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Graceland Award of Recognition

This award is made by Graceland University in recognition of those who have demonstrated special contributions of time, talents, resources and personal sacrifices to benefit Graceland. The recipients must be living but need not be Graceland alumni. The Board of Trustees asked the Alumni Association to establish this award as an additional way to honor the people who support Graceland and university programs in an exceptional way.

2022 Recipient – Kent Bradford ’79

Kent BradfordKent Bradford is a 1979 graduate of Graceland. After completing his bachelor’s degree, Kent continued his education at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Missouri, where he received a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Finance & Management. Kent spent over 25 years in the telecommunications industry spanning various businesses and technical disciplines including network engineering, information systems (IT) development & strategic planning, and marketing product development. He subsequently worked for 10 years as a National Account Director for several international corporations, where he focused on recommending and implementing software solutions for Fortune 500 strategic accounts.

Kent is also passionate about volunteering and supporting Graceland University. He is a pastor and member of the Standing High Council for the Community of Christ Church. Kent serves as the President of Blue Springs, MO School District’s Board of Education and is the Chair of the Board of Directors for The Groves retirement community. Kent has spent the last two years working as the Owner’s Representative for the Morden Center renovation, and is the day-to-day contact with the architect team and construction team. Kent stated, “This has been a rewarding opportunity to give back to the University and future generations of students. I want to thank the Athletic Department and the Facilities Services staff for their support and patience during the construction phases. It has been a true partnership with President Draves, and I am grateful to give back to Graceland in this way!”


  • 2021 - Ron Gillilan

    Ron GillilanDr. Ron Gillilan just turned 87, and has been working in the medical field for 5o years.

    Growing up in rural Ohio, this bright high school student with stellar grades had no money to even think about college. As fate would have it, a local farmer volunteered to foot the bill for his education but made him promise to return the favor for someone else down the road.

    Ron and wife Carol have lived up to that commitment by helping med school students land residency’s and fellowships. They have also hosted a number of Graceland students and connecting them with summer internships at St. Agnes Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland.

    It’s at St. Agnes where Gillilan pioneered an observational study that linked a belief in a higher power with successful rehab after major heart surgery. Ron is a cardiologist and an Evangelist in Community of Christ and he looks forward to the results of his study being published soon. As the backup Medical Director of Preventative Cardiology, Gillilan has already been schooling young “Docs” as he likes to call them on a better bedside manner.

    Dr. Gillilan recently wrapped up 12 years serving on the Graceland Board of Trustees. He says he will always cherish the opportunity to help guide Graceland.


  • 2019 - Bob Bell '86 and Steve '77 and Jeanie Upson

    Bob Bell ’86

    Bob Bell ’86 received the Graceland Award of Recognition. Bell was a high school senior in Port Huron, Michigan, when Graceland football coach Dan Hanton ’65 urged him to visit the campus with six friends. Bell fell in love with Graceland and enrolled in the fall of 1977.

    Bell is not shy about admitting that he had a rough start at Graceland. “I didn’t actually make the dean’s list, but I sure made the dean’s office,” he shared. Once he “got his head on straight,” he turned things around and earned a Bachelor of Arts in physical education and health with an elementary education endorsement. That foundation sustained him through 17 years of teaching in elementary and high school classrooms as a special education specialist.

    Bell always looked up to those in the military and was just 26 when he joined the Army Reserves. He has been to Korea three times, Bosnia and Germany, and he served three tours of duty in Iraq. He trained soldiers at the Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois for four years before hanging up his military uniform in 2013. Thank you, Bob, for your service to our nation.

    Bell donned the Lamoni Police Department uniform in 2014 and served as police chief from 2015-19. It was in this role that he worked side by side with Graceland’s dean of students Dave Schaal ’80, turning college students in the right direction through personal mentoring and counseling. Schaal commented, “Bob has a real knack for connecting with young people, sharing his own journey while helping students see the light. He’s been invaluable in our mission here at Graceland.”


    Steve ’77 and Jeanie Upson

    Steve ’77 and Jeanie Upson also received the Graceland Award of Recognition. To say that Steve and Jeanie love getting their hands dirty is an understatement. The couple thrive on getting the most out of mother earth, and Graceland has reaped the fruits of their labor.

    Steve came to Graceland from Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the fall of 1973. He later transferred to Oklahoma State University, where he earned his Bachelor of Science in horticulture in 1978 and went on to earn his Master of Science in horticulture from Kansas State University in 1980.

    Over the years, Steve has served as a county and district horticulture educator with the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service and as manager of a commercial market garden operation east of Kansas City, Missouri. In addition to his consultation services, he is an active participant in the newly formed Noble Foundation Institute Center for Pecan and Specialty Agriculture, where he serves as a technical advisor and educator in the areas of raised-bed and container gardening, commercial market gardening, and high tunnel (hoop house) construction and management.

    Jeanie is from Skiatook, Oklahoma, and received her Bachelor of Arts in elementary education from Cameron University. She has been a Title I elementary reading specialist for Ardmore City Schools for the past 32 years.

    Graceland sustainability coordinator, Jen Abraham-White ’08, had this to say about the Upsons, “Their continued commitment to Graceland’s sustainability program has been remarkable: remarkable because they decided to buy in to a vision that had little support – their hands planted a seed; remarkable in the way that they have driven thousands of miles, back and forth from Oklahoma, to help construct a better and greener Graceland; and remarkable in that they so generously and graciously share personal savings from years of hard work in fields of service to educate a new era of students and impact posterity.”

2018 Don Hickman
2017 Gretchen Booz
2016 Dean Limric
2016 Soon Ja Limric
2016 Bill Morain
2016 Sherry Morain
2016 Steve Veazey
2015 Gail Brown
2014 Cal Closson
2013 Randy Heintz
2013 Laurie Heintz
2012 Joe Booz
2011 Dick Otis
2011 Carolyn Otis
2010 Riri Mariteragi
2009 Orman Brooner
2009 Colleen Brooner
2008 Tracy Bridge
2008 Chris Bridge
2007 Joe Madaffari
2005 Don Compier
2004 Denise Dudley
2003 Joe Shelton
2002 Lee Ackerley
2002 Bob Ackerley
2001 Richard Hettrick
2001 Patricia Hettrick
2000 Floyd Young
1999 Clara E. Morrell
1999 John Rasmussen
1999 Mary Anne Rasmussen
1999 Marvel Hansen
1998 Donald Hickman
1998 Beverly Hickman
1997 Phillis Davison
1997 Jack Davison
1996 Jim Ash
1996 Pam Ash
1995 Marilyn Smith
1995 John Hinkle
1994 Wayne Thompson
1994 Velma Ruch
1994 Everett Graffeo
1994 Byron Constance
1993 Wanda Talcott Ingram
1993 Arthur Kensler
1993 Hal Talcott
1993 Cherry Newcom
1992 Ella Wiley
1992 Alice Long
1992 Aubery Long
1992 John Wiley
1991 Doris Anderson
1991 Janet Barnhard
1991 Bob Anderson
1991 Bill Barnhard
1990 Denise Leichter
1990 Shirley Remmenga
1990 Bob Fitzgerald
1990 Roy Lockyer
1990 Jan Fitzgerald
1989 Lowell Kuhn
1989 Jim Braby
1989 Carol Kuhn
1988 Christy Christenson
1988 Bettye Kuhnert
1988 Carl Mesle
1988 Charlotte Gould
1987 Elon Tucker
1987 Donald Guinnee
1987 Dorothy Hice
1987 Elmo Gamet
1987 JR Shaw
1987 Hal McKain
1987 Cleo Moon
1987 Helen Guinnee
1987 Judy Closson