SPRINGFIELD, Missouri – Evangel University celebrated its annual Homecoming weekend on Oct. 27-29, and several alumni were honored with distinguished awards during the celebration.
2022 Distinguished Alumni Awards
Six individuals were presented with distinguished alumni awards by Evangel’s alumni council at a special ceremony held on Friday, Oct. 28.
Awards are given to alumni who have made significant contributions to his or her chosen field, church, community, state, nation, or the university. This year’s awardees include:
Dr. Larry (’64) & Sondra (’63) Wilson – EU Distinguished Alumni
Dr. Larry Wilson graduated from Evangel University (then College) in 1964 and joined the Research Department of the Frito-Lay company, where he worked for 22 years. He then served as an administrator at a private elementary school sponsored by Dallas First Assembly of God, which led to a job as a high school math and science teacher at the prestigious Science and Engineer Magnet School (SEM) in Dallas. During Wilson’s tenure, U.S. News & World Report regularly named SEM among its top five high schools in the nation, achieving first place on one occasion.
Sondra (Gilmore) Wilson spent 21 years teaching high school math, and was selected to attend graduate school at the University of Georgia on a National Science Foundation grant, where she graduated at the top of her class. Following her career as an educator, she became a certified public accountant, finishing her professional journey as president and CEO of an investment advisory firm. In the 1980s, Wilson established a private tax practice, where she continues to work on a part-time basis.
Jennifer Finstad (’06) – EU Outstanding Young Alum
Jennifer (Stallworth) Finstad works as a clinical social worker at HealthPartners Neuroscience Center and the Center for Memory and Aging in St. Paul, Minnesota. In this role, she collaborates with neurologists, neuropsychologists, and other medical professionals to help newly diagnosed patients and their families find resources and support. With nearly 20 years of experience in her field, Finstad is a lifespan social worker, working with all ages as she extends compassion to those who are hurting.
Bishop Elijah Hankerson III (EU ’94; AGTS ’96) – AGTS Alum of the Year
Bishop Elijah Hankerson III is the senior pastor and founder of the Life Center International Church of God in Christ (COGIC) of St. Louis. He has served in several national and regional leadership roles, including president of COGIC International Department of Evangelism and president of the St. Louis Metropolitan Clergy Coalition. He is also founder and jurisdictional bishop of the Missouri Midwest Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction.
Chief John E. Maracle (’73) – CBC Distinguished Alum
Chief John E. Maracle serves as chief/president of the Native American Fellowship of the Assemblies of God (AG). He also served as an executive presbyter of AG Ethnic Fellowships and as a Native American missionary representative for the AG U.S. Missions Department. In his nearly 50 years as a minister, Maracle strives for ethnic diversity, inclusivity, and reconciliation.
Ben Andrews (’08) – CBC Outstanding Young Alum
Ben Andrews serves as the district youth director for the Arkansas District of the Assemblies of God. Prior to his appointment, Andrews spent 12 years as a music pastor, four years as a youth pastor, and one year as a lead pastor. He believes CBC’s environment of like-minded believers gave him the clarity necessary to hear God’s voice, a crucial skill that helped him define his calling to reach and disciple young people. Andrews and his wife, Lindsey, have four children, and reside in Sheridan, Arkansas.
Tree of Honor recipient
The annual Tree of Honor recipient is an alum of the university who is selected by the Pioneers, a group of graduates from the first five years of Evangel’s founding (1955-1960). Recipients are recognized for providing distinguished service to advance the mission of the university. Trees are planted in honor of each recipient as a living tribute.
This year’s Tree of Honor recipient is Chuck Cox.
Chuck Cox graduated from Evangel in 1973 and served as the university’s director of alumni relations for more than 30 years. During his tenure, Cox planned and orchestrated 31 homecoming events. The largest was in 2005, Evangel’s 50th anniversary, which attracted more than 4,000 alumni to the football game and 1,400 to the celebration banquet.
As a strategic member of the Advancement Department at Evangel, Cox assisted in the university’s fundraising activity that generated more than $65 million in gift income and was used to construct nine buildings on campus and increase the university’s endowment.
Communication Department Wall of Fame Honorees
Two Evangel University graduates were named to the Communication Department Wall of Fame during a celebration ceremony on Friday, Oct. 28. To be considered for the Wall of Fame, alumni must be 40 years or older, have a successful career in a communication field, and continue to be a person of faith. Each awardee was nominated by other alumni and voted on by Communication Department faculty.
This year’s honorees include:
Denise Hartman Godwin
Denise Hartman Godwin is a 1989 alum of Evangel. Following her graduation with a bachelor’s degree in communications, Godwin served as a reporter for Antioch Publication, a weekly newspaper based out of Kansas City, Missouri. In 1993, she and her husband, Kerry, served as short-term missionaries at International Media Ministries (IMM) in Brussels, Belgium. After returning to the US, Godwin worked in marketing, wrote freelance pieces for magazines and newspapers, pulished three novels, and served on various boards.
In 2003, Godwin and her husband returned to IMM, where she worked in several production roles. In 2014, she was named IMM president, where she continues to oversee and direct the organization’s day-to-day operations, as well as networking and collaborating with media ministry leaders around the world. Godwin speaks regularly to churches in the U.S. about media missions.
Dan Wheeler is a 1977 graduate of Evangel. During the spring semester of 1974, Wheeler got his first taste of “live broadcasting” as a host for KECC, Evangel’s radio station. More than 45 years later, Wheeler has logged more than 11,000 hours of live television.
For 29 years, Wheeler was one of the top hosts for QVC, the number one electronic retailer in the world. He has interviewed hundreds of superstars from the world of sports, entertainment, politics, and industry, including Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, George Foreman, Magic Johnson, Dan Marino, Bob Hope, Charlton Heston, Willie Nelson, Darryl Hall, and John Oates. In 1999, Wheeler wrote “Best Seat in the House,” a book chronicling untold stories of many famed sports personalities.
In 2015, Wheeler’s wife of 31 years, Beth, passed away after a three-year battle with stage IV cancer. He recounted the journey in his second book, “Hurricane of Love: My Journey with Beth Wheeler.”
Wheeler retired from QVC in 2017 to establish Fearless Faith Ministries, which produces short, inspirational messages on social media.
Behavioral & Social Sciences Department Outstanding Alumnus, Clinical & Mental Health Counseling
Megan Bearden, M.S. LPC, is a 2015 and 2017 graduate of Evangel University, where she received both a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. She is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision at Regent University.
After obtaining her master’s degree, Bearden moved to Kansas City with her husband, Nick, and began working at a community mental health center, helping youth and their families connect to mental health services.
After returning to Springfield in December 2018, she began working at Burrell Behavioral Health, partnering with local public schools to provide therapy to children in the school setting. Bearden also serves as a board member for the Missouri Mental Health Counselors Association.
While attending Evangel, Bearden was a resident assistant in Lewis Hall and enjoyed participating in a variety of on-campus groups.
Behavioral & Social Sciences Department Outstanding Alumnus, School Counseling
Kacey Sawyer, a 2012 graduate of Evangel University, serves as the counseling programs coordinator at Bolivar Middle School. Sawyer previously served as a counselor at Bolivar Middle School, where she was named 2019 Teacher of the Year, and in the Morrisville, Missouri, school district, working with kindergarten through eighth grade students.
In 2022, Sawyer received the School Counselor of the Year award from the Southwest Missouri School Counselor Association.
Sawyer and her husband have three children and are active in their community.
Behavioral & Social Sciences Department Outstanding Alumnus, Criminal Justice
Lt. David Meyer
Lieutenant David Meyer, a 1996 graduate of Evangel, is the commander of the Special Investigations Section for the Springfield Police Department (SPD) in Springfield, Missouri. Since joining SPD as a patrol officer in 1998, Meyer has held several positions within the force, including special investigations detective, member of the Violent Crimes Unit, and downtown sergeant.
Meyer has also participated in several SPD benevolence projects. In 2004, he oversaw the creation of the SPD Guns basketball team, which has raised money for several local charities. Meyer was also the first SPD officer to serve as a board member of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Ozarks, a position he held from 2008 to 2011.
Meyer partnered with Convoy of Hope to create the Patrol Pack Program, providing SPD officers with tote bags filled with nonperishable food items to distribute to citizens in need. To date, SPD has distributed over 400 packs.
Meyer and his wife, Cheri, have three sons, Nick, Luke, and Sam. Meyer plans to retire from SPD in 2023 after 25 years of service.
Business Department Outstanding Alumnus
Dr. Ray Schmidgall
Dr. Ray Schmidgall, a 1967 graduate of Evangel, is the Hilton Hotels Professor of Hospitality & Financial Management at Michigan State University. He is a nationally recognized expert in hospitality accounting and financial management.
Schmidgall, a certified public accountant, holds an MBA and Ph.D. from Michigan State University. A prolific writer, he has authored or co-authored more than a dozen textbooks, a dozen chapters in books, and more than 250 articles.
Schmidgall and his wife, Barbara (Roehl ’70), are active EU alums, founding the Business and Economics Endowed Scholarship Fund and the Schmidgall Endowed Chair for Business Excellence. He also serves on the Evangel University Board of Trustees.
Education Department Outstanding Alumnus
Dr. Greg Wiles
Dr. Greg Wiles, a 1991 graduate of Evangel, is the superintendent of Nampa Christian Schools in Nampa, Idaho. Wiles holds a master’s degree in educational administration from Idaho State University and a doctorate in educational leadership from Northwest Nazarene University.
Wiles is also executive director and past president of the Idaho Middle Level Association, which seeks to equip, unite, and inspire middle-level educators across Idaho. Wiles was named Idaho Middle Level Educator of the Year for 2009–2010, recognized as a National Association of Elementary School Principals Transformational
Leader in 2010, and was presented by the Idaho Association of Secondary School Principals in conjunction with the National Association of Secondary School Principals as outstanding Idaho Secondary Principal (Middle Level) in 2010–2011.
In his current role, Wiles is dedicated to serving the community by providing high-quality Christian education and training for the development of well-rounded students.
Wiles and his wife, Desiree, have been married for 26 years and have four children, Justus, Avery, Liberty, and Donovan.
Humanities Department Outstanding Alumnus
Heather Rooney McBride
Heather Rooney McBride, a 2003 graduate of Evangel, is the founder and managing member of Rooney McBride & Smith, LLC, a law firm in Springfield, Missouri. McBride’s primary practice areas include estate planning and trust administration, business and real estate transactions and litigation matters, and corporate law, including compliance, human resources, and employment issues. She is licensed to practice law in Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.
At Evangel, McBride received a bachelor’s degree in Spanish, graduating summa cum laude. She then attended Drake University Law School, where she finished second in her class with Order of the Coif honors. She has served on Evangel’s Board of Trustees, as board chairperson of Maranatha Village, and as a board member and legal counsel for the Springfield Regional Arts Council.
In 2013, McBride was awarded the 2013-2014 National Association of Professional Women’s “Woman of the Year” award for demonstrating excellence and dedication within her profession. In May 2013, she was recognized for her professional achievements by the Missouri House of Representatives. McBride was also named one of the “Top Attorneys in Missouri & Kansas – Rising Star” in 2015.
McBride and her husband, Ben, have two children.
Natural & Applied Sciences Department Outstanding Alumnus
Dr. Luke Van Kirk
Dr. Luke Van Kirk, a 2007 graduate of Evangel, serves as the medical director of Loehr Health Center in Springfield, Missouri. In this role, Van Kirk provides regenerative medical care as a potential alternative to surgery, including prolotherapy and platelet-rich plasma injections.
Van Kirk also owns Command Family Medicine, a direct primary care practice dedicated to building a greater physician-patient connection in the treatment process.
Following his graduation from Evangel, Van Kirk received a doctorate of osteopathic medicine from Western University of Health Sciences and completed his residency at CoxHealth Family Medicine in Springfield.
Van Kirk is a member of the Springfield Chamber of Commerce and the Springfield Southeast Rotary Club. He was named one of Springfield Business Journal’s “40 Under 40” professionals in 2019.
Evangel University, with its embedded Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (AGTS), is a comprehensive Spirit-led Christian university located in Springfield, Missouri. It is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and a member of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. Under the leadership of Dr. Mike Rakes, EU is committed to excellence in educating and equipping students to serve the Church and society globally and becoming compassionate innovators in their chosen vocations. EU offers more than 70 degree programs, including cutting-edge majors, pre-professional programs, and affordable and flexible online degree options.
EU is highly regarded and has been ranked:
- US News & World Report Best Colleges Top Performer in Social Mobility
- Colleges of Distinction Best Christian University
- Top 10 Best Universities by AcademicInfluence.com
- Third Most Beautiful Campus in the Midwest by Christian Colleges & Universities
- Top 10 Best Colleges in Missouri by BestColleges.com
With additional accreditations in business, counseling, music, social work, and theology and certification as an Excellence in Giving university, EU is focused on providing students with hands-on experience and real-world training for today’s professional careers. Learn more about the university at evangel.edu.