Alumni award recipients share stories of learning, love, and grace

The Honorable Marla O. Anderson, '81. All photos by Natan Vigna.
The Honorable Marla O. Anderson, '81. All photos by Natan Vigna.

April 22, 2011
By Darla Martin Tucker

Not long after Marla Osborne Anderson arrived at La Sierra University as a freshman communications major in 1977, she noticed something odd taking place in her dormitory. Except in her case, all the other dorm residents seemed to be paired with someone of similar ethnicity, and the paired roommates all seemed to be having fun.

So Anderson approached the dorm’s dean and complained. The conversation was an eye-opener for the young student and broadened her perspectives going forward. The dean explained that she had hoped Anderson, who is African-American, and her blond-haired roommate would serve as an example of how people who seem to be different can live in harmony.

The dean’s words changed Anderson’s mind and heart. “She told me I was special and chosen to help make change,” said Anderson, a superior court judge in Monterey County, Calif. She said La Sierra University teaches first to the heart and then to the mind, and that the character-building lessons incurred while a student here were unique in her educational experience. Such values ultimately aid and influence her judicial decision-making, said Anderson. “La Sierra taught me how to love people even though they don’t look like me,” she said.

Anderson, a 1981 La Sierra graduate, relayed her story during an award ceremony the evening of April 15 in which she was honored as La Sierra’s Alumnus of the Year. University President Randal Wisbey presented Anderson with the award during La Sierra’s alumni banquet and vespers. After graduating from La Sierra, Anderson earned a Master of Arts degree from the Annenberg School of Communications/University of Southern California and received a juris doctor from the University of California-Davis School of Law in 1986. After several years in the Monterey County District Attorney’s office, Governor Pete Wilson in 1995 appointed Anderson to preside over Monterey County courts.

A total of 233 people, including alumni, their family members, La Sierra faculty and staff enjoyed the warm, breezy Southern California evening inside a white, festive tent lined with 142 flags of nations around the world. The La Sierra University Church loaned the colorful flags for alumni weekend. The banquet served as a key kickoff event for La Sierra’s Homecoming 2011, created around the theme, “Into All the World.” Each banquet table held unique figurine centerpieces collected from regions of the globe by La Sierra’s Stahl Center for World Service. Attendees talked, worshiped, ate Middle Eastern and Mexican cuisine and enjoyed piano, choral and instrumental music provided by the music department’s faculty and students. Alumni celebrated memories made and lives changed during their time at their alma mater.

In addition to Anderson’s award, the university’s three schools and its college recognized four “Honored Alumni” who have made long and lasting impacts since their respective graduations, and four “Rising Star” graduates who are ascending their career ladders. The university also honored BALL (Black Alumni of Loma Linda and La Sierra Universities) La Sierra Alumnus of the Year Gwendolyn Anderson Meredith for her lengthy contribution and dedication to education.

The honorees talked about the ways in which La Sierra influenced their values and life trajectory. Biographical summaries for the alumni of the year and the Honored Alumni and Rising Stars are copied below the article.

Grace Oh, a 2000 Bachelor of Music graduate, received the Rising Star award from the College of Arts and Sciences. Oh is a first violinist with the Pacific Symphony in Santa Ana, Calif., a regular performer with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and a substitute violinist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. She has also performed on a variety of film scores and video game soundtracks. She cited her former La Sierra violin professor and Los Angeles Philharmonic violinist Lyndon Taylor as a model of what she aimed to become. “I really do thank Dr. Taylor, who I now get to perform with when he’s with the Los Angeles Philharmonic,” Grace said.

Grace Oh, '00
Grace Oh, '00

Ichen Le graduated from La Sierra’s School of Business with a Master of Business Administration in 2005. She arrived in the United States from Taiwan where her family lived a primarily secular life devoid of religious influences. Le, who previously hated finance classes, credits La Sierra’s finance program and Dr. Lee Reynolds with providing a different view into the field and preparing her for a successful career in investments. “More importantly I met God at La Sierra. I realized God really has an amazing and great plan for me. There’s no way I could have imagined it on my own,” she said after receiving her Rising Star award.

Le is a financial advisor for Wells Fargo Investment’s Inland Empire region. She provides wealth management services in her present job and previously served as a financial consultant for WAMU Investments. She met her husband at La Sierra. The couple is expecting a baby.

Mary Hahn Young, '10
Mary Hahn Young, '10

School of Education Rising Star recipient Mary Hahn Young credited Dr. Steve Pawluk with aiding and influencing her career path in education. Pawluk, a former La Sierra education professor and Administration and Leadership chair, currently serves as university provost. Young previously worked as a fashion retail buyer before launching a career in elementary education. She graduated from La Sierra’s doctoral education program in Administration and Leadership last June and is currently an elementary school assistant principal in the Corona-Norco Unified School District. “He’s the best teacher I’ve ever had at La Sierra,” Young said of Pawluk. “His enthusiasm for teaching is contagious. I attribute my success to my wonderful teacher who has changed my life forever.”

Reuben Sutter, La Sierra Class of 1998 and a School of Religion Rising Star, pursued a medical degree in psychiatry from Loma Linda University after graduation. He founded the Sage Neuroscience Center in New Mexico which has become the largest private practice of its kind in the state. He, his wife and two children live in Corrales, N.M. with their menagerie of two dogs, two horses, 16 chickens and a cockatiel. In citing La Sierra’s influence on his life, Sutter told the banquet attendees, “One of the first things I ever laid my eyes on was my wife. That had the greatest impact on my life. And if you sit in a class with someone like [religion professor] Fritz Guy, you can’t help but get passionate about religion.”

Juli Ling Miller, '71, '75
Juli Ling Miller, '71, '75

The university’s four Honored Alumni included Juli Ling Miller, a public relations consultant whose clients include major health care providers, real estate and property developers and public relations firms. She graduated from La Sierra in 1971 and 1975 earning respective bachelor and master degrees in English. Miller stated that her three undergraduate years at La Sierra “has had the most impact over four decades.” First of all, she met her husband at La Sierra, her roommates and bath mates become lifelong best friends, and she was influenced by “the exceptional group of professors they had here in the 1960s and 1970s.”

Her teachers demonstrated intellectual rigor and discipline “and commitment to authentic, eccentric out-of-the-box people and ideas.” Her experiences provided “untold benefits and blessings and I thank La Sierra for that,” Miller said.

Gregory Nelson, an honored alumnus recognized by the School of Business, is director of investments for the Loma Linda University Foundation where he oversees more than $500 million in assets. He graduated from La Sierra in 1983. He and his wife, Wendy Erhard Nelson, are parents of 10-year-old quadruplets.

“Probably the best thing that happened to me [while at La Sierra] was meeting my wife here,” Nelson said. He learned to strive for excellence and do his best, he said. He cited the growth of the university’s business program from a department to a full-fledged school.

Ginger Ketting-Weller, '88
Ginger Ketting-Weller, '88

School of Education Honored Alumnus Ginger Ketting-Weller, Class of 1988, said she’s “very proud” to be a La Sierra alumnus. “It’s about planning seeds,” and every seed planted has benefitted every job she has held since graduating, Ketting-Weller said. “I want to say thank you to my alma mater.” She currently serves as vice president for academic administration at Walla Walla University.

Loma Linda University Emeritus Profess of Religion and Pastor Louis Venden, Class of 1951, was honored by La Sierra’s School of Religion. He and his wife, Marjorie Lewis, whom he married two days after graduation from La Sierra College, have pastored churches throughout California including the Loma Linda University Church.

He described his first, influential day of class with La Sierra religion professor Ed Heppenstall and the professor’s poignant words about the meaning of following Jesus. It was a talk that riveted the whole class, Venden said. “I felt as clear a call to follow Jesus as James, John, Peter and Andrew did along the shores of Galilee,” he said. “It became clear that all of us had experienced something special. …That call to be a follower has been a centering place from then until now.” Venden promised to share more of the story during a sermon he planned to give the following day at La Sierra University Church for the alumni worship service.

Following the Rising Star and Honored Alumni awards, BALL President Carlton Sampson described the numerous contributions and dedication of educator Merideth, La Sierra Class of 1988. Meredith was unable to attend the evening’s festivities. “Gwendolyn always loved education,” said Sampson, who has known Meredith and her family for many years. “I refer to her as an angel without wings.”

Carlton Sampson, BALL President
Carlton Sampson, BALL President

Alumni of the Year Profiles

Alumnus of the Year Judge Marla Osborne Anderson began her legal career in business litigation. Judge Anderson developed a love for the courtroom, and as a result, joined the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office in 1987. She served as a deputy district attorney until Friday, January 13, 1995, when she was appointed by Governor Pete Wilson to serve on the Monterey County Courts. Judge Anderson has presided over a variety of trial calendars for over 16 years.

Judge Anderson is listed in Who’s Who of American Law. She currently serves as Vice-Chair and faculty for the B. E. Witkin Judicial College Steering Committee, the body that oversees the B.E. Witkin Judicial College (mandatory “college” training for all newly appointed and elected judges directed by the California Center for Judicial Education and Research (CJER)). She is also a member of the CJER Juvenile Law Curriculum Committee. Judge Anderson has served as a member of the board of directors on a variety of community organizations, and is currently serving with Kinship Center. She is a member of the California Judges Association and National Association of Women Judges. She has been the recipient of several honors and awards from community, educational, and professional organizations, including receiving the “The Outstanding Achievement Award” from the Association of Adventist Women in 2002.

Judge Anderson is married to Frederick Anderson, Director of African-American Ministries for the Central California Conference, pastor of the Seaside Seventh-day Adventist Church and retired computer information science instructor for Hartnell College. The Anderson family includes daughter Alyssa, age 12, two adult professional children, Stacey and Kyle, and a granddaughter, Logan, age four.

BALL Alumnus of the Year Gwendolyn Merideth had a love for education instilled in her at an early age. Following her undergraduate studies at Oakwood College (now University), where she graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and Secondary Education, she received a scientific scholarship to Fordham University in New York. There she did post graduate work in mathematical studies. She also pursued post graduate studies at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, and the University of California, Los Angeles.  She became certified in academic counseling at UCLA, which she felt was necessary to better prepare students for college entrance.  She received her Master of Arts degree in Educational Leadership from La Sierra University in 1988.

Gwendolyn began her teaching career in 1962. She taught at a number of public, Catholic and Adventist schools before joining the staff at the Glendale Adventist Academy in 1975. She taught mathematics at Glendale for more than 25 years. During her years of service she also worked as an academic counselor and two years as registrar and vice principal.  She was appointed principal of the school in 1999, the first woman to serve in that post.

During Gwendolyn’s tenure the school maintained a solid enrollment and curriculum, placed computers in all classrooms, developed a school web site and a number of enhancements to the school’s spiritual life program including daily worship and community service.

Along with her service to Glendale, Gwendolyn served on a number of professional committees including a Western Association of Schools and Colleges accreditation committee. Gwendolyn received a number of awards during her career including the prestigious Thomas and Violet Zapara Award for Excellence in Teaching.  

Since her retirement from Glendale in 2003, she has supported the Black Alumni of Loma Linda and La Sierra Universities/Minority Introduction to the Health Sciences, or BALL/MITHS.

Gwendolyn and her husband, Pastor James E. Merideth, have three adult children--Gregory Merideth, Angela Merideth and Sherri Merideth Cheatham--and two grandchildren, Brooks and Jalynne.

“Rising Star” Profiles

College of Arts and Sciences Rising Star Grace Oh graduated from La Sierra University, summa cum laude, with a Bachelor of Music degree in violin performance 2000.  She continued on to graduate school and completed her Master of Music degree at the University of Michigan in 2002.

Though an accomplished solo violinist, Grace’s career goal is to be an orchestral violinist.  Since returning to Southern California, she has been in great demand as a performer with many of the area’s major orchestras.  

In addition to her performances in symphony concerts, Grace has also played in the opera orchestras of both the Los Angeles Opera and Opera Pacific as well as in orchestras for visiting ballet companies, including the Bolshoi.  

With Los Angeles being a center for the entertainment industry, Grace has also been a part of recordings for a number of film, television and recording artists including Spiderman 3, Pirates of the Caribbean 3, 2012, Harry Connick Jr., Sheryl Crow, Yellowcard, and several others.  

A very high level of skill and musicianship is required of anyone who performs with a major symphony orchestra or who is involved in any kind of professional recording situation. Only professionals of the highest caliber are repeatedly called to perform with these prestigious organizations and artists. Grace is certainly an example of this kind of musical excellence.

Ichen Le, '05
Ichen Le, '05

School of Business Rising Star Ichen Le is a financial advisor for Wells Fargo Investments’ Inland Empire region. She provides wealth management services to her clients, helping them preserve and grow their assets. She has been in the financial services industry for seven years.

“La Sierra’s solid finance program truly prepared me for all the security licensing exams which are required for my job,” Ichen says. “The program also became a great foundation for my Certified Financial Planner designation.”

Ichen earned her Bachelor of Science degree from National Chiao-Tung University in Taiwan. She came to La Sierra University to study finance, earning her MBA in 2005.

“I’ve always hated finance classes and never thought I’d touch it again after I graduated from college. The greatest turning point is when I took Dr Reynolds’ first finance class,” Ichen says. “That class gave me a different view into the financial world. From there I made a life changing decision to major in finance, which granted me a great career that I could never dream of.”

Ichen and her husband currently reside in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. They both belong to the Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier Club of Southern California, and are actively involved in Wheaten Terrier rescues. They also sponsor five children internationally through World Vision and Mission of Mercy.

School of Education Rising Star Mary Hahn Young says the classes she took during her La Sierra University doctorate program prepared her well for her new position as Assistant Principal of an elementary school.  More importantly, she pays tribute to her School of Education professors, whose leadership knowledge will help her in her current role as well as future positions.

While in high school, Mary starting working at Nordstrom and stayed with the company for sixteen years. She started as a stock girl at age fourteen and slowly worked her way up to be a manager and buyer of the largest volume Nordstrom store. While part of Nordstrom, she earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Riverside.

Her aspiration to become a teacher set in, leading her back to school to receive her teaching credential and her master’s degree at Chapman University.

After teaching various primary grades for seven years, Mary went back to school again and completed her Doctorate in Education in Administration and Leadership from La Sierra University last June. She has taught first grade, second grade, third grade, fifth grade, and a two-three combination class in three different school districts. She is currently the assistant principal of an elementary school in the Corona-Norco Unified School District.

Mary has been married for seventeen years and has two children. Her daughter, a seventh grader, is eleven years old and attends the IB (International Baccalaureate) program in the Corona-Norco school district while her son, age 3, attends the Rocket program for speech delay. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her family, shopping, and relaxing at the beach.  In the future, Mary aspires to be a university professor in the education field.

Reuben Sutter, '98
Reuben Sutter, '98

Following his graduation from La Sierra in 1998, School of Religion Rising Star Ruben Sutter pursued a medical degree from Loma Linda University. He combined his passion for religion, spirituality, philosophy and the psyche through his specialization in psychiatry.

After Loma Linda, Reuben did his residency at the University of New Mexico. Dropping plans to return to California, Reuben set out to meet the huge need for mental health providers in New Mexico. He founded the Sage Neuroscience Center following his residency. The clinic includes four psychiatrists and three therapists. Reuben specializes in treating eating disorders and substance abuse. He has also served as president of the Psychiatric Medical Association of New Mexico.

When not working, consulting, or speaking for various pharmaceutical companies, Reuben enjoys gardening, running, mountain biking, and skiing, depending on the season. He also has discovered a passion for triathlons, particularly the off-road events known as Xterras.

Reuben and his wife Lisa have two children—Joshua and Ethan.

Honored Alumni Profiles

College of Arts and Sciences Honored Alumnus Juli Ling Miller received a BA in English and an MA from Loma Linda/La Sierra University in 1971 and 1975. She went on to post-graduate work at the University of California, Berkeley and certification in fundraising.

“The eclectic and exceptional professors taught me very different approaches to evaluating information, solving problems, or analyzing situations,” Juli says. “The passion for their subjects and devotion to knowing the truth—no matter how that might affect conventional wisdom or sacred cows—was a daily act of courage.”

Juli is a public relations consultant with diverse clients, such as Napa Valley Hospice and Adult Day Services, Shenandoah International Advisors (high end real estate), Trillium Resorts (developer in the San Juan Islands, South Carolina, and western Canada), Sandra Dunn & Associates (PR firm) and Marshall Hospital.

During her day job, Juli is an English graduate who utilizes her writing skills in the business world, employing words and text to help organizations communicate with their constituents, position themselves favorably in their markets, conduct capital campaigns and navigate the myriad regulations that govern their operations. But Juli’s day doesn’t end at 5 o’clock. Juli serves on the editorial board of Spectrum magazine, she is chair of the El Dorado County Airport Commission (she is a private pilot), is on the leadership board of the Montana American Diabetes Association, and is a member of the Soroptimists International and Chambers of Commerce.

Perhaps more relevant to La Sierra’s English and Communication department, in 2004 Juli sponsored a guest speaker, Freida Lee Mock, the Oscar documentary award winner for her work on Maya Lin, the architect of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C. In 2006, Juli sponsored Jessica Sanders, documentary filmmaker for the “After Innocence” project. This documentary examined what happens to those wrongfully convicted of crimes. Both of these events were well attended and thought provoking.

Gregory N. Nelson, '83
Gregory N. Nelson, '83

School of Business Honored Alumnus Gregory Nelson has been an investment management professional for more than 25 years. He is currently the Director of Investments for Loma Linda University Foundation, where he is responsible for the oversight and management of more than $500 million is assets.  He has been at the Foundation for eight years.
After graduating from La Sierra in 1983, Greg worked with Dean Witter for five years.  Then he spent four years at Paine Webber, before founding and serving as a principle at Nelson and McGilchrist Capital Management Group, a company responsible for investment advising and financial planning.  Although Greg has a one-hour commute each way to his current job, he enjoys working at Loma Linda University.

Gregory’s wife, Wendy Erhard Nelson, is also a 1983 graduate of La Sierra.  She continued her education at LLU School of Medicine and is now a family practice physician.

He and Wendy are most proud of, and kept very busy with, their 10-year-old quadruplets, Andie, Sydney, Nikki and Neal.  They were born early, at 29 weeks, but are now healthy and active 10-year olds.  The family enjoys swimming and bike riding; they frequently ride their bikes to the beach.

School of Education Honored Alumnus Ginger Ketting-Weller currently serves as vice president for academic administration at Walla Walla University. She has spent her career on the west coast of the United States, spending time at all three western Seventh-day Adventist institutions of higher education as either a student, professor, or administrator.

Ginger earned her Bachelor of Science degree from Walla Walla in 1985. After teaching in Lincoln City, Oregon, she came to La Sierra, where in 1988 she earned a Master of Arts in Administration and Leadership. She taught at Pacific Union College in their education department from 1994 to 2001, before accepting her current administrative post at Walla Walla.

“What La Sierra University did for me was to open doors,” Ginger says. “ I signed up to take my Masters degree in Administration and Leadership at LSU because it was a Seventh-day Adventist university. And I signed up for Administration and Leadership at the age of 25 because my pastor spotted some administrative ability in me long before I was aware of an interest. Being placed by La Sierra at Redlands Adventist Academy for my administrative practicum led to my next job, which was at RAA.  Having my Masters in Administration and Leadership from LSU was also valuable to Pacific Union College and Walla Walla University.  The things I learned in my M.A. from La Sierra gave me the basic tools which, when combined with experience, have carried me to new challenges at each step of my career.”

Ginger and her husband Jim Weller enjoy an expanding family: daughter Brandy and son-in-law James Farley (both 2001 WWU graduates), daughter Jasmine and son-in-law Rick Baptist (both PUC graduates), son Micah (a 2006 WWU graduate), and two grandchildren.

Louis Venden, '51
Louis Venden, '51

School of Religion Honored Alumnus Louis Venden graduated from La Sierra College in 1951, married Marjorie Lewis of Glendale, California two days later, and they began their ministry in Northern California right after the honeymoon.
They have served in pastoral, evangelistic and teaching ministries:  teaching at Japan Missionary College, the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, La Sierra University, Pacific Union College and Loma Linda University’s School of Religion.  They have pastored churches in Northern California, the Mountain View Church in Central California, the University Church in Loma Linda, and the Pacific Union College Church.

Venden’s graduate studies have included an MA at Potomac University, an MDiv from the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary and a PhD from Princeton Theological Seminary.

Lou and Marjorie returned to Southern California in August of 1996, where Lou served as Professor of Theology & Ministry with Loma Linda University’s School of Religion and was appointed Emeritus Professor of Religion in July 2003.
The Vendens have three daughters:  Elizabeth Sutherland of Loma Linda, Susan Barrow of Woodinville, Washington and Barbara Knox of Shadow Hills, California.  They are also the immensely pleased grandparents of Amy and Michael Sutherland and Jake and Henry Thomas Barrow.


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

  • Last update on  May 02, 2011