Stellar Hall of Fame class inducted at homecoming

Story by Doug Carroll
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU News Bureau

Those in attendance at the homecoming induction for the Grand Canyon University Hall of Fame were witness to something that opponents of the Antelope women’s basketball team never saw for four years.

Namely, Samantha Murphy coming unglued.

Saturday’s ceremony at Ethington Theatre proved tougher on the high-scoring former All-American than any defensive pressure she ever faced, forcing her to call a tissues timeout.

“This isn’t very hygienic,” Murphy said, wiping her tear-streaked face with her hand shortly after being introduced by Keith Baker, the University’s director of athletics.

The emotional occasion stood in contrast to the many times that the unfailingly poised, locked-in Murphy had carried the Antelopes, going 83-33 in a career that ended with a spectacular 29-3 season and NCAA Division II Player of the Year honors in 2010-11. She scored 2,147 points in four years, averaging 24.6 as a senior.

Murphy, now only six months from receiving her master’s degree in physician assistant studies from Midwestern University locally, said she had been taken by surprise in January when Baker first mentioned plans to nominate her for the Hall of Fame. She hasn’t even been gone three years yet, she noted.

“The others graduated in the 1970s and ’80s,” she said admiringly of the six accomplished alumni who joined her in the Hall’s Class of 2014. “Of all the awards I’ve received, this one means the most.”

Although Murphy went into the Hall from athletics, few were her academic equal. She was an Academic All-American, too, recording straight A’s throughout her stay at the University and raising the bar for GCU’s student-athletes for years to come.

“If I had to choose one word to sum up my time at GCU,” Murphy told the audience, “that word would be ‘fulfilling.’

“One of the best decisions I ever made was to come to Grand Canyon, but playing a college sport is never easy. My sisters like to say that I’ve never had a job, but to me basketball was a full-time job. The amount of hours I put in was extreme, but it paid off.”

After graduating from GCU, Murphy played professionally in Iceland for a season. She said she still plays recreationally in a noon-hour men’s league — competing against guys has never fazed her — and admitted that she misses college basketball.

“It was the best part of my life so far,” she said, “and the team (in 2010-11) was the best way to go out.”

Her parents, Bill and Maria Murphy of Phoenix, and other family members were on hand for Saturday’s ceremony, which also honored Stephen Barnes (Ken Blanchard College of Business), D. Samuel Coffman (College of Arts and Sciences), Michelle Gilman (College of Nursing and Health Care Professions), Nicholas Halonen (College of Fine Arts and Production), Dr. Paul F. Kinnison (College of Theology) and Natalie Wilcox (College of Education).

More about the others:


Class: 1981

Presented by: Dr. Kevin McClean, interim dean of Business

About him: Chartered financial analyst and certified financial planner in Phoenix who specializes in portfolio management.

Furthermore: Once announced basketball games for Grand Canyon. Grew up a half-mile from campus and comes from a family of Grand Canyon graduates.

Quote: “Anyone who knew me here at school probably would be shocked that I’m being inducted into an academic Hall of Fame…. I don’t know who was happier when I graduated, my professors or my parents. Actually, I think it was campus security.”


Class: 1980

Presented by: Dr. Mark Wooden, dean of Arts and Sciences

About him: Employment law attorney at Dickinson Wright/Mariscal Weeks of Phoenix. Graduate of University of Arizona law school.

Furthermore: Neither of his parents went to college, and a high school counselor didn’t see that in his future, either. Majored in history at Grand Canyon and initially wanted to teach and coach.

Quote: “It was life-changing when I got here. I had never really studied before, and I was inspired by a great faculty…. I truly did find my purpose at Grand Canyon. If I had gone somewhere else, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”


Class: 1984

Presented by: Dr. Anne McNamara, dean of Nursing and Health Care Professions

About her: Director of education and founder of the Learning Institute at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix.

Furthermore: Was one of 15 students in Grand Canyon’s first nursing class, when the college was the Samaritan College of Nursing. Helped open satellite GCU campus at St. Joseph’s in 2005.

Quote: “I grew up a military brat, and I needed a purpose…. I knew I’d need to be in a place that aligned with my values. I found my purpose in being a nurse.”


Classes: 2004 (bachelor’s), 2008 (master’s)

Presented by: Claude Pensis, dean of Fine Arts and Production

About him: Choir director for 10 years at Trevor Browne High School in Phoenix, where he has been Employee of the Year and Teacher of the Year. Assistant director of Phoenix Children’s Chorus. Wife Keslie Kattau Halonen also graduated from GCU.

Furthermore: Was a member of the elite President’s Singers during his time on campus. Brings at least 40 students from Trevor Browne to participate in GCU’s annual production of “Handel’s Messiah.” Recalled how Pensis occasionally would express his displeasure by throwing a shoe.

Quote: “I make a difference in the world because of my experience at Grand Canyon. It is absolutely my pleasure to represent GCU on a daily basis. Thank you to GCU for remaining rooted in Christian faith and love.”


Class: 1978

Presented by: Dr. Jason Hiles, dean of Theology

About him: Currently serves First Baptist Church of Sun City West as associate pastor. At one time was pastor of Grand Canyon Baptist Church in Grand Canyon National Park.

Furthermore: Came to faith in Christ through his wife, who had taken a Bible-as-literature class from an atheist. Arrived on campus as a student with his wife and their two children in tow. Son Quentin is a GCU graduate who teaches theology at Fresno Pacific University.

Quote: “Grand Canyon is the one place where I got an ‘F,’ from Dr. D.C. Martin, and I earned it. But D.C. Martin taught us to think for ourselves.”


Class: 1988

Presented by: Dr. Tacy Ashby, vice president of strategic educational alliances

About her: Principal for 14 years who is now at Echo Mountain Primary School in Phoenix. Taught grades 5-8 for 10 years. Named Arizona’s Gifted Principal of the Year in 2006.

Furthermore: Taught under Tacy Ashby in the Paradise Valley district. Former RA for Mariposa dorm on campus. (“We made a sign that said, ‘Welcome to Mariposa, the honors dorm.’ But we weren’t, and the honors students were upset with us.”)

Quote: “I was not a stellar student, but Grand Canyon accepted me and it changed my life. My education here shaped everything that I do…. When I left GCU, I had the inspiration to be not just a good teacher but a great one.”

Contact Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or [email protected].


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GCU Magazine

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