet that officially launched La Sierra's Homecoming weekend held Feb. 27 - March 1. During the banquet, the alumni received La Sierra's annual Rising Star awards, Honored Alumni awards, Alumnus of the Year and Distinguished Service awards. As the alumni accepted their awards, university leaders interviewed them about their experiences at La Sierra.

The School of Education recognized Nelson with an Honored Alumna award. Nelson graduated from La Sierra in 1982 and 1985 with an Education Specialist degree and a Doctor of Education degree, respectively. She spent much of her 48-year career rising through the ranks at Compton Unified School District where she eventually became assistant superintendent of the 30,000-student district. She held the position until her retirement. Nelson temporarily exited retirement to serve Los Angeles Academy for four years as principal/business manager, ending her tenure there in 2006. Through the years she helped provide financial assistance to many students enabling them to attend Adventist schools.

The College of Arts and Sciences named award-winning television scriptwriter and former LSU English major Donald Davenport an Honored Alumnus. He earned respective bachelor's and master's degrees from La Sierra in 1975 and 1977. When asked to name those who inspired him most at La Sierra, Davenport listed several names. But he cited English Professor Robert Dunn as his greatest influence. "I feel like I owe him a great debt of gratitude for helping me at an early age understand what good literature is all about," Davenport said.

Most recently, Davenport wrote scripts for two Hallmark Channel movies; "Expecting a Miracle," which aired Jan. 10, 16 and 22, and "Love Finds a Home" which will appear April 11, 17 and 26. The romantic comedy, "Expecting a Miracle," garnered the no. 1 Nielsen ranking of the night on Jan. 10 for cable programs and earned recognition as the no. 1 cable movie for that week. Davenport also co-wrote scripts for two North American Division/Adventist Media productions, "Love's Pure Light" and "Christmas at Cadillac Jack's." He collaborated with country singer Kenny Rogers on the book, "Christmas in Canaan," published in 2002 by HarperCollins, and is working on a film adaptation of the novel.

Richard Duerksen, a La Sierra religion graduate in 1969 and 1971, remembered Dr. Richard T. Orrison, Calkins Hall men's dean, and the Friday, Saturday and Sunday night conversations he had "…with a bunch of guys who needed to talk," Duerkson said. "[Orrison] taught me how to listen to stories embedded in conversation." The university's School of Religion named Duerksen an Honored Alumnus. Duerksen is a weekly television show host and professional storyteller for Maranatha Volunteers International. He has served as a pastor, high school teacher and principal, worked as youth ministries director for the North Pacific Union and held high level marketing and mission development positions at Adventist institutions.

Gilbert Cangy, La Sierra Class of 1998, is youth director for the Australia-based South Pacific Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. La Sierra's School of Religion named him its Rising Star during the alumni banquet. Cangy conducts speaking engagements throughout the world and is working on a Doctor of Ministry degree from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena. Cangy, who was unable to attend the Homecoming banquet, said in a letter "I am greatly honored by this award as it comes from people I have utter respect for. ...I wish to thank Bailey [Gillespie, theology professor] personally for his godly personal and professional influence on my ministry journey over the last 15 years. He is a true ambassador for the fortress of grace that La Sierra represents."

Kristel Manal Tonstad, Class of 2004, received the College of Arts and Sciences Rising Star Award. Tonstad is part of a team with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Norway that is developing national policy aimed at fostering corporate social responsibility. The policy will provide direction in the areas of human rights, environmental impacts and worker conditions to Norwegian corporations conducting business internationally. Tonstad earned degrees in religion and psychology from La Sierra. She worked for a year at the Center for Law and Public Policy at Columbia Union College in Maryland before earning a master's degree in public policy from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in Boston.

Tonstad told banquet attendees she appreciated learning to write and think analytically during her classes at La Sierra. "What I learned here is still with me in a tangible and practical way," she said.

The School of Business honored Geovanny Azucena Vielmann, a 2001 graduate, with a Rising Star award. Vielmann currently serves as regional vice president in Latin America for the Springfield, Mo.-based Students In Free Enterprise, an international organization that encourages university students around the world to implement economic development programs in impoverished areas. La Sierra's SIFE team twice won the SIFE international trophy for its development programs and carried the national title six times.

Vielmann earned a Bachelor's of Science in business administration and helped develop SIFE's Welfare to Work project in Riverside County. She worked for the Inland Empire Economic Partnership, the Inland Empire Small Business Development Center and business services conglomerate KPMG France to assist in developing SIFE France. Through her experience with La Sierra's SIFE team, Vielmann watched students from various majors embrace business concepts while learning teamwork. "[That was] one of the defining things I got out of my experience with the SIFE program," she said.

Wisbey asked School of Education Rising Star, Wendi Achata Anderson, to recount the La Sierra experiences that shape the way she teaches. Anderson said she experienced an inclusive, "loving and family feel" at La Sierra. Toward building on that experience, "the first rule in my classroom …is respect others whether you know them, like them or agree with them," she said. Achata earned an Education Specialist degree in 2002 and a Doctor of Education in 2007 from LSU. During that time she helped develop a distance education program and created Websites and interactive courses. She currently teaches eighth grade for Page Middle School in Gloucester County, Virginia.

La Sierra's School of Business named Wayne Herling an Honored Alumnus, Class of 1983, who is creating a hybrid renewable energy company. The startup aims to combine solid waste with wind energy to form a more efficient and reliable electrical generating facility from renewable energy sources. Herling earned a Bachelor of Science in accounting at La Sierra then led a Palm Springs area company that operated wind turbine generators. He resolved litigation and Bureau of Land Management issues before selling the company three years later to Zond Inc. He then served as a board director for International Environmental Solutions. "When I was here they promoted entrepreneurship," Herling said. "…I'm truly honored to be a part of the history and legacy Johnny [Thomas, business school dean] is creating at this university."

"La Sierra was quite an experience for a returning GI from Korea with a family," said Wallace D. Minder, La Sierra's Alumnus of the Year and former dean of its School of Education. Minder earned a Bachelor of Arts in chemistry and biology from La Sierra College in 1959 and a Doctor of Education in 1984. During his tenure as School of Education dean between 1987 and 1995, Minder guided the school during La Sierra's separation from Loma Linda University and spearheaded the creation of graduate programs leading to Master's of Arts, Education Specialist and doctoral programs. His experience prior to heading La Sierra's education school included serving 13 years as Superintendent of Schools for the Southeastern California Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. In that post he oversaw a budget of $15 million and directed schools in the Inland Empire, Orange County and San Diego.

Minder cited George Simpson among university leaders who most impacted him during his years as a student at the school. "He was interested in us as students," and talked to the students about their values and potential career paths, Minder said. Simpson, Dr. Earl Lathrop in ecology and others compelled a young Minder to pattern his life after theirs, helping students become successful in their programs, Minder said.

Emmett D. Watts, La Sierra's first development director, received La Sierra's Distinguished Service Award. He enjoyed serving in several posts during his academic tenure as a student at La Sierra, he said. Watts graduated in 1950 with a Bachelor of Arts degree followed by two decades serving as pastor in churches throughout Southern California.

In 1976 he began working as a development professional at Loma Linda University with an initial focus on the La Sierra campus. In that role, Watts was instrumental in establishing the Peterson family gift and trust. As a trust development officer, he focused on deferred giving, major gifts and corporate giving. Emmett's efforts helped secure several million dollars in trusts and gifts for LSU, funds that continue to benefit the school.

Emmett recalled a pen marketing campaign initiated by Gillespie. The pen was emblazoned with the slogan, "Together We Can Make It Happen." "I said, let's send it to everyone on the list," Watts said. The contributions flowed in as a result of the pen initiative.

"It's wonderful to look back and see all the paths along the way and see how the Lord has led," Watts continued. "By the way, I have a pen for you. There's just one left," he quipped, handing an LSU pen to Wisbey.
Click here to view all of the photos from this event.




PR Contact: Larry Becker
Executive Director of University Relations
La Sierra University
Riverside, California
951.785.2460 (voice)

  • Last update on  December 07, 2009