Hall of Famers strive to impact future generations

By Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau

Finding your purpose at Grand Canyon University is more than just a slogan; it's the goal at the core of the growing GCU community. Every year for Homecoming, a handful of distinguished alumni who personify the University’s dedication to service -- through their contributions to society, the University and their field -- are inducted into the GCU Hall of Fame.

This year's induction ceremony is scheduled for 3 p.m. Friday in the GCU Arena Hall. Not only do the seven inductees (including T.C. Dean, featured in this GCU Magazine story in November) share a dedication to their respective fields -- their desire to positively impact future generations is just as powerful. Here's a look at what they have done and what their reaction was to being honored by GCU:

Pete Gorraiz, Class of 1954

Even though it has been 66 years since Pete Gorraiz accepted his diploma from what was then Grand Canyon College, he claims to recognize and engage with upward of 700 people while volunteering at a recent basketball tailgate.

“Every time when people come in, we strike up a conversation,” Gorraiz said at one of the final basketball tailgates of the season. “I feel that’s 50% of my responsibility as a volunteer, so that’s exactly what I do.”

Pete and Berth Gorraiz

Shortly after graduating, Gorraiz joined the U.S. Army for several years before returning to GCU for the classes he needed to become a teacher. He taught for 34 years.

In addition to his long career, Gorraiz and his wife of 65 years, Bertha, who graduated from GCU in 1956, have made it a priority to volunteer at the University. Gorraiz estimates that they have put in more 700 volunteer hours.

Gorriaz was told about his induction into the Hall of Fame through his daughter. She presented him with a paper that had a list of questions, and Pete was confused.

“Well, what’s this?” He asked.

“Well, to be inducted,” she responded.

“Be inducted? What do you mean?”

“Into the Hall of Fame.”

“Really?” he said.

“I was surprised, very surprised.”

But to Bertha, it shouldn't have been a surprise at all.

“He’s a super nice guy, he really is, and most everybody gets along with him,” she said. “Years after he’s taught, we’d be going someplace and somebody would walk up (and say) ‘Mr. Gorriaz!’, and most of the time he remembers their name even though he was there for 35 years. That’s a lot of students.”

What word would Bertha pick to describe her husband?

“Awesome,” she said with a smile.

Theresa Killingsworth, Class of 2008

Theresa Killingsworth has worked in Alhambra Elementary School District schools for 20 years, at Sevilla West and Granada Primary and now as Principal at Westwood Elementary, a GCU Academic Excellence site.

Theresa Killingsworth

In 2008, Killingsworth received her master’s degree in Educational Leadership, which enabled her to go from teacher to assistant principal and eventually to principal in six years.

She has been at Westwood since 2017 and has overseen the GCU program that brings in College of Education students to study and do their pre-service resident teaching -- and even fill job vacancies. GCU, Habitat for Humanity Central Arizona and Westwood also teamed up to create a community garden at Westwood’s campus.

In a Zoom call for what she thought would be about the garden, Dr. Marjaneh Gilpatrick, Associate Dean of the College of Education, let her know about her induction into the Hall of Fame.

“It was just really humbling,” she said.

In addition to her career in education, Killingworth has kept up with humanitarian efforts by partaking in mission trips.

Alicia Shields, Class of 2015

It was just another Friday morning that had Alicia Shields reflecting on her career after graduating in 2015 with her master’s degree in Nursing Administration from GCU.

She didn’t see then, while she was Chief Nursing Officer in Washington state before moving back to Arizona to work on the Navajo Reservation as a Chief Nursing Officer, that she soon would be living her dream with her own office on the first floor of the Natural Sciences Building as the RN-BSN Lead faculty for the College of Nursing and Health Care Professions.

Alicia Shields

“I always wanted to work here at GCU and kind of give back, so once an opportunity became available, I applied and got the position,” she said.

She had worked for the University for a month before her current position became available. 

Shields also serves on Phoenix's Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force as well as a human trafficking outreach and awareness committee and manages a nonprofit that provides human trafficking outreach and education and free health care in Mexico, with the goal of expanding globally. Shields also serves as the next-of-kin board member and secretary of the Beirut Veterans of America and is a chairperson of the editorial board for Arizona Nurse, the publication of the Arizona Nurses Association.

To say Shields is involved is an understatement, yet it still came as a surprise when she was told she is being inducted into the GCU Hall of Fame.

“I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, that’s so exciting,’” she said. “I had seen the emails come out saying ‘nominate,’ but it was so long ago that I had completely forgotten about the ceremony and thought it had already happened. I was really excited and immediately let my husband know and told my boss.”

Shields has been working for GCU for almost a year and is working on her Doctor of Nursing Practice degree from GCU.

Shor Denny, Class of 2014 and 2018

Shor Denny had what she describes as a “complete nervous breakdown” while she was pursuing her bachelor’s degree from GCU. Her counselor recommended focusing on electives to give herself a break, and that led her to discovering her true passion: mental health and psychology.

She took a world cultures class and found herself hooked on psychology. The break allowed her to analyze just how much her mental health had affected her and what she planned to do about it.

Shor Denny

“I needed to understand what was going on,” Denny said. “I changed my major to psychology to try to heal because therapists didn’t work, and in doing that I created an organization.”

The organization Denny founded, Community Now, seeks to create environments that promote mental health in California schools and communities. Her vision is to “foster kindness, promote physical and mental well-being, and encourage each person to be the best he/she can be.”

Community Now’s targeted demographic: youth.

“I started developing a youth program that would teach them coping and problem-solving skills in elementary, starting in third grade,” she said. “I learned that my problems started with my youth, with adverse childhood experiences, and then I realized, going through trauma-informed training, that there’s life after trauma.

“I felt like I had a responsibility to teach others how to maintain their mental wellness.”

Denny completed her master’s in Mental Wellness with an Emphasis in Prevention.

As the CEO of her organization, Denny helps people process trauma and cope in healthy ways. She also travels to high schools and foster centers to share her Me, Myself & Mine Natural Haircare Education program, which teaches young people how to properly maintain their hair and boost confidence.

Denny's reaction to becoming a GCU Hall of Famer: “Elated.”

“It’s hard out here for a nonprofit, especially one that’s in our field that’s basically new,” she said. “Advocating and trying to educate the community has been truly exhausting, so being told that the college where I learned to appreciate the work does see value in what we are trying to achieve from the education I gained from them, it’s totally awesome, it’s beyond words.

“I’m excited that the college is supporting us in this way.”

Rick Calcutt, Class of 1990

Rick Calcutt had no idea why he kept getting phone calls from the GCU Alumni Office. After a brief game of phone tag, he finally found out -- he was being inducted into the GCU Hall of Fame.

“I literally went, ‘Um, do you mind repeating that?’ because I thought I misunderstood something,” he said. “I was very shocked. It took most of the morning for it to settle. I’m very honored and very appreciative and very surprised.”

Rick Calcutt

While he was a student, Calcutt also had a full-time job and a family.

He graduated with two bachelor's degrees from GCU in 1990, in Ministry and Vocal Performance. He then went to seminary in Kentucky for two years to get his master’s degree in Church Music.

Calcutt has been a worship pastor for most of his career, and for the past 15 years he has been what he describes as a “creative architect” within the Church. He currently is the Creative Arts Pastor of Compass Christian Church in Chandler.

Calcutt also had a hand in writing children’s worship curriculum, where he discovered another interest.

“I thought God had called me into children’s ministry, and then that changed when I got the opportunity to do worship,” he said. “I’ve always loved children, so there was this opportunity to marry the worship thing and the children’s thing together. I loved it.”

Through his love of teaching, Calcutt has also given back to his alma mater off and on for the past 10 years as an adjunct professor in music and worship.

His experience at GCU is one that he said breathed life into more than just his academic life, but his personal life as well.

“I love GCU,” Calcutt said with a smile. “What I admire most is the steady march that they’ve made over the last 15 years to take a place that was already impactful to the community … now their impact is monumental.

“Seeing their path of growth has been scary at times but really inspirational, too.”

So what can be taken away from Calcutt’s career?

“Always be looking for the open doors that God provides because what you think He might be calling you to and what He is calling you to may be different,” he said. “By stepping through those doors or windows or whatever He’s asking you to step through, you may discover a whole new world that He has for you that you had no idea about.”

Rex Collins, Class of 1968

What started as a side job in the grocery business while Rex Collins was working toward his bachelor’s in Business Administration turned into an opportunity to sell groceries to Carnation Company.

After a move to Oklahoma and a promotion, Collins was convinced to start working for Kimbell Foods. After a number of promotions and opportunities to move across the country, he turned down a promotion that would require a move to Florida and instead returned to his home in Phoenix.

Rex Collins

He was reunited with co-workers from his time at Carnation, and they got into the food broker business before starting their own company. After successfully running the business for 25 years, the business for food brokers began to shift, causing Collins to start new company -- Advantage Sales and Marketing.

He eventually sold the company but stayed on to manage before retiring last year after 52 years in the business.

As for his experience at Grand Canyon, Collins said “excellent” best describes it.

“It was phenomenal because every class you went to, you knew the professor and the professor knew you,” said Collins, who was inducted into the Arizona Food Industry Hall of Fame in 2016. “It was almost like having a private tutor in many cases, especially when you got past the required classes.”

At the time, the college was so small that Collins recalls having classes with fewer than 15 people in them. Besides being mentored by his professors, he built friendships with them.

Yet despite his affinity for Grand Canyon, he still couldn’t process being selected for the Hall of Fame.

“It was a total shock to me. I had no idea that I had even been considered or would ever be considered,” he said. “I’ve had a good life, but I don’t think that I’ve had anything that was exceptional … I’m very honored.”

Finding out about his induction also was an emotional moment for his wife, Marlene, a former Board of Trustees member.

“I just cried,” she said. “I’m so proud.”

Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected]


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Bible Verse

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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