GCU Hall of Fame couple had a date with destiny

June 03, 2022 / by / 0 Comment
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Dr. Sherman Elliott (left), Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, presented the Hall of Fame plaques to Rita and Jim Ledbetter. (Photo by Ralph Freso)

Editor’s note: Reprinted from the April issue of GCU Magazine. To read the digital version of the magazine, click here

By Ashlee Larrison
GCU Magazine

A friendly competition between Jim Ledbetter and his roommate led to the first dual induction of a husband and wife into the Grand Canyon University Alumni Hall of Fame.

The roommates’ challenge was simple: Who would be the first one to ask out a student named Rita? Ledbetter mustered up his courage first, and the result was a fruitful 37-year marriage and successful careers that sparked the beginning of the Ledbetter Law Firm – and culminated at the induction ceremony during Homecoming Family Weekend.

“GCU has been great for us,” said Jim, who graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in History in 1983. “We were both pleasantly surprised and feel really honored.”

The life they have built for themselves began with the influence of their alma mater.

“It was a good foundation, because it was good people,” said Rita, who graduated in 1986 with Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and is now the Foundation Coordinator for the Copper Queen Community Hospital Foundation in Bisbee, Arizona. “It gave me the self-confidence that I could go out there and do whatever.”

Melissa Holdaway cofounded Arizona Charter Academy in 2000 and is passionate about creating educational opportunities. (Photo by Ralph Freso)

The couple also has volunteered for several causes and organizations. Jim is Founding Director for the Boys and Girls Club of Central Cottonwood, and Rita is on the board for Old Town Mission, a nonprofit Christian outreach ministry, and Verde Valley Academy.

The other 2022 inductees, Melissa Holdaway and Jeff Riley, both graduated from the Executive Master of Business Administration program in 2008.

Holdaway co-founded Arizona Charter Academy in 2000 and has made it her mission to improve education in the Phoenix area.

“Zip codes should not define the quality of your education, and it often does,” she said. “We serve a a Title 1 (disadvantaged) population, and I’m very passionate about creating exceptional education experiences for people in all zip codes.”

As Chief Executive Officer, Holdaway has prioritized a positive work environment to boost continuity and a family feel within the school.

She also is an avid volunteer for Leadership West and as a Blue Blazer at Luke Air Force Base. It has been a long journey, but one she still credits GCU for making a reality.

“I feel like we’re in the business of changing generations,” she said. “GCU was just a big part of that journey because they gave me a lot of tools to be able to grow the school to the point of where it is today and really make a difference in my community.”

Jeff Riley has spent his life in the Valley and calls himself a “Phoenix cheerleader.”

Riley was unable to attend the induction ceremony, but his contributions to the community did not go unrecognized.

As a self-described “Phoenix cheerleader” who has lived in the Valley his whole life, Riley is excited about the changes he has witnessed over the years.

One of those developments is the way his Thermo King equipment dealership has flourished. He is Chief Executive Officer.

“I love to see the economic and social growth of the Valley,” he said.

Riley is also a member of the Phoenix Thunderbirds, a nonprofit that organizes local special events such as the WM Phoenix Open golf tournament. The organization has raised millions of dollars that it donates to the community.

“Giving back is just a ton of fun,” Riley said. “It’s a blessing to be able to do it.”

After taking 17 years to complete his undergraduate in 2005, the father of three was hesitant to jump back into school for his MBA. But with some motivational words from his wife, Lori, he made a decision that would positively impact the rest of his life.

“You’re in shape for this right now,” she told him. “You have got this thing. You have balanced your life to do work, school, family. You’re in the groove – go get it done.”

It was just the push he needed to complete his MBA.

Jumping from a corporate position into more of an entrepreneurial role in the middle of his program, Riley was able to utilize the knowledge he was learning in real time.

“They did a really good job of teaching us scenario-based management, dealing with personalities, dealing with the cycle of new employees,” he said. “That’s clearly the piece of the puzzle that still sticks with me today.”

Despite their different career paths, each of the inductees never hesitated when an opportunity arose to give back to their community.  That’s why they were honored at the Hall of Fame ceremony.

“We take Hall of Fame really seriously,” said Noah Wolfe, Director of Alumni Relations. “It’s a huge honor of the University to be able to receive it, so we spent a lot of time looking in-state for people making major contributions to the community this year and really wanted to make sure we honored those individuals.”

This year’s recipients did not disappoint.

“They have all done really fantastic things when it comes to supporting their local community,” Wolfe said. “That was something we really wanted to emphasize.”

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Related content:

GCU Today: Homecoming Family Weekend makes big impression

GCU Today: Hall of Famers surprised by honor despite success

GCU Today: Hall of Famers strive to impact future generations


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