Grace College and Seminary, Winona Lake, Ind., recognized six distinguished alumni and friends at its annual Homecoming Chapel on October 6. Jim Banks, Ashley Durand, Michael Mace, Geraldine Gagle-Velasco, and Dale and Jolie Miller were honored for their accomplishments and contributions to Grace and their communities. Each of the men and women awarded represents the mission of Grace College, applying biblical values to strengthen character, sharpen competence and prepare for service.
Rep. Jim Banks (MBA 13) of Columbia City, Ind., was presented the Alumni of the Year Award. This award is given in recognition of alumni who have enhanced Grace’s mission, reputation or campus morale, and who represent the school with professionalism, enthusiasm and dedication.
In January 2017, Jim Banks became a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, serving Indiana’s Third Congressional District which includes Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind. He previously served as state senator of Indiana Senate District 16 from 2010 to 2016.
“I feel a strong calling to serve and make a difference,” said Jim. “For me, serving in elected office is about improving the lives of Hoosiers and passing on more opportunities and a stronger country to future generations.”
Jim joined the United States Navy Reserve as a supply corps officer in 2012, and attended Grace College where he earned his MBA in 2013. “The Grace MBA program’s reputation, location and flexibility made it the perfect fit for me and my career,” he explained. Since graduating, Jim said he “deeply appreciates the faith-centered curriculum. Every class I took had an intentional scriptural component. The education I received at Grace enhanced my worldview and has helped me better articulate my political ideology and values.”
Grace College President Dr. Bill Katip said Jim is a model alumnus and an encouragement to current students, faculty and staff.
“Grace is mission-focused and absolutely committed to strengthen character, sharpen competence, and prepare students for service. Jim lives this out. He is a great example of an alumnus whose life and vocation exhibit our mission,” said Katip. “We are delighted to honor Rep. Banks as Alumni of the Year.”
Commenting on Jim’s ervice in Congress, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said, “Jim Banks has already made a huge impact in Washington, leading by example in the freshman class. He’s really moving the needle on the work his committees are doing, especially the House Armed Services Committee. This Congress, the conservative movement and the people of Indiana are all lucky to have him.”
Ashley (Mazelin BS 13) Durand of Colorado Springs, Colo., was given the Young Alumni of the Year Award, which is awarded in recognition of alumni who have made significant contributions to society and/or have made significant professional advancements in their career less than 10 years since their graduation.
Originally from Granger, Ind., Ashley arrived at Grace College as an aspiring writer and missionary. Grace’s journalism program honed her skills, which she used writing for the school newspaper. Ashley also founded an anti-human trafficking club at Grace and served as a resident assistant for two years.
According to Dean of Students Aaron Crabtree, Ashely left an “unforgettable mark” at Grace “through the mature and intentional way that she mentored and led students as a resident assistant.” Crabtree continued, “It’s no surprise to us that Ashely has gone on to do great things in her career in a very short time.”
Just before graduating (in only three years) with her journalism degree, Ashley accepted a job with 212 Media Studios as a content specialist. After two years in her position, she sensed God was readying her for a new adventure. After sending out multiple resumes and considering law school, Ashley applied for a public relations job with Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, Co. While Ashley considered it “a long shot,” she was hired at Focus in 2015 as a publicist and represents the organization to the media, writes press releases, manages podcast recordings, blogs, and facilitates internal communications.
Andrew Montgomery, director of public relations and guest relations for Focus on the Family said, “Ashley is creative, determined and inquisitive, but what I appreciate most about her is that her love for God and her heart for people drive her. She sees her work as something more than a job. For Ashley, it’s not just about coordinating media interviews; it’s an opportunity to change lives by giving people hope for better relationships between husbands and wives, parents and children. We are fortunate to have her on Focus on the Family’s public relations team.”
Michael Mace (BA 80) of Chagrin Falls, Ohio, was presented with the Alumni Distinguished Service Award, which is given in recognition of alumni who have exhibited Christian leadership and who have displayed extraordinary service to the increased welfare of Grace.
When Michael arrived on campus, he joined student senate and began earning his double-major degree in secondary education (mathematics) and business administration. But it was the grace he experienced after making some poor decisions that has made Michael a lifelong champion of Grace College and Seminary.
“In my senior year I drifted off course, and my decisions resulted in expulsion from Grace,” he recounted. But Michael reapplied to Grace and was able to finish his degree a year and half later. “Choices have consequences, and God’s standards are firm. Thankfully, He and His people are loving and gracious.”
Upon graduation from Grace, Michael taught for several years, and then transitioned to the technology industry. He has worked for The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company for 20 years, currently as a part of the website development team and the global collaboration services team.
For many years, Michael has faithfully prayed for the leadership of Grace and encouraged prospective students to consider attending Grace. Michael also contributes financially to Grace monthly and has designated Grace Schools as a beneficiary in his charitable remainder trust. In 2014, he accepted an invitation to join the Alumni Advisory Council.
“Seeing Michael recognized with this award is special for me,” said Director of Alumni Engagement Denny Duncan. “He and I lived in the same dorm during our time together at Grace. He has always been a leader, and he is a true example of an alum who supports the school with his time, talent and treasure.””
“I love Grace Schools and the family of ‘Gracies,’” said Michael. “Wherever we all disperse, when we meet, we are united with a bond of grace. Our God has had His hand on this place for many years, and the school continues to stand strong for Him. My personal experience has forever set my heart to desire the very best for this place.”
Geraldine “Gerry” Gagle-Velasco of New Lebanon, Ohio, was chosen as the Honorary Alumni of the Year Award recipient. This award is given in recognition of non-alumni who have demonstrated a genuine interest in the cause of Christian higher education as represented by and through Grace and who have demonstrated their commitment to the mission of Grace.
Gerry was born in Portland, Ind., and earned her bachelor’s degree from Miami University (Ohio). After graduating, Gerry moved to Phoenix, Ariz., in 1962 where she taught fourth grade for 19 years and earned her master’s degree in education from Arizona State University. She eventually met her husband, Gilbert Velasco, in 1996, and they moved to New Lebanon, Ohio, where Gerry still resides today.
Gerry’s association with Grace College began through her involvement at Grace Brethren Church of Phoenix, Ariz., where she taught fourth-grade Sunday school. She loved the Grace Brethren Fellowship and appreciated Grace College’s adherence to the inerrancy of Scripture. Through the years, Gerry became a stalwart promoter and supporter of the institution, welcoming Grace faculty into her home as often as they were traveling through and organizing events and conferences at her local church where Grace was promoted.
Besides being a proud member of the McClain Heritage Society, Gerry has also loyally followed the creation work of Dr. Don DeYoung, professor of physics at Grace. “Gerry has been a strong advocate for Grace Schools,” said Dr. DeYoung. “She prays for and gives gifts to Grace faithfully, and she is keen on ensuring Grace maintains its historic position on biblical creation.”
Dale and Jolie (Eckhardt BS 86) Miller of Claypool, Ind., were given the Parent Distinguished Service Award, which is presented in recognition of parents of a Grace student who have exhibited extraordinary service to the increased welfare of Grace.
Dale and Jolie Miller are deeply invested in Grace. Not only is Jolie a Grace graduate, but both of the Millers’ children attend Grace: Pam is a junior and Sam is a freshman. While at Grace, Jolie played on the softball and basketball teams and in 2011 was inducted into the Lancer Hall of Fame. She now serves on the Lancer Hall of Fame Committee.
Athletic Director Chad Briscoe says the Millers are tremendous supporters of the Grace athletic department. “The Millers offered major support to the softball field upgrades several years ago. They have a love and passion for the impact athletics at Grace can have on the lives of athletes,” Briscoe said.
You can find one of the Millers at most home sporting events across all of the sports teams and during the summer, they support the youth Lancer camps. “I love Grace,” said Jolie. “I bleed black and red,” she laughed.
Jolie and her husband, Dale, are owners and operators of Miller Cattle Company in Claypool, Ind. Dale is also a team member with Silveus Insurance Group where he’s worked since 2002 and specializes in whole farm and crop insurance markets.
In the midst of all their professional responsibilities, they find time to serve on the Grace Parent Council, where Jolie is also the chairman. Additionally, the Millers employ Grace students at their farm, and you’ll regularly find students at their home doing laundry and at their dinner table. They have housed Korean students for the education department too.
Jolie remembers the homes she stayed in when she was in college and she promised herself if she had the opportunity to do the same for others in the future, she would. “We wanted to pay it forward,” said Jolie.
Because of their regular involvement in campus, Grace is like a second home to the Millers. “We love the motto ‘To Know Christ and to Make Him Known,’ said Dale. Grace is a place where those words aren’t just on the letterhead. They are practiced.”