La Sierra University

02/26/2024 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 02/27/2024 03:31

49th Weniger Society honors La Sierra music prof, former school dean among trailblazing awardees

49th Weniger Society honors La Sierra music prof, former school dean among trailblazing awardees


LOMA LINDA, Calif. - The news came as a shock to Kimo Smith, longtime La Sierra University music professor and organist for the Loma Linda University Church-he was to be a recipient this February of the prestigious Charles E. Weniger Society for Excellence awards which honor those who have impacted Seventh-day Adventist education, its institutions, and their communities.

Weniger awardee Ginger Ketting-Weller, president of the Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies with Larry Geraty, Weniger Society executive committee member and La Sierra University president emeritus.

Randy Roberts, left, senior pastor of the Loma Linda University Church (LLUC) and member of the Weniger Society executive committee with Weniger awardee, Kimo Smith, LLUC organist and music professor at La Sierra University.

Richard Hart, left, president of Loma Linda University Health and Weniger Society executive committee member with awardee Lowell Cooper.

Author, former communication professor, and equal pay champion Merikay McLeod, left, and a Weniger awardee, with Bonnie Dwyer, former Spectrum Magazine editor and Weniger executive committee member.

Weniger executive committee member Gerald Winslow, director emeritus of the Center for Christian Bioethics at Loma Linda, left, with Walla Walla University President John McVay, Weniger awardee.

Richard Osborn, Weniger Society executive committee president and interim president of La Sierra University delivers opening remarks for the Weniger Society's awards ceremony on Feb. 17.

La Sierra University health sciences major Marash Keshishian was among Weniger Student Fellows to receive a scholarship.

Kimo Smith performs on the organ for the Weniger Society awards program.

Richard Rice, Weniger executive committee member addresses the audience.

"Having been the organist here [Loma Linda University Church] for almost 45 years, I remember the yearly announcements of the Weniger awards coming up. Never ever did I expect that I would be on that list of recipients," Smith said to the audience during the ceremony on Feb. 17.

The awards event held at the university church recognized Smith and five others including Ginger Ketting-Weller, president of the Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies (AIIAS) in the Philippines and former dean of the La Sierra University School of Education. Additional awardees included John McVay, president of Walla Walla University; Lowell Cooper, former vice president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists; and Merikay McLeod, writer and former communication professor along with Lorna Tobler, retired paralegal. The duo pursued legal action during the 1970s against Pacific Press Publishing Association for wage discrimination.

Following overviews of their careers, achievements, and pivotal life moments, the Weniger Society awardees were each presented with medallions for excellence.The evening's ceremony began with opening remarks by Richard Osborn, president of the Weniger Society executive committee and interim president at La Sierra University. "I like to call these the Oscars of the Adventist church, but far more important than the Oscars that will take place in a few days," Osborn said. He noted that the Weniger awards program, established in 1974, has honored 197 individuals thus far.

"Living as a Christian means being a missionary. There is no other option in the kingdom of Christ." -- Ginger Ketting-Weller, Charles E. Weniger Society awardee, president of the Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies

Ketting-Weller could most aptly be described as a "trans-pacific academic administrator," noted Larry Geraty, La Sierra University president emeritus and Weniger Society executive committee member in presenting the evening's first award. He cited Ketting-Weller's early years as a child of missionaries in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, and her career path through Adventist higher education at Walla Walla University, Pacific Union College and La Sierra University before taking her current presidential position at AIIAS in 2019. Her entry into top leadership in the Philippines was challenged early on by unexpected crises - the eruption of a nearby volcano and the onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic, Geraty noted.

In her remarks, Ketting-Weller described influencers and mentors who impacted her and her family, including past Weniger awardees as well as McLeod and Tobler. The women's legal pursuit of equal pay for female employees with their denominational employer impressed Ketting-Weller's missionary doctor parents when Ketting-Weller was a teenager, she said. Her parents were likewise inspired to speak up about the lack of paid vacation for married missionary women who worked full time.

"I learned that I too, have a voice and should be unafraid to use it," Ketting-Weller said. "I learned that I can speak up with both kindness and persistence even when in the presence of superiors. Thank you, Merikay and Lorna, for helping this missionary kid learn to be brave."

She cited the mentorship she received early in her career from those who believed in her leadership capabilities and predicted her rise through Adventist higher education. She noted the significant support and wise guidance of Ella Simmons, retired General Conference vice president and the first female to hold the role.

"I was taught by higher education experiences and mentors here in North America and I'll be forever grateful for that solid platform, but now I'm swimming in the really fun stuff," Ketting-Weller said, noting the successes and impacts of AIIAS's students and graduates.

"I am convinced of this," she concluded. "Living as a Christian means being a missionary. There is no other option in the kingdom of Christ. For every missionary who leaves home, and culture and comforts, we need missionaries at home to pray and encourage, to provide exemplars and support."Smith serves as music professor and director of keyboard and collaborative studies at La Sierra University where he began teaching in 1980. He has served as a full-time faculty member since 1990 and chaired the music department from 2003 - 2010. He has held the position of organist at the Loma Linda University Church since 1979 and with the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood since 1984. While a student, he won and placed in musical competitions which resulted in appearances with the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra in his native Hawaii. He holds bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Southern California, a doctorate of musical arts from the University of California, Los Angeles, and has appeared as a featured artist with choral and orchestral organizations including the Los Angeles Master Chorale with whom he performed on a recording for the Decca label.

"It is a sacred obligation that we as musicians have to God and to those who we serve in our music." -- Kimo Smith, Charles E. Weniger Society awardee, professor of music, La Sierra University, organist, Loma Linda University Church

In introducing Smith, Loma Linda University Church Senior Pastor Randy Roberts and Weniger committee member offered three words that he said best describe Kimo. "The first is the word quality, superior quality. There is for those of us as worship planners here at LLUC always a sense of comfort when we know that Kimo will be at the organ or occasionally at the piano because he will fill in the gaps, he will roll with what comes, and he will do so with a quality that is unsurpassed. The second word is the word consistency … that has become so noteworthy that when you say the name Loma Linda University Church, people will often immediately ask about Kimo.

"The third word is kindness. In my personal experience as well as my many years of observation I have been repeatedly impressed by a kind spirit, a gentle heart and one who has made all of us proud," Roberts said.

Smith began his award response by describing God's miraculous intervention in his life during his teenage years when he began to experience severe headaches eventually resulting in hospitalization in a semi-conscious state and experiencing seizures. His medical team could not find a cause. His father offered a prayer to God in which he promised that he and Smith's mother would encourage Smith toward a life of service if God would provide healing. Going forward, Smith's parents sacrificially supported his growing passion for music and organ playing to keeping their promise, Smith said. He pointed also to the "city" of teachers, mentors, colleagues and supporters surrounding him throughout his career, including his own family years later, and in particular that of his wife, Cheryl who directed the university church's children's and handbell choirs for more than 30 years and brought Kimo to the Loma Linda church.

"Johann Sebastian Bach wrote, 'All music should have no other end and aim than the glory of God and the soul's refreshment,'" Smith said. "Whether it be in the studio, on the concert stage or in the sanctuary, this is my desire as well. It is a sacred obligation that we as musicians have to God and to those who we serve in our music."

Following his award presentation, Smith accompanied the Loma Linda University Church Choir on the organ as they performed "Eternal Life" by Olive Dungan. He later provided a resounding offertory organ performance of "Great is Thy Faithfulness."

Bonnie Dwyer, former editor of Spectrum Magazine and Weniger executive committee member introduced McLeod and presented her with the Weniger medallion. Dwyer also read a written response from Tobler who was unable to attend the ceremony. In her response, Tobler acknowledged the many men who supported her and McLeod's work in pursuing justice for equal pay and others who gave faithful witness and support in the face of retaliatory actions and pressure.

Dwyer described McLeod and Tobler's legal efforts 50 years ago to bring economic justice to women working for their employer, the Pacific Press Publishing Association which was owned by the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. The Pacific Press historically had based its compensation levels on gender and marital status and did not change its structure in spite of the passage of the 1963 Equal Pay Act.

The battle for change at the publishing house transpired over 10 years between the efforts of the two women and their supporters, and along the way incurred their firing among other retaliatory actions. Victory prevailed in the form of a class action judgement on behalf of the publishing house's female employees and spurred change within the denomination's pay scales.

"Change requires patience, courage and persistence. Change requires champions," said Dwyer.

"Looking back I see clearly now that I was a servant of the Lord, brought to Pacific Press to bring justice to a harmful system that had oppressed women employees and their families for generations," McLeod said beginning her remarks and after receiving a standing ovation. She recalled her experience at the publishing house where she began as an assistant editor earning 40% less than her male counterpart.

"Justice isn't simply an abstract idea," McLeod said. "It's a way of being, of living. It's a way of running a business or organizing a church."

McVay received the society's medallion for excellence by Weniger committee member Gerald Winslow, director emeritus of the Center for Christian Bioethics at Loma Linda. McVay will retire from his leadership post at the end of June, having served Walla Walla University 18 years as its longest running president. A scholar, published author and former pastor, he previously taught at Pacific Union College and was dean at the SDA Theological Seminary. In addition to his work within SDA higher education, McVay has also been impactful serving with state and national education organizations advocating for educational access for students in need and other causes.

McVay remarked that the Weniger recognition was an "unexpected honor," and noted that "a Seventh Day Adventist education is worth the investment of life's energies and all the creativity that we can muster." He cited the influence of New Testament scholar and former Pacific Union College President Malcolm Maxwell, 1996 Weniger award recipient who hired McVay as an assistant professor at PUC and predicted his ascension to the SDA seminary deanship

"In spite of the superb support of so many," he continued, "I must confess to you that I have needed the direct intervention of the risen Jesus. He has often picked me up, turned me around and set my feet on higher ground."

Left to right, Weniger Society awardees John McVay, president, Walla Walla University; Kimo Smith, La Sierra University professor of music and Loma Linda University Church organist; Merikay McLeod, writer, former communication professor and equal pay champion; Ginger Ketting-Weller, president of the Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies (AIIAS) in the Philippines and former dean of the La Sierra University School of Education; and Lowell Cooper, former vice president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.


Cooper, received his Weniger medallion from Weniger executive committee member and Loma Linda University Health President Richard Hart prior to delivering the evening's annual address titled "The Future-Ready Mindset." Cooper, a native of Alberta, Canada, holds a varied background that includes 16 years with the Southern Asia Division in India and board chair positions with Loma Linda University Health where he also served for nearly 16 years, with the Adventist Development and Relief Agency, and others. Hart noted Cooper's guidance as board chair during the growth of the university campus and its operations, the celebration of its centennial, through program restructuring, new facilities and other definitive projects.

In his acceptance remarks Cooper referred to a different definition of the word 'influencer' as it is commonly known in the social media and marketing world, to denote one who is dedicated to building lives rather than selling products.

Cooper recalled his own life story of his parents' insistence that their children receive a Christian education and the farming family's move to reside near Canadian Union College, now Burman University. Later, while attending classes, he cited the influence of a residence hall dean, who despite Cooper's village student status invited him to weekly prayer times and talked to a young Cooper about becoming aware of God's call. Cooper later enrolled as a theology major rather than pursue a long-held interest in veterinary medicine.

"Through the years God has placed countless influencers in my life," he said.

During his address for the Weniger Society, Cooper noted that even among people of faith anxieties can abound over perceived future events and threats. "Our lives at times seem to be subjected to great impersonal, global and uncontrollable forces. In my own faith community that future, though culminating in a grand and glorious climax, is often viewed with some anxiety," Cooper said. "The pictures we paint of end-time events can be very, very unsettling. In the face of these developments and trends, I wonder if there can be another posture, another way of thinking that enables an attitude of confidence and courage and engagement with the future rather than seeking refuge from it."

Toward achieving that different way of thinking, Cooper referenced John the Baptist for answers to three of life's biggest "frequently asked questions" - who are you, what are you doing, and what is your defining purpose in life? John's identity as a messenger heralding the arrival of Jesus was found in his calling which formed the foundation of his life, Cooper said. "Why is identity so important? I believe it's because we solve life's moral, ethical and behavioral questions based on the answer to this one question."

The second question, what one does, is a question of focus -- "John's work, his mission, was to bring attention to Jesus. For John the question, 'What do you do?' is not a question about action. It's a question about intention," Cooper said. "This dominating sense of identity and mission enabled him to live both with and beyond the prevailing culture."

The third question is one aimed at defining one's purpose and priorities. When Jesus and his ministry began to increase in popularity, John responded that he must decrease so that Jesus could increase. His greatest priority was "partnering with God in building his kingdom," Cooper said.

"So what is the future-ready mindset? It's one in which we live with a dominant identity that can deal with moral and ethical challenges. It is one in which our action in private and public in the grocery store or in the stadium is designed to bring glory to God. It is one in which a defining purpose creates and aligns our energies with the mission of God in our world. We do not control the future. But we can face it with assurance, with confidence, and courage."

The Weniger Society awards event also included a presentation of the names of students from the denomination's 12 North American colleges and universities who were selected to receive the $1,500 Weniger Student Fellows scholarship. Health sciences student Marash Keshishian received this year's student award for La Sierra University.

The Weniger awards have honored Adventist educators, influencers and changemakers since 1974 when it was established by Clinton Emmerson, John Osborn and U.S. Rep. Jerry L. Pettis, former friends of esteemed Adventist educator Charles Weniger who was known for his kindness, integrity, humility, intellect, and commitment to excellence. Known by many as "Uncle Charlie," Weniger served as an English professor and later as dean of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary in Washington D.C. and Michigan from 1948 to 1961.

Randy Roberts, left, senior pastor of the Loma Linda University Church and Kimo Smith, church organist embrace following Smith's receipt of the Weniger Society award for excellence as the church choir and audience give a standing ovation.

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