Establishing the Kathy and Joel Ross Inspired Leadership Fund

$1 million gift expands Wallace B. Smith Scholarship for Community of Christ youth and funds future opportunities for church leaders

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Press Release

June 3, 2024

Graceland University is thrilled to announce a generous $1 million gift from Kathy and Joel ’79 Ross, establishing the Kathy and Joel Ross Inspired Leadership Fund. This remarkable donation will significantly enhance opportunities for students and further the University’s mission in several meaningful ways. Joel currently serves as a member of the Presidential Advisory Council, and Kathy was named an honorary alumnus in 2014.

A substantial portion of this gift will be used to fund the Wallace B. Smith Scholarship in partnership with Graceland. These scholarships, affectionately known as “the Wally B,” are awarded annually at SPECTACULAR, the Community of Christ youth camp hosted by Graceland each summer. The scholarships aim to support and encourage young leaders within the Community of Christ and, with the generosity of the Ross family, will fund two full-tuition scholarships and four half-tuition scholarships.

Vice President for Enrollment and Strategic Growth Deb Skinner, MEd said, “Wallace B. Smith was the definition of a transformational leader within Community of Christ. It is so exciting that we are able to honor his legacy of leadership with these expanded scholarships for Community of Christ youth. Previous Wallace B. Smith award winners have gone on to do amazing things while students at Graceland, in the church, and in their professional lives. This premier scholarship displays our commitment to ensuring youth within the church have access to a Graceland education.”

In addition to the scholarship, the Inspired Leadership Fund includes an allocation to Graceland’s general student welfare fund, administered by Campus Ministries, ensuring broader support for the diverse student body. Further, it supports internships specifically for Community of Christ youth, providing valuable real-world experience and preparing students for successful futures.

Kristi Hettrick, Vice President for Institutional Advancement at Graceland, expressed her heartfelt gratitude for the Rosses’ generosity. “We are incredibly grateful to Kathy and Joel Ross for their unwavering support of Graceland. Their gift will have a lasting impact on our students and the entire Graceland community. This donation exemplifies the spirit of giving that helps make our university a place where students can thrive.”

The Rosses shared their hopes for the gift’s impact, saying, “We believe in Graceland’s mission and its commitment to nurturing future leaders. Our hope is that this gift will not only inspire more young leaders in the Community of Christ to choose Graceland for the supportive community they will find there, but we also hope to inspire the generosity of other alumni and friends to donate to Graceland in ways that are meaningful to their own lives.”

Since its founding in 1895, Graceland has remained a nonsectarian institution sponsored by Community of Christ (Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints when founded). This partnership has impacted generations of servant leaders through the years. Community of Christ and Graceland have always been closely intertwined, with many Graceland graduates going on to leadership roles within the church.

Counselor to the President and Prophet-President Designate Stassi Cramm expressed her gratitude and excitement for the gift, saying, “World church leaders are deeply grateful for the generosity of Kathy and Joel Ross, whose commitment to supporting our youth through the Wallace B. Smith scholarships will have a profound impact on future leaders and ministers within Community of Christ. This partnership with Graceland University not only honors the legacy of Wallace B. Smith but also embodies our shared mission to nurture transformational servant leadership. We look forward to witnessing the positive influence these scholarship recipients will have on the church’s mission and the wider world.”

Graceland University remains dedicated to providing high-quality education at an affordable tuition price point, making it accessible to more students. Last year, Graceland transformed its tuition to $19,950 annually for the 2024-25 academic year. This generous donation from Kathy and Joel Ross will further this mission, ensuring that Graceland continues to be a place where students can reach their full potential.

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