As the warm autumn breeze rustled through the towering trees lining the campus, a familiar sense of excitement and anticipation filled the air. When HOMECOMING WEEKEND descends upon Lamoni, we are all reminded it’s not just an event; it’s a journey back in time, a celebration of friendships forged in the academic proving ground, and a heartfelt thank you from Graceland University to generations of Gracelanders, friends, and family.
On Friday, the competitive spirit was alive and well at the Alumni and Friends Golf Tournament. Participants teed off with old friends and new acquaintances, sharing stories and laughter on the green. Back on the Lamoni campus, there was a special performance from 21 Steele Strings with alumni Dean Landsberg ’68, Larry Wheeler ’68, Ray Adams ’69, and Joe Racine ’66. These Graceland superstars are members of the legendary “New Folk Singers” and “North Door Singers.” Later that evening, at the Alumni and Friends Awards Dinner, several well-deserving alumni received recognition for their diverse achievements and service to the University, and individuals being honored in the Yellowjacket Hall and Wall of Fame (see page 8). Alumni ended the night cheering on Graceland students and their favorite Airband dances.
Saturday was filled with thrilling activities; from a mouthwatering array of food trucks to special performances from the music and theatre departments, there was plenty of excitement to go around. Alumni and their families could be seen all across campus, supporting their favorite sports teams and academic departments. Saturday night was reserved for honor class desserts and the 50- year honor class dinner, where alumni reconnected with old friends and had the opportunity to skim through yearbooks, sharing memories from their time at Graceland. The evening continued with an outdoor performance by Chad Elliott ’96, a talented Midwest singer-songwriter. His music resonated throughout the campus quad, creating an enchanting atmosphere under the starry sky. As the performance came to a close, the night sky lit up with a breathtaking fireworks display, marking the perfect end to an unforgettable day.
The weekend finished with a beautiful worship service featuring a moving message from Community of Christ Apostle Janné Grover ’15, and the Presidential Society Brunch recognizing new Heritage Club members who include Graceland in their estate plans. As alumni and friends returned home and the campus became just a little bit quieter, one thing remained clear: Graceland University is profoundly grateful to its alumni for their unwavering support, which lights the path for future generations of Gracelanders.
(View all Homecoming photo albums here)
Alumni Awards 2023
Distinguished Service Award
Jay ’64 and Cherry Phelps ’65 Newcom embody the principles of good citizenship, humanitarian service, and dedication to society. Their commitment to recognizing the worth of every individual perfectly aligns with the ideals of the Distinguished Service Award, inspiring and uplifting generations of Graceland students.
Jay’s lifelong connection to Graceland began in Lamoni, where he immersed himself in the community from a young age. He attended Graceland University from 1960-1964, serving as the Tower’s editor, Student Body President, and earning the prestigious Gold Seal for Leadership. After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1968, Jay established himself as a globally recognized business and finance lawyer for over five decades.
Throughout his remarkable 26-year tenure on the Graceland Board of Trustees, including a term as Chairman, Jay played a crucial role in
facilitating Graceland’s acquisition of SkillPath Seminars Inc. in 1995, providing vital economic support.
Cherry, from Sweet Home, Oregon, demonstrated early leadership through church and school youth involvement. She attended Graceland from 1961 to 1963 and continued her education at MidAmerica Nazarene College. Cherry’s dedication to humanitarian causes endures through her board membership with HealthEd Connect, a nonprofit empowering women and children in developing countries through evidence-based health, education, and advocacy programs.
Graceland Award of Recognition
Pictured, from left: Nancy Tanner Edwards, Jerry Mogg, Daniel Brush ’03 (representing his father, the late Glenn Brush), Lorrie Long, Sherry Mesle-Morain, Sherri Kirkpatrick, Dan Hanton, Stephen Murdock ’69 (representing the family of Mary Jean Murdock Jeanae), Phyllis O’Daniels, Stew McDole, Molly Brush ’02 Schlenker (representing her father, Glenn Brush), William “Duke” Dudek, and Rich Harrop.
In the early 2000s, a group of over a dozen alumni from the Class of 1965 had returned to Graceland to serve their alma mater and the next generation of Graceland graduates. Their presence was evident in all corners of the University — faculty members, athletic coaches, and administrators alike found themselves called back to “the Hill” to offer their expertise and passion to a new generation of students. They helped those students build a bridge from the Graceland they knew as students to an era marked by a world that was changing rapidly. These generous Graceland University alumni, united by their unwavering commitment to their university, stand as shining examples of dedication and service. They embody the Graceland mission, both in their vocations and in the way they have lived their lives.
Yellowjackets Hall of Fame
Clayton Braddock ’06 had a profound impact on the Yellowjackets football program during his three seasons as the quarterback from 2003 to 2006. Hailing from Grand Prairie, Texas, he completely turned around the fortunes of Graceland football. In his very first season, he took a team that had previously experienced a winless campaign and transformed them into a nationally-ranked powerhouse by the fifth week of his sophomore year in 2004. The Yellowjackets ended that season with an impressive 8-2 record, securing the 18th spot in the final NAIA Top 25 rankings and earning a trip to the 2005 preseason Wheat Bowl, which they emerged victorious in.
With Braddock behind center in 2005, Graceland soared to remarkable heights, reaching as high as No. 8 in the NAIA Top 25 rankings and concluding the season with an outstanding 9-3 overall record. Their impressive performance earned them the Heart of America Athletic Conference Championship. Clayton Braddock’s individual achievements were equally impressive, as he was recognized as an NAIA All-American (Honorable Mention), named the HAAC Player of the Year, and Co-Offensive Player of the Year in 2005. Additionally, he earned All-Region Scholar-Athlete honors. Braddock’s exceptional skills also garnered him the distinction of being a two-time NAIA Player of the Week, a six-time HAAC Player of the Week, and a three-time all-conference selection.
Dante Johnson ’04 came to Graceland from Orlando, Florida, and was a standout athlete in both football and track from 2001 to 2004. He achieved the honor of Team Captain and also earned recognition as an NAIA All-American Honorable Mention in 2004. In 2001, he made the Heart All-Conference Third Team as a Wide Receiver, and from 2003 to 2004, he was on the Heart All-Conference First Team as both a wide receiver and kick returner. Dante’s talent
didn’t go unnoticed, as he received accolades from the Don Hansen’s Football Gazette All-America Team in 2003 and was named to the Don Hansen’s Football Gazette All-America Second Team as a wide receiver in 2004.
Post-Graceland, Dante Johnson ventured into the realm of social impact by founding the nonprofit organization, Wake Up Mentoring, in his hometown of Orlando, Florida. Embracing a holistic approach, he has dedicated himself to making the world a better place, particularly by guiding and inspiring the youth of Orange County, Florida, toward brighter and more promising futures. Dante’s time at Graceland changed him for the better, and he used what he learned to make a positive difference in the lives of today’s young people. Today, he continues to support and promote Graceland, an institution that transformed his life and opened doors to opportunities he might not have had otherwise.
Cris Welch ’92 propelled the Yellowjackets onto the national stage as Graceland’s head football coach from 2003 to 2009. He led the 2004 and 2005 teams to rankings in the NAIA Top 25 polls and guided them to their first-ever appearance in the 2005 NAIA Football Championship series postseason playoff game. Following a remarkable 9-3 season, he earned the prestigious 2005 Heart of America Athletic Conference Coach of the Year award.
In that extraordinary year, GU reached as high as eighth in the national rankings and maintained a spot in the NAIA Top 20 throughout the regular season. In 2004, the team had already begun to gain momentum, ending the season ranked 18th in the country and securing a victory in the 2005 preseason Wheat Bowl.
During Welch’s tenure as head coach of Graceland’s football program, his student-athletes achieved remarkable success, including six NAIA All-American selections, 18 NAIA Academic All-American honors, and 86 HAAC AlI-Conference recognitions.
Originally from Yukon, Oklahoma, Welch graduated from Graceland in 1992. He had a notable collegiate career as a four-year starter on the offensive line for the Yellowjackets from 1988 to 1991, earning all-district honors and serving as a team captain for two seasons.
Yellowjackets Wall of Fame
With high aspirations for the season, Graceland’s 2005 Football Team opened with a preseason appearance in the 11th Annual Wheat Bowl held in Great Bend, Kansas, its first bowl appearance since 1975. The Yellowjackets faced off against #28 Southern Nazarene (Bethany, Oklahoma) and defeated the Crimson Storm 24-20. Graceland entered Wheat Bowl participation as the first team to be selected from the state of Iowa.
Graceland spent the entire 2005 season ranked among the top 25 in the country with a final ranking of 11th. On November 12, 2005, the Yellowjackets beat Mid-America Nazarene 37-16 to claim a share of their first Heart of America Conference title since 1975. The win also propelled them into the NAIA Championships for the first time ever. The Yellowjackets finished the remarkable season with a 9-3 record.