Story by Ashlee Larrison
Photos by Ralph Freso
GCU News Bureau
Warren Thompson’s curly haired wig, round sunglasses and purple overcoat could be seen from a mile away as he mingled with other attendees at this year’s Homecoming Family Weekend tailgate.
After all, how often can a guy find the perfect occasion to pay tribute to one of his favorite pop icons?
“I grew up in the '80s when I went to see ‘Purple Rain,’ and it’s just a classic,” he said. “This is the one chance I get to wear a Prince outfit.
“I think my wife and daughters are a little embarrassed, but in the end, they need to practice grace and it just makes it more fun.”
Thompson, his wife, Kyne, and daughter Maddy had traveled from their home in Southern California to visit their daughter Bella for a weekend full of family fun.
And the hybrid celebration, organized by the office of Alumni Relations and Parent and Family Programs, did not disappoint.
“This is the Disneyland of campuses. We really just enjoy coming out here,” Thompson said. “It’s been great to connect and see some other students that our daughter has connected with and meet their parents. Everyone seems really down to earth.
The Thompsons were just one of the many families and alumni who returned to campus to mingle and celebrate all things GCU.
Attendees could participate in a multitude of events and activities. In addition to the annual Homecoming basketball game and tailgate, there were the Lopes Live talent show, a student market featuring about 50 vendors, Breakfast with Thunder, and the beloved derby kart race, which the Antelope Reception Center won for the second consecutive year, with Angelina Larson steering and Dax Strader pushing.
But much like many of the other attendees, one of the events that had the biggest impact on the Thompsons was GCU the Chapel service in GCU Stadium, highlighted by President Brian Mueller's talk.
“We loved the worship,” Thompson said. “It was a really good service. I really enjoyed it.”
Mueller shared GCU’s story of growth and service, linking it to Chapter 5 of the Gospel of Matthew. He also highlighted the University’s work with CityServe, Habitat for Humanity and local education.
“I absolutely believe that God put us here in this place, at this time, for this reason,” Mueller told the audience. “As our students are learning and preparing for their future, we also want them to participate in being a city on a hill, a light that shines so brightly that the message of Jesus is absolutely, 100% irresistible.”
The fifth annual Thunderbolt drawing gave grand prize winner Suzie Gilkey 60 seconds to sprint through the Lope Shop and collect as much merchandise as she could, with a little help from Thunder, of course. Gilkey walked away with $906 worth of Lope gear.
Another popular event that made its grand return to its traditional in-person format was the annual Alumni Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
The 2022 recipients -- Rita and Jim Ledbetter, Melissa Holdaway and Jeff Riley -- were honored along with inductees from previous years who didn't have an induction ceremony because of the pandemic or were unable to attend.
One of those inductees from the past was 2019 recipient and 1991 business administration graduate George Holm. As President and Chief Executive Officer of Performance Food Group, Holm often has a busy schedule.
“I enjoyed it,” Holm said of the opportunity to celebrate his induction in person. “It was unexpected. I was a good student, but I wasn’t a 4.0 student, and I didn’t expect it, so it was great.”
Other Hall of Fame members recognized included the 2021 Hall of Fame induction class of Scott Van Newkirk, Garth Bailey, Rachel Winkler and Dan Snyder.
Because of the pandemic, last year’s induction celebration was virtual, so having the opportunity to have a more tradition ceremony was an experience they treasured.
“It’s been amazing,” Van Newkirk said. “We have come back to campus periodically, but this has been an in-depth tour and getting to know people again and it’s just been amazing.
“I look a back at my experience here and with it being Christian based, getting to play on the golf team, the business professors and education was just amazing, as well.”
Another first to come out of the Homecoming Family Weekend celebrations was the introduction of the "A Weekend in Lope Country" giving campaign. Through a collaboration between the Athletic and Advancement departments, alumni were encouraged to enter a drawing for an opportunity to win an all-expenses-paid trip to Phoenix for Homecoming Family Weekend. Those who entered also were encouraged to donate to the Student Inspiring Students scholarship although donations were not required.
“I think our alumni base has grown so much, over the last few years especially, so any chance we can to get those alums on campus, we’re going to try to do that,” said Development Associate Craig Herrman. “We just want to get people back on campus and get them excited about the University that they went to, whether that was traditional or online.”
The campaign's first winner, 2007 Administration Education alumna Shari Marcely got to reconnect with her son Riley, a freshman on campus.
It was the kind of blessing that the campaign made possible.
“I was beyond excited because I wasn’t going to be able to come down,” she said.
But the donation was the driving force for her participation in the campaign even though the Colorado active graduated from the online program.
“I figured it was worth the chance, and it does good no matter if I win or not,” she said. “To think that they’re (GCU) doing things beyond just being a school, it just makes you so proud because I did not know any of that and now that I’m an alumni, I’m like, ‘This is a great community to be a part of.'”
Having his mother visit was just as much of a blessing for Riley.
“I was surprised that she won the raffle,” he said. “I think it’s pretty sweet that I get to see my mom and that GCU flew her out to be able to give me that opportunity. I loved it.”
It was an especially memorable weekend for reconnecting after nearly two years apart.
And if the weekend has shown us anything, it’s that Lope Country is bigger, better and stronger than ever.
Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected].
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