SPRINGFIELD, MO — Two members of the Evangel University family will be celebrated Friday, March 29, during a special Trees of Honor ceremony, at 11 a.m., in the lobby of the Riggs Hall Administration Building.
The event is free and open to the public. Riggs Hall faces 1111 N. Glenstone Ave., by the flagpole.
“Both of these gentlemen have had sterling careers and have provided decades of service to the university,” said Dr. Michael Kolstad, vice president for university advancement. “And it just so happens that both are fathers of prominent alumni.”
Dr. Berl Best, father of Karen Best, mayor of Branson, Missouri, will be recognized along with Dr. Ray Schmidgall, father of Erica Harris, highly regarded assistant professor of biology and sponsor of the medical mission trips taken by Evangel students.
• Dr. Best is a retired but still active educator and counselor, living in Branson.
• Dr. Schmidgall is a Michigan State University professor, author and nationally recognized expert in hospitality accounting and financial management.
“The Bests and the Schmidgalls are excellent role models, as alumni and as parents, and we are inspired by their lives of service,” said Kolstad.
The Trees of Honor project began as an idea formed by a small group of graduates from the 1960s known as “The Pioneers,” and it took root following Springfield’s great ice storm of 2007. Their idea was to help replace lost trees and restore the natural beauty of the campus.
“With this ceremony, there will be 35 who have been honored this way,” said Hector Cruz, director of alumni engagement. “An engraved bronze plaque is placed at the base of each tree as a permanent tribute to the person being honored.”
Berl Best: Dropout to Doctorate
“I am both honored and humbled that I was selected to be a part of the Trees of Honor ceremony,” said Dr. Berl Best from his home in Branson.
“As I look back over my long career in education, I can honestly say that the three years I served as the residence hall director of Krause Hall were the happiest three years of my career. Not only that, it was the happiest years for my family,” he said. “What a joy it was to speak into the lives of so many students, helping them choose careers, work out their value systems and make a wise choice in a marital partner.”
On the flip side, Dr. Best said he cannot underestimate the positive influence the men of Krause Hall had on his daughter, Karen.
“She was 13 when we moved into the dorm, and she was adopted as the ‘little sister’ of most of the men,” he relayed. “I never worried about her safety, because everyone knew her and protected her. Evangel University shaped her socialization process and made her into who she is today.”
Still going strong
When asked about her father, Karen shared the following memories.
For four decades, Dr. Berl Best was a beloved leader in the Evangel, Central Bible College, and Assemblies of God Theological Seminary community. He poured into student’s lives year after year. His gentle, kind, and loving spirit encouraged students to succeed in the classroom and in life. His greatest joys were to watch students grow in intellect and more importantly grow in their faith.
Dad served as residence counselor of Krause Hall, dean of men, and dean of students at Evangel University. In addition, he taught psychology courses in the Behavioral Sciences Department. At Central Bible College, he served as director of admissions, director of development, and director of guidance and counseling (including teaching psychology courses). At Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, he taught courses in psychology. Currently, he is on staff and serves as counselor at Grace Community Assembly in Branson, Missouri.
Evangel students would immediately look for the M&M jar on dad’s desk when entering his Dean of Students’ office. If the jar was on the desk, you were OK. If the jar was missing, you immediately knew you were in trouble. Students appreciated his discipline because they perceived it as firm but fair. He wanted to make sure you learned from each experience.
Many people did not know his personal story.
At the age of 16, he dropped out of high school to join the Air Force. During his military tenure, he received his GED. My father started his college experience in his late 20s — he struggled at the beginning of his college career and found he had to study hard to succeed. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Central Bible College, a bachelor’s degree from Southwest Missouri State University, a master’s degree from Southwest Missouri University, and a doctorate from University of Arkansas.
Dad had a passion for high school dropouts and those who struggled academically. He went above and beyond to make sure students had the resources to succeed including mentors throughout their college experience.
He turned 80 years old last year, yet he continues to pour into student’s lives by teaching at Ozark Technical Community College Table Rock Campus. It is not hard to see how much the student’s love him — just follow him around Branson and see the joy on students’ faces when they see Dr. Best out and about.
Ray Schmidgall: Educator, author, alumnus
“I am truly honored to be recognized by Evangel with a Tree of Honor,” said Ray Schmidgall, Ph.D., CPA, and Hilton Hotels Professor of Hospitality Financial Management at The School of Hospitality Business at Michigan State University.
Daughter Erica Harris spoke for the family.
“My sisters and I are thrilled that our dad is receiving this honor,” she said. “He has instilled in each of us a life-long love for God, family, and Evangel and has modeled this through his generosity and tireless service to the school. He has always worked hard, had a positive attitude, encouraged others, and given his best effort throughout his life!”
Generations at Evangel
Dr. Schmidgall is a 1967 graduate of Evangel College (now University). As an active alumnus who has remained passionate about his alma mater, he has served multiple terms on the Evangel University board of directors, including on the current board. He also serves on the board of his home church, as well as on industry committees of the American Hotel & Lodging Association and two international academic organizations.
Ray met Barbara (Roehl ’70) while they were students at Evangel, and all four of their daughters are now graduates — Erica ’95, Monica ’96, Kristina ’03 and Joanna ’05. Erica and her husband, Dr. Jeremy Harris, are professors in Evangel’s Department of Natural and Applied Sciences. The third generation is also represented, as granddaughter Natalie Murphy is currently a junior nursing major at EU.
Since graduating from Evangel, Ray and Barbara have been strong supporters of the University and the Department of Business; in fact, he co-founded the Business and Economics Endowed Scholarship Fund just a few years after he graduated.
“We have benefited greatly from our own education at Evangel, as well as from the education of our four daughters,” he said in 2012. “God has blessed our lives beyond our expectations, and we are eager to find meaningful ways to share those blessings with others at Evangel.”
With that, it was announced that Ray and Barbara agreed to create a new $500,000 endowed chair for the EU Department of Business — the Schmidgall Endowed Chair for Business Excellence, which provides funds to the chair holder to support activities and programs that enhance leadership, teaching, faculty development, scholarly pursuit and professional service.
After leaving Evangel, he earned his MBA and Ph.D. degrees from Michigan State University. The major focus of his degrees was accounting with minors in statistics, economics and communication.
Now, Dr. Schmidgall is the academic leader in his field — he is the accounting and financial management expert at Michigan State. He has authored or co-authored more than a dozen textbooks, another dozen chapters in books, and the eighth edition of his Managerial Accounting for the Hospitality Industry was released in October 2015. During 2018 he had four articles published, in addition to the more than 250 articles in the past.
While he has risen to the top of his field, he has never forgotten where the foundation was laid.
“The early Evangel students, including Dr. Wood and so many others, were truly the leaders who took a great chance in attending Evangel during those formative years,” reflected Schmidgall from his home in Lansing, Michigan. “By the time I arrived in the fall of 1963, Evangel had started its building program. Though buildings are important, building lives is where Evangel’s staff and faculty have so excelled.
“I am deeply indebted to the pioneering students, faculty and staff. So thank you, to all of those who paved the way for us younger graduates,” he said with a smile.
SIDEBAR: Who are The Pioneers?
Evangel University’s unique setting is traced back to World War II, when the land was used as O’Reilly General Hospital. In 1954, parts of the land were awarded to local organizations. The Assemblies of God received a major portion of this land to build its new liberal arts college.
Ninety-three students comprised the first freshman class in 1955. Those “pioneer” students in the first 10 years all lived and studied in the former hospital barracks. Evangel’s first permanent building in 1963 was the Klaude Kendrick Library, named for the school’s first president.
Today, the Evangel campus covers approximately 100 acres of land, roughly half the area that O’Reilly Hospital once covered. At one time, 86 barracks covered our portion of the land.
Now, only the original boiler house remains, and thanks to men and women like Ray and Barbara Schmidgall, the current students have excellent, modern academic and performance facilities in which to build for their futures.
Evangel University, with the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (AGTS), is a comprehensive Christian university committed to excellence in educating and equipping students to serve the church and society globally. Evangel and AGTS serve more than 2,100 students from all 50 states and numerous foreign countries, offering 65 undergraduate majors and 19 master’s and doctoral degrees.