By Jeannette Cruz
GCU News Bureau
Excellence in athletics and in their chosen professions and a passion for giving back are all what made this year’s five inductees to Grand Canyon University’s Hall of Fame meritorious. There was laughter, a few tears and an incredible sense of pride Saturday at the induction ceremony during homecoming.
“They have had long, successful careers, and after serving in their fields they became their own pioneers,” said Liz Conwell, Alumni Relations Manager.
The inductees were James Carter (1957), a lawyer and former city prosecutor; Mystie Johnson Foote (1994 and 2015), CEO of Banner Medical Group of Phoenix after serving as Chief Medical Officer of Banner Health; Dr. Michael Baird, (1971), who taught Bible, theology and ministry classes at Grand Canyon until his retirement in 2015; Cathy Poplin (1992), Executive Director, Arizona Technology in Education Association; and Eric Rasmussen, (1981), First Team All-American catcher on GCU’s NAIA champion baseball team in 1980 and part of two teams that made it to district championships.
In his opening remarks, GCU President Brian Mueller saluted the contribution each of the inductees made in the creation of GCU’s identity and commitment to Christian worldview.
“We’ve been incredibly blessed over the last number of years and we’ve done our best in extending that blessing to the neighborhood that we live in. We feel really good moving forward – but I think it’s important that we spend time remembering that there was a really solid foundation we had to build on,” Mueller said. “This is a really wonderful place that God blessed through the work of faculty members and students.”
To the inductees he said, “Those of you who were here decades ago and contributed so much to this institution – thank you very much. You are not forgotten. You will never be forgotten.”
In their introductions, Mike Vaught, Vice President of Athletics; Dr. Jennifer Johnson, Director of Academic Alliances; Dr. Jason Hiles, Dean of the College of Theology; Dr. Kevin Walling, College of Humanities and Social Sciences; and Dr. Mark Wooden, Dean of the College of Science, Engineering and Technology, cited the merits of each alumnus and saluted their enthusiasm to contribute to society. A video also celebrated their accomplishments.
When Carter spoke of his award, he said, “Never in my wildest dreams did I think this would happen. This is my 61st reunion, my wife’s 60th reunion and this week we celebrate 60 years of marriage. It all started right on this campus.”
He choked back emotion when he talked about how “the real start was when Coach Brazell gave me the opportunity to come here and play baseball. I was a kid from South Phoenix who had no clue where I was going to go. I was raised by a single mom. I had no money to go to school.”
Carter, who served as Chief Prosecutor, Assistant City Attorney and City Magistrate of Phoenix, got a laugh from the audience when he made a reference to GCU’s marketing and advertising campaigns.
“Purpose is a great deal around here,” he said. “In 1987, you didn’t hear that. There were no TV ads, no commercials and no billboards around, but when you came to campus you knew there was purpose here.”
Baird also met his wife, Martha, at GCU. He recalled how they married a week before finals and how the fondest experience he shared with his students was teaching to read the New Testament in Greek.
“I have a great deal of gratitude for Grand Canyon University because it has been my life,” he said.
Poplin’s eyes welled up when she spoke of how she was surprised to receive the honor.
“It came way out of left field and it was a good thing. I remember I was driving home with my husband at a time when I was feeling low, and this was perfect,” she said. “The 12 years that I worked and went to school here I look back at as some of the happiest moments of my life. This was a great validation that my career was worthwhile and everything I did was worthwhile.”
In her speech, Poplin added, “There was a time we didn’t know if Grand Canyon was going to survive. I’m thrilled that it’s here and is as exciting as it is. Most important, I am glad that it still has its strong, Christian focus.
“The support of faculty and colleagues at Grand Canyon taught me that whatever you really want to do in life is possible, you just have to create an environment of support around you. When I graduated in 1992, the entire College of Education stood up and cheered – it’s that level of support and encouragement that I try to give to others.”
Johnson Foote had a busy life after GCU. She went to medical school, did her ob-gyn residency at Banner University Medical Center Phoenix and opened a private practice in the Southwest Valley.
“GCU taught me humility and how to serve others, which is really important in medicine,” she said. “There’s a lot of sacrifice that comes with that.”
She added, “It’s also true that no matter where we go there’s a connection. We recognize our tribe in each other. I’m thankful to be a part of this tribe in the past, in the present and in the future.”
Rasmussen, a GCU baseball star, remembered his time at GCU in 1980 (Click here for a longer story).
“The person who really shaped me was Coach Brazell just in seeing how he carried himself and how positive he was,” Rasmussen said. “He sent me a wonderful letter after we won the championship knowing it was going to be his last year. It was very touching for me.”
He remembered how he and his teammates went to Disneyland on a rainy day in February when they had been scheduled for a doubleheader but the field was so flooded they couldn’t play. He remembered how the team celebrated the baseball program’s first national championship by jumping into their Nashville hotel pool while still in their uniforms.
After GCU, Rasmussen played for Team USA in 1980 and then in the California Angels’ minor-league system before returning to the Valley to work in education. It was an experience Rasmussen referred to as “disappointing and amazing at the same time.”
He also offered a word of advice, “Don’t take the education for granted no matter how good you are. Baseball is not a guarantee. That education really made a difference.
“I know I’ve been blessed to have my experience at Grand Canyon – whether that’s baseball or the interaction with people. I miss this place.”
Contact Jeannette Cruz at (602) 639-6631 or firstname.lastname@example.org.