posted May 14, 2012 in ALUMNI
Servants, caregivers, teachers – the recipients of this year’s McPherson College Citation of Merit represent some of the best qualities MC alumni have to offer.
The McPherson College Citation of Merit is given to the college’s most distinguished alumni for lifetime accomplishments in service to profession, community, church and to McPherson College. The recipients are recommended by the Alumni Awards Committee and approved by the College Board of Trustees. The 2012 recipients are Harold and Lynda Connell, Eldred Kingery and John Ferrell.
Harold and Lynda Connell
They might not have realized it when they first came to McPherson College, but the trajectory of Harold and Lynda Connell’s life together has long been toward serving others and volunteering.
“It just seemed like the natural thing to do,” Harold said. “I think it’s just a matter of our religious training to ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’”
Since their retirement, the couple has volunteered in a number of venues, especially the Red Cross, Civitan and Brethren Volunteer Service. They have given of their time on more than 95 national-scale disasters – including the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in Mississippi and Louisiana, the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York, and all manner of tornadoes, floods, wildfires and hailstorms.
They also volunteered through the First United Methodist Church of Wichita, Kan., in Paraguay, Kosovo, Panama, Honduras, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Uruguay, Peru and Russia. Harold has spent past years distributing toys to families in need through the Salvation Army and annual bell ringing to help with fundraising.
“Volunteering has been a way of life for me and Lynda, too,” Harold said. “Wherever disasters happened, that’s where we went.”
But long before their retirement, the Connells lived their lives with an eye toward service and volunteerism.
Harold graduated in 1962 with a degree in economics and business administration, and went to work for Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company as an agent and office manager. In his work there, he saw himself as servant and advisor as well – connecting customers with the products they want and need rather than pushing.
“My philosophy is if you really hard sell them, you’re going to have to turn around and sell it again and again and again, and that doesn’t make sense.”
Harold has been a member of the Civitan Club in Wichita, associated with Civitan International, since 1977 and is currently service as the local club president. The focus of the club is helping those with developmental disabilities. Harold has also spent time on the district and international levels of Civitan and receiving honors in those positions.
Lynda was a cum laude graduate in 1961 with degrees in education and psychology - logging more than a year of full-time hours in volunteering even during her college years. She spent 25 years as an elementary school teacher in Buhler, Salina, and Wichita public school, with most of those at Wichita Collegiate. Teaching was a form of service itself, as she worked with those with learning disabilities and multi-cultural students.
“The career of teaching is a service occupation,” Lynda said. “We educate people with the idea of making their lives better. While that part of my life wasn’t volunteerism, I gave a lot.”
Lynda retired from teaching in 1996 to focus on volunteering. For the last five years, she has averaged 75 days a year for the local Red Cross and given 120 days per year on national operations.
“I knew I couldn’t teach and be jaunting all over the country all the time,” she said. “It was exciting and it eventually became a profession.”
Eldred Kingery defies the stereotype of “CEO” – the business he oversees is all about caring for people who have reached retirement.
As president and CEO of Calvin Community, a Presbyterian retirement community in Des Moines, Iowa, Kingery manages a $9 million budget, oversees 200 employees and serves 200 residents. The business maintains less than a five percent turnover rate and holds a five-star rating from the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services. All this in a field widely considered to have more government regulations than the nuclear power industry.
But the numbers have little to do with why Kingery loves his job. It’s about people.
“Once you get into providing nursing home care, you usually stay in it,” Kingery said. “The residents get ahold of your heartstrings and it’s really rewarding to work for and care for people.”
That’s not to say it isn’t a challenge. His job, Kingery said, was to help people transition into a place that’s going to care for them for the rest of their life. Growing older doesn’t mean that personal conflicts go away, but he’s found ways to help residents listen and come to solutions.
And the environment makes a big difference.
“If you have good food and good care with plenty of help, they’re pretty happy,” Kingery said. “We’re blessed here with a lot of great people. My role is to surround myself with good people and I’ve been fortunate to be able to do that and the rest of it falls into place.”
Kingery has had his share of challenges and difficulties himself throughout his life. After graduation from high school, he went straight into the Navy. While enlisted, his brothers were killed within months of each other. He lost a third to lung cancer. His first wife died of Lou Gehrig’s disease, and he himself is a survivor of prostate cancer.
“It puts a different perspective on life knowing that in a flash people can be taken away from you or you can be taken away yourself,” he said.
After graduating McPherson College in 1972 with a degree in industrial education, Kingery didn’t set out to work in nursing home care. He went to work as a self-employed home builder and handyman on farms. But it was his work as a member of the McPherson College Board of Trustees that ultimately led to a career in nursing care. When in McPherson to attend a board meeting, he learned from a member of The Cedars board of trustees that they were looking for a person to lead marketing of duplexes. His application won out over 75 others. From there, he went to work as the executive director of the Country Club Care Center in Warrensburg, Mo., and then onto his current job in Iowa.
Kingery said that at MC his self-confidence grew and was solidified. One of his first classes was a speech class, which allowed him to face and overcome his fear of public speaking.
“I think the atmosphere on the McPherson College campus has been to accept people coming in for who they are,” he said. “Everyone just accepted you as an equal. I think that’s still true.”
Private postsecondary education founded in religious value is central to John Ferrell’s life and career.
“For me, it was more than just any higher education,” he said. “It was higher education from a point of view. The core effort, using various words, has to do with character development in the leadership of the country and world.”
Ferrell grew up in Dallas, Texas, and as a sophomore decided to finish out high school at Central College Academy in McPherson in 1949. This was followed by two years of junior college at Central Christian College, which was associated with the academy. At the time, Central was a two-year institution, so he completed his education at McPherson College, graduating in 1951 with a degree in economics and business. Ferrell said it was at MC that he came to an awareness of the wider world.
“I began the process of understanding the diversity and universality that exists in our world,” he said. “I found caring people at McPherson College.”
Following graduation, he spent a tour in the Navy, where he was stationed in Seattle, Wash. From there he was invited to return to Central, where he logged a nearly 40-year career: at turns principal, registrar, dean of students, director of admissions and vice-president of advancement and admissions. Throughout, he taught part-time in behavioral science.
“As I thought about who I am, I’m essentially an educator,” he said. “But I’m primarily an administrator. I’m an organizer.”
Throughout his time at Central, he maintained close interaction and exchange with McPherson College. He said what has stuck with him the most from his days at MC are the relationships with students and teachers and the lessons about what a quality education means.
“Going to college is about getting a degree while not letting that get in the way of getting an education,” he said. “I’ve learned long ago the two are not the same. It’s the relationship between schooling and learning. They’re different, but not contradictory. You take with you the learning; you leave behind the schooling. It’s about the relationship between a student and a teacher.”
Ferrell has also been a central figure in the town of McPherson itself. In addition to being a former chairman of the board for McPherson Family Life Center, former president of the Rotary Club and being named a “Hometown Hero” in 2002 by the McPherson County United Way and the McPherson Chamber of Commerce, Ferrell is probably best known as one of the co-founders of the annual Highland Games. The McPherson event, which celebrates Scottish heritage, nearly shut down soon after it began as the other co-founder had to bow out. Ferrell was faced with a choice.
“Do I flee or do I grab hold?” he said. “I grabbed hold because it was a community event that the community leaders said we needed, and I wasn’t about to let it fail.”
Now retired, Ferrell still volunteers time as the archivist at Central Christian College and leaves legacy of a 63-year marriage and descendants committed to higher education. His daughter is an Episcopal priest and his son is the vice-president for finance at Central; both of them have multiple advanced degrees. And he just recently learned that his youngest grandchild is receiving an advanced degree as well – a doctorate.
“We’re a family that is deeply committed to higher education,” he said. “And it’s not something we talked about. It’s something we practiced.”