By Hailey Pruitt
Homecoming is a special time as many return to campus to reunite with friends and mentors and to remember and share stories in the place where it all began. As part of this celebration each year, the University honors alumni selected from a community of more than 40,000 who continue to live out Harding’s mission in their chosen fields all around the world. This year’s recipients continue the standard of excellence as they serve God, the church and their communities.
Distinguished Alumni John and Beth Reese
John (’74) and Beth Paden (’75) Reese have continued a long tradition in both their families of serving the Lord through foreign missions. Born and raised in Zimbabwe, John’s African names — Simugwagwa in Tonga and Chenzira in Shona — both mean “person of the road,” a reminder that his birth took place along a rural road and an indication of the many journeys his life of service to Christ would take.
In 1970 he first traveled to the United States to attend Harding. He met Beth, and they were married during spring break of their sophomore year, following a proposal on an iconic Harding swing. From 1976-89, they planted churches and worked in personal evangelism in Johannesburg, South Africa, taking one year to serve as visiting missionary faculty at Harding in 1985. The Reeses were the first U.S. missionaries devoted full time to World Bible School follow up in Southern Africa.
In 1991, they moved to Austin, Texas, where John helped create and implement a new curriculum for World Bible School. He became the president of the organization in 2006 and also serves as editor for their Action! publication. In the last decade, there have been more than 2 million new WBS students, thousands of baptisms have been reported, and new congregations are being established.
Beth’s education and research in family studies have long been an asset to their work as missionaries and led the Reeses to initiate InterMission, assisting missionary families with cultural transitions. John also serves as an elder at Highland Village Church of Christ in Austin, and they try to return to Africa each year. For many years they celebrated an average of 250 conversions each summer. They are writing a book entitled The Answer is Yes, helping to develop an orphanage in Zimbabwe called Chivero Home of Hope, and looking forward to retirement at their home on Harding Drive in Searcy.
The Reeses have passed along their passion for mission work to their children, Marcus (’97), Tammy (’00), Danny (’04) and David (’07), all of whom have served in foreign fields. John and Beth have spent 49 years together in service to Christ.
Outstanding Young Alumnus Ryan Walters
Even in high school, Ryan Walters (’10) was passionate about history. “I love the stories and the people,” he said. “The better I understand human nature, the better I understand life and how to make decisions, the better I understand God because we are all made in his image.” His teachers helped those stories come to life, inspiring him to give back to future students in the same ways he had been blessed.
At Harding, he continued to be nurtured by faculty mentors in the department of history and political science as well as in the College of Education. “Throughout history, everyone had someone they looked up to or emulated,” Walters said. He has become that somebody for so many, making a difference in the lives of students, fellow educators and communities in his home state of Oklahoma.
Walters taught high school history for eight years at McAlester High School in his hometown. In 2016 he was selected as an Oklahoma Teacher of the Year Finalist. For the past two years he has continued to teach a variety of courses, including AP U.S. History, at both Millwood High School and McAlester High School.
In addition to teaching, Walters serves as Oklahoma Secretary of Education and Executive Director of Every Kid Counts Oklahoma, an organization that launched in 2020 to empower teachers, parents and community leaders to improve the education system.
Walters sees his journey as a rewarding one. A champion of education, he seeks to provide resources and support for students as they develop their unique, God-given talents to improve the lives of those around them.
Ryan Walters and his wife, Katie Goings (’10), have four children, Violet, Ella, Benjamin and Samuel and live in Edmond, Oklahoma.
College of Allied Health Rebecca Weaver
While Dr. Rebecca Oldroyd Weaver (’73) was working on her bachelor’s degree, a friend suggested that they both go on to complete graduate work so they would be prepared to excel in the field of speech-language pathology. During her graduate studies, she got a call from Dr. Evan Ulrey asking if she would be interested in teaching at Harding. “That phone call changed my life,” she said.
Weaver went on to become professor and dean of Harding’s College of Allied Health, enjoying the daily rewards of teaching her students to “give the gift of communication to their clients.” She also taught in Harding’s international programs in Florence, Italy, and Athens, Greece, as well as directing the speech-pathology program at Harding in Zambia from 2010-16.
Weaver is now the director of Abilene Christian University’s Communication Sciences and Disorders online program, developing curriculum and teaching online courses.
She also has served on the board of directors of the White County Group Home as well as volunteered with Arkansas Special Olympics. She has been a member of both College Church of Christ and Cape Cod Church of Christ. A lover of adventure, she spent a summer traveling the entire globe.
She and her husband, Gene (’73), live in East Sandwich, Massachusetts, and have one daughter, Reagan Dennison (’00).
College of Arts and Humanities Rick Trujillo
Rick Trujillo (’91) has made a career of capturing others’ stories on camera. Currently the camera operator for Texas Rangers Baseball Club and for Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas, he has covered many significant events including the 1992 Presidential Election, Columbine High School shooting in 1999, the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, and the Oklahoma City bombing memorial. From Alaskan dog sled races to NCAA basketball to red carpet interviews, Trujillo has seen it all. He is thankful that the Lord gives him the opportunity to meet people from all across the world and to make their days a little brighter. His work has been featured on many national and international news networks as well as The Food Network and HGTV. Most notably, he spent 20 weeks with police departments filming the Paramount Network TV show “COPS.”
Trujillo graduated from Harding with a bachelor’s in radio and television and later earned a master’s in education. “I didn’t pick photojournalism. Photojournalism picked me,” he said. A man of many talents, Trujillo also was a Harding cross-country letterman at age 18 and again at age 35. He has lent his talents behind the scenes to the Legacy Church of Christ emergency response team, The Hills Church of Christ and Royal Family Kids Camp.
Rick and his wife, Julie, live in North Richland Hills, Texas.
College of Bible and Ministry John D. Barton
Dr. John D. Barton (’89) met and married Sara Gaston (’91) at Harding, and they have devoted their lives and careers to mission work and Christian education. From 1994-2002, John and Sara worked in church planting and development as part of a mission team in Jinja, Uganda, and John completed a doctorate in African philosophy at Makerere University.
In 2002, they returned to the U.S. where John served as professor of philosophy and Christian studies and, later, as vice president of academics and provost at Rochester College. Since 2014, John and Sara have lived and worked at Pepperdine University. John now serves as director of Pepperdine’s Center for Faith and Learning and also teaches in Seaver College’s Religion and Philosophy Division, the Graduate School of Education and Philosophy, and the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution at the Caruso School of Law.
He is active in domestic and international interfaith initiatives and currently serves as the president of Kibo Group International, a nonprofit organization that partners with East African communities for sustainable development. He serves on the board of Missio Dei Foundation which focuses on the theology and practice of mission in the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement.
John and Sara recently celebrated their 30th anniversary, and they have two grown children: Nate, who is married to Falon Opsahl, and Brynn.
College of Business Administration Robert Chambers
When Robert Chambers (’89) graduated from Harding with a Bachelor of Business Administration in accounting, he could not have imagined how many different opportunities he would have to serve in the financial world. Beginning his career with a large audit firm, he worked for several years with boutique investment firms. His current position with a global bank came through a connection with another Harding alumnus. As the Global Head of Product Management for Alternative Investment Services at The Bank of New York Mellon Corp., Chambers continues to see the blessings of relationships with colleagues, clients, fellow church members and friends. “My life is exponentially richer because of those who have poured themselves into me,” he said. “My hope and prayer is that I am ready and able to share with others from that abundance.”
In addition to his work in finance, Chambers also served on the board of trustees of Rochester College in Rochester Hills, Michigan, from 2010-19 and currently serves on Kibo Group’s board of trustees, a position he has held since 2018.
Robert and his wife, Chrystal, have three sons, Cort and Caden, who are current Harding students, and Rhett, who is in high school. They live in Larchmont, New York.
College of Education Mary Lou Dunn
As a high school senior, Mary Lou Dunn (M.Ed. ’77) volunteered at The Sunshine School for developmentally disabled students in Searcy, and that experience led to a lifelong mission of teaching special education and ministering to her students and their families.
She received a bachelor’s degree in education from Arkansas State Teachers College in 1971 and a master’s in special education from Harding in 1977. Dunn began her career teaching special education in grades 4-6 at McRae Elementary while also serving on the board of directors for The Sunshine School. In 1979, she became the executive director, and under her guidance, The Sunshine School grew into the thriving school it is today, serving 75 students with a staff of 30 in a new, larger facility that opened in 2011. Also under Dunn’s leadership, the White County Group Home opened in 1986, and today it provides residential services for 15 adults with developmental disabilities. She retired from The Sunshine School in 2018 after 40 years of service as executive director.
Dunn also served on the board of directors for Special Olympics Arkansas-Area 6 for many years. She worked with the Performing Arts Center on the Square and was a member of the Searcy Civitan club and an active supporter of United Way in White County. She also served as a women’s social club sponsor at Harding for many years.
Dunn died Feb. 27, 2021, but her legacy of service continues.
College of Nursing Cathy Lott McLain
As a child, Cathy Lott McLain (’77) dreamed of becoming Florence Nightingale, a missionary nurse who would help care for people’s bodies and souls. At Harding, she said, nursing was taught as a ministry, and she is thankful for training that equipped her to share the love of God in her career.
For the last nine years, McLain has worked as a nurse practitioner at Baptist Palliative Care in Little Rock, Arkansas. She walks alongside families of patients with serious illness, which currently involves many cases of COVID-19. She cares for patients in their last days and considers it a privilege to be able to minister to them at that crucial time. “I love caring for people until their very last breath…. It’s so important to be there with someone at that moment and help families through that process so that they won’t ever be alone. It’s a deep kind of joy.”
McLain also has worked as a community health nurse, certified school nurse and nurse practitioner for primary care physicians in addition to spending 12 years as a missionary in Brazil.
McLain loves playing with her grandchildren, walking and running. She and her husband, Billy (’77), have two daughters, Julie Dorsey (’07) and Lori Guelker (’10). They are members of Northside Church of Christ in Bryant, Arkansas.
College of Sciences Thomas Baird
Thomas Baird (’53) came to Harding in 1949 from the small town of Williford, Arkansas, and graduated with a bachelor’s in math. After one year of teaching high school math in Bragg City, Missouri, he served two years in the U.S. Army. He completed his master’s degree in 1963 at the Missouri School of Mines in Rolla — now the Missouri University of Science and Technology — and taught math and computer science there until his retirement in December of 1994.
In the mid-1960s computer science developed as an academic discipline, and Baird became a charter member of the computer science department in 1965. Throughout his career, he spent summers working on research projects for the Bureau of Mines and Metallurgy and IBM. He also taught operations research in graduate programs at Fort Leonard Wood, in St. Louis, and in Saudi Arabia.
Baird mentored many students, including Harding alumni Gene Dugger and Harmon Brown, both of whom returned to Harding as math professors. In the early 2000s, he helped many students from Albania, where his brother-in-law was a missionary, and from Rolla to attend Harding. Supporting the growth of Rolla Church of Christ, he served as one of the first two elders from 1968-2001 as well as teaching Bible classes and counseling families. He also served as chair of the board for Little Prairie Bible Camp.
He met Lovera Jackson (’54) at Harding, and they married in 1952 and celebrated their 65th anniversary shortly before her death in 2017. They have four children: Tom Jr., Tim (’79), Jeanie and Jim (’86). Six of their grandchildren also are Harding graduates.
Such an honor, Tom!! So honored to have known you well over 65 years. You have touched and blessed many people. Thank you!!
Congratulations to all the outstanding alumni! So grateful that my dear friends Beckie Weaver and Mary Lou Dunn were honored! No two women were more deserving!