GCU celebrates the lives of 9 who made people smile

Dr. Tim Griffin read the names of the nine GCU students, faculty and staff who died in the last year. (Photo by Alan Cisneros)

By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau

GCU President Brian Mueller opened the service with a prayer. (Photo by Alan Cisneros)

Nine who touched so many.

Nine who won’t be forgotten.

Maybe most notably, nine smiles and laughs.

As a campus continued to mourn the still raw shock of tragically losing a star basketball player, Grand Canyon University took time out Tuesday night to celebrate the lives of nine members of the GCU family – students, faculty and staff – who died in the last year.

As their stories were told in the annual Celebration of Life service at GCU Arena (watch it here), there was one overriding theme: These were nine happy people who made those around them happy as well.

GCU President Brian Mueller began the night with this prayer to God:

“Frequently, we don’t understand Your timing. It’s confusing to us. But we’re going to take comfort in this tonight: Your timing is always perfect. I’m going to say that again. Your timing is always perfect. This night is a reminder that we are Yours, not our own. For that, we’re always going to be grateful.”

Chandler Kruse (left) and Chandler Jennings performed the music for the service. (Photo by Alan Cisneros)

After two GCU students, Chandler Kruse on piano and Chandler Jennings on guitar, sang stirring renditions of “Bless the Lord Oh My Soul” and “Amazing Grace,” it was time to commemorate the nine who have been lost.

Dr. Tim Griffin, Vice President of Student Affairs, Dean of Students and University Pastor, read the names of the nine and shared some memories about them. It wasn’t hard to see why they are so sorely missed.

The list includes four faculty/staff members:

Bill Yearnd made sure the GCU women's basketball players knew how much he loved to watch them play.

Bill Yearnd (1945-2020) – Oh, that laugh. That raspy, hee-hee-hee laugh. It was inviting. It was distinctive. Yearnd welcomed everyone who came his way, especially anyone who wanted to talk about his beloved GCU women’s basketball team. He and his wife were fixtures in the stands at every home game.

Steve Young

Steve Young (1949-2021) – In his 16 years at GCU, he was promoted from campus safety guard to Campus Safety Supervisor to Campus Safety Manager. But what is the No. 1 thing people remember about him? His sense of humor.

Michael Bagley

Michael Bagley (1945-2021) – The Air Force veteran was the friendly face who drove the shuttle bus between the main campus and the 27th Avenue business complex. He was a driver for Greyhound before that.

Dr. Val Martinez

Dr. Val Martinez (1952-2021) – The tributes to his kind and caring teaching style in Government classes came pouring in after he died in February. The “gentleman extraordinaire” was commemorated in this GCU Today story.

Sadly, five students − all of them so young − are on the list:

Remy Velarde

Remy Velarde (1997-2020) – The senior from Houston majored in Graphic Design but was best known for his three years as a manager for the beach volleyball team. Here’s the GCULopes.com story.  

Jarod Lovekamp

Jarod Lovekamp (2000-2020) – His name was synonymous with his love of the outdoors. The third-year senior died on a camping trip in September and left behind a legacy of leadership, positivity and faith. Dr. Joshua Greever of the College of Theology was so moved by what students told him about Lovekamp, he wrote this open letter to the GCU community.

Charlie Dempsey

Charlie Dempsey (2002-2020) – He had just begun as a nursing student when he died in early November. He was one of a large group from Ladera Ranch, California, that attends GCU.

Andrew Summerfield

Andrew Summerfield (2000-2021) – The former member of the men’s rugby team was killed in January in his hometown of Inglewood, California. “He had a vision for his future and his family. He loved to laugh, and he loved life,” Griffin said. Here’s the clubsports.gcu.edu story.

Oscar Frayer's triumphant moment: cutting down the net at GCU Arena after the Lopes earned a share of the WAC regular-season championship. (Photo by David Kadlubowski)

Oscar Frayer (1998-2021) – Certainly the most high-profile among the nine who have passed, Frayer was killed in an auto accident last week near Lodi, California. His friendly smile and effervescent personality were treasured by his teammates, who were joined after the service by a large group that filled the Basketball Practice Facility to remember him. Here are the stories on the first announcement, coach Bryce Drew recalling Frayer’s impact and Tuesday night’s remembrance.

Griffin pointed out that “the Scriptures have a lot to say about life and about death and about eternity. Life is brief, it’s precious, it’s fleeting. The Scripture addresses that and reminds us to not let a day go by without being a good steward of that day and that opportunity. The Scripture also talks about dying and how each one of us are appointed to that moment at some point in our journey.”

And then there’s eternity. There’s only way to get there, Griffin noted, and Jesus laid it out in John 14:6 when He said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

Griffin had one final request of attendees:

“If this is to be a celebration tonight, and an ongoing celebration at that, it must be reflected in the way that we leave this place this evening. Clearly, you have been impacted by those that we have remembered this evening, and what you do with what you experienced by your relationship with those that we have just referenced will be a tribute to them when you leave. What decisions you make about the impact that they had on you and you take from here into the rest of your life will be a part of how you celebrate the impact of their lives on your life. …

“Part of the celebration would be that you would take their memory with you and all that that means to your life and be a different person. And may those that come in contact with you be just as influenced as you were by those here that had an impact on your life.”

In other words, smile, laugh out loud and live with unfettered joy. Just like they did.

Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].


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Jesus taught his disciples, saying: "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the law and the prophets." (Matthew 7:12)

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