Graceland University Recognizes Contributions of Honored Alumni and Friends

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October 28, 2019

Tower of the Higdon Administration Building with the words "Remembering the time of your life. Homecoming 20th annual alumni awards."

Each year at homecoming, Graceland University Development presents alumni and honored friends with awards of recognition for their service to Graceland and the world. Graceland is pleased to announce this year’s honorees.

Distinguished Service Award

This award is given by Graceland University to recognize achievement in a chosen field, service to community, state and nation, good citizenship, humanitarian service and contribution to society. The recipient must be a living alumni of Graceland, and it must be 10 years since they were enrolled at Graceland.

(above) David Vaughan ’75

David Vaughan ’75 received the Distinguished Service Award. Vaughn, of Summerland Keys, Florida, earned a Bachelor of Arts in biology and chemistry from Graceland in 1975. He credits professor Nick Hartwick for directing him toward his life’s work. During an independent winter term in Grand Cayman, his passion for the world’s oceans and the thousands of species that live beneath the surface awoke. David went on to earn a Master of Science in biology and microbiology from Fairleigh Dickinson University, and a PhD in botany and plant physiology from Rutgers University.

Vaughan, a renowned aquaculture researcher, has designed, built and operated many marine aquaculture projects, programs and businesses. He initiated the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution’s Aquaculture Division, and he built the Aquaculture Development Park and the Aquaculture Center for Training, Education and Demonstration. Vaughan developed the Center for Marine Ornamental Research, which is now incorporated as Oceans, Reefs and Aquariums Inc.

In 2005, Vaughan became a senior scientist at the Mote’s Elizabeth Moore International Center for Coral Reef Research & Restoration Center in the Florida Keys and program manager for the Coral Reef Restoration Program. It was while working in his lab that Vaughan discovered a process to speed up the rate of growth for coral. Using a process called micro fragmentation, he and his crew are able to produce hundreds of corals in a day. Vaughan postponed his retirement to work on restoring corals at Florida’s Reef Tract, the third-largest coral reef in the world. He is now the president and founder of Plant A Million Corals LLC, which was created for the purpose of training marine biologists all over the world in coral restoration and replenishment.

For the past 32 years, Vaughan has made a name for himself worldwide with numerous published papers and notoriety on his coral growth research. In 2008, he won the Eugenie Clark Scientific Explorer Award from Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, and in 2018, he received The Parker/Gentry Award for Excellence in Conservation/Environmental Biology from The Field Museum. Vaughan has also single-handedly restored and grown over 50,000 corals, and over 100,000 more working with others. He credits his time at Graceland for giving him the drive and passion for this lifelong love and mission.

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.

(above, left to right) Bob Bell ’86, President Patricia H. Draves

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 Mississippi 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.”

(above, left to right) Steve Upson ’77, Jeanie Upson, President Patricia H. Draves

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.”

Honorary Alumni Award

This award recognizes, includes and honors individuals – living or deceased – who have not been enrolled as students at Graceland but whose affiliation would be beneficial to Graceland. These individuals have related to the goals and purposes of the university and to other alumni as though they had been a member of the student body.

(above, left to right) Nina Harder, President Patricia H. Draves, David Harder ’57

Nita Harder was made an honorary alumna. Born in Tulsa and raised in El Reno, Oklahoma, Nita Harder now resides in St. Charles, Missouri, with her husband of 60 years, David Harder ’57. Nita and David met at a senior high camp when they were teenagers but didn’t start dating until they were both attending Oklahoma State University.  

A lifelong educator, Harder has worked for 33 years at both the high school and elementary school levels to become a beloved and respected physical education teacher. Her calling to work with young people came while attending a Community of Christ camp when she was 27. Harder answered that call and never looked back.

This past summer marked 41 consecutive years working with the Oklahoma delegation at SPECTACULAR (SPEC), a Community of Christ high school camp held on Graceland’s Lamoni campus. She is excited about the dozens of young people who have attended SPEC due to her encouragement and have had the experience of the Graceland and Lamoni communities. 

Nita and David’s love for Graceland has spread to their sons, Travis ’82 and Keith ’86, and five of their grandchildren who are, or who plan to become, Graceland graduates. Her passion and support for Graceland continues to grow.

Harder feels like she still has so much more to give to the world, and we think so too. When informed she would receive this year’s Honorary Alumni Award, she said, “Just make sure the plaque says honorary and not ornery.” You will know exactly what she means when you get the honor of meeting her.


View photos from the presentation of awards banquet on Graceland’s Flickr.

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