This feature was published in the latest edition of Affinity Magazine! Click here to check out the magazine in its entirety.
Earning a college degree is an accomplishment that changes lives. It takes courage, dedication and encouragement. If we’re fortunate, we have people, places and moments in time that have helped us to achieve heights we never thought possible. The following five alumni come from different backgrounds, but they all had the dream to finish their college degree. These are their stories of how they were inspired to reach their goals.
Charting a New Course
Jennifer Shala joined the Army when she was 25 – several years older than the 18-year-olds around her. During her seven years of service, she was stationed in Kansas, Korea and Georgia. She then went to Iraq, where she dealt with the horrors of the war around her.
After Iraq, she came back to the U.S. and was medically discharged from the Army as she suffered from PTSD along with bad knee problems and asthma. It was then that she knew it was time to figure out another career path. “I couldn’t keep doing physical work forever,” Shala says. “I had to have a job where I can use my brain.”
Shala began taking classes through Columbia College’s Online Education program in 2005. She took a few classes here and there, but it wasn’t until 2008 when she was working as a civilian in Iraq that she began taking classes non-stop. After moving back to the states, she was determined to finish.
“When I was younger, I didn’t feel college was that important,” Shala says. “Now, it’s absolutely necessary to get a decent job.”
That determination kept her on track with her coursework, even when she was dealing with life changes. When she was pregnant with her daughter, Shala took a midterm exam right before driving herself to the hospital for a C-section. One of her Columbia College instructors gave her an extension on a second exam and, two days later, she drove home and completed the test.
“I am so thankful for Columbia College and my instructors,” Shala says. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it otherwise.”
Shala finished her associate degree in 2012, her bachelor’s degree in General Studies in 2014, and then this past July, finished her bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice Administration.
Her degrees hang on the wall at her office where she works as an administrative programs officer for the Grand River Dam Authority in Chouteau, Oklahoma. “I walk by them several times a day, and I can’t believe I did it,” Shala says. “I stand a little taller and a little prouder.”
Making Today Count
Dr. Nathan Miller (left) and Aileen Zei
Aileen Zei had intended to go to college but had put it on the back burner for years as she raised her family. When she had to recover from a cancer diagnosis, she decided it was time to fulfill her dream. Luckily, the cancer was at Stage 0 and treatable with surgery and radiation. But the experience changed her way of thinking.
“You realize that life is really short,” Zei says. “If there are things you want to do, you should do them.”
She also wanted to show her sons the importance of getting a college degree. At the time, her older son was in high school and her younger son in middle school.
“How can I tell them that college is important if I don’t finish it? I knew it would be hard, but if there was ever a time to do it, I knew I needed to do it now,” she says.
Zei decided to pursue a degree in human services at Columbia College–Crystal Lake. She says that two of her instructors, Jean Beard and Kathleen McNamara, inspired her in her area of interest, gerontology.
“Because they worked in the field, they could give students a real-world account for what things are like when you’re working with senior populations,” says Zei.
Zei graduated in 2014. She now works as assistant director of senior and disability services in Wheeling Township, Illinois, helping elderly patients to find services in the community.
“My degree allowed me to get the job that I have now,” she says. “It’s rewarding to know that we’re able to help the elderly and adults with disabilities find services in the community.”
Finding the Inspiration to Finish
Irma Ortiz had always dreamed of going to college. However, with a husband in the military, she and her family were often on the move.
After years of raising her family and moving from place to place, she still kept her dream alive to get her degree. In 2009, her husband retired from the military, and the family moved to Fort Worth, Texas. There, Ortiz visited a recruiter who happened to be a student at Columbia College.
“He said, ‘you’ll love the school,’” she says. And he was right. “I felt like I belonged there.”
Ortiz started in the General Studies and Business Administration program in 2012. She was scheduled to start in January, but that month, her mother-in-law passed away in Puerto Rico.
“I called the school and told them to drop me,” Ortiz says. “They said not to worry, and that I could start the next semester. No matter what, they are always supportive and understanding.”
Ortiz feels grateful to her teachers for their inspiration and their flexibility when dealing with family issues. In particular, she credits Walter Belcher, Kenneth Newell and John Hardy.
“They’re not going to cut you slack, but they ask how you’re doing and how they can help,” she says. “They really take the time to get to know you.”
In 2014, Ortiz received her associate degree in General Studies and Business Administration, and this year, she is on track to complete a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration.
“I believe I’ve been successful because of the understanding teachers at Columbia College,” Ortiz says. “And I’ve proved to myself that I can succeed and attain the goals I set for myself in life.”
Getting a Degree at Sea
Nolan Nichols served in the Navy on four different ships and was deployed six times. Even with all of these transfers, he knew he wanted to pursue an education.
“My goal was to get a degree to open up opportunities in my career in the Navy,” Nichols says.
He had his associate degree in Marine Engineering, but his goal was to get his bachelor’s degree as well. After a few years of taking classes, Nichols enrolled at Columbia College in 2005 because of its strong presence on Navy bases.
“I chose Columbia because of the reputation that they had as a solid school when I was growing up in Northeast Missouri,” Nichols says.
He started in the history program, but when those degree requirements changed, Nichols began to question whether he should continue to take classes. That’s when he got an email from Rachel Smith, a Student Success advisor at the main campus in Columbia, Missouri. She recommended that he switch to General Studies, which would automatically qualify him for a bachelor’s degree.
“I had been taking college classes off and on for over 10 years,” Nichols says. “I was ready to stop altogether when the program changed. She was the one that had the positive attitude and took her time to help me get what I needed.”
Nichols officially graduated from Columbia College-Lake County this past May. A lieutenant junior grade in the Navy, he is currently deployed conducting operations in the oceans off the coast of Asia. He says that working on his degrees has helped him to advance in his military career.
“It means a lot,” Nichols says. “I just want to thank Columbia and Rachel once again for the help they gave me and the flexibility they provide for military members getting their degrees.”
You’re Never ‘Too Old’
Dori Cantrell was working as an administrative assistant for Columbia College–Kansas City when she overheard the academic advisor tell a student, “You are never too old to learn.”
The phrase stuck with Cantrell. She had been the first in her family to go to college, and years ago, she had graduated with an associate degree in her home state of California. After hearing the advisor’s encouragement, she decided to further her education. She discussed it with her family and signed up for her first class in 30 years at Columbia College-Kansas City in 2004.
“At first I thought that I would feel out of place being an older student,” says Cantrell. “What is so wonderful about Columbia College is that everyone, no matter your age, is equal.”
Cantrell enjoyed her classes so much that when she received her bachelor’s degree in 2006, she continued with classes until she earned her MBA at Columbia College-Kansas City.
“All of the instructors were so inspiring,” she says. “Some of them went back to school later to get their master’s degrees. I thought if they can do it, then I can do it.”
Today, Cantrell works at the Kansas City location as an academic advisor. She says she’s happy to be able to give students the same advice she got from an advisor years ago.
“I feel I was placed here for a reason,” Cantrell says. “I wanted to help other students in the same way by advising them and letting them know they’re never too old to learn.”
Melinda Wrye-Washington didn’t really have an answer to the question.
Decade of Excellence award winner Melinda Wrye-Washington (left) with WIN for Columbia awards luncheon keynote speaker Natasha Brown.
(Photo by LG Patterson)
Wrye-Washington, Columbia College’s volleyball coach, was on the stage at Southwell Complex after winning the Decade of Excellence award at the 20th annual Women’s Intersport Network for Columbia awards luncheon on Tuesday, Feb. 7.
Radio host David Lile from KFRU-AM, tasked with interviewing each of the day’s award winners, asked Wrye-Washington what she would have been doing for the past 10 years, had she not been piloting the Cougars to a 358-66 record, 10 straight NAIA National Tournament appearances, four trips to the Final Four and the 2015 national championship.
“I don’t know. This is my home,” said Wrye-Washington, a 1995 Columbia College graduate. “The gym is my home.”
That home, where the volleyball program’s four national championship banners hang, hosted more than 400 guests for this year’s WIN luncheon. Wrye-Washington has compiled a 643-99 record and two of those national titles over her 17 years coaching the Cougars, a span of time in which the team has never failed to win 30 or more matches in a season.
She is also a four-time WIN Female Coach of the Year honoree and, as Cougars athletic director Bob Burchard mentioned in the luncheon’s opening remarks, presides over the winningest volleyball program in NAIA history.
Wrye-Washington wasn’t the only Columbia College representative recognized at the WIN luncheon.
Senior softball pitcher Paxton Welch took home the Mentor of the Year award for her work coaching the 12-and-under Rockers competitive softball team in Columbia. The Jefferson City, Missouri, native is a first-team all-conference ace for the Cougars who also just so happens to also serve as a strong role model for the Rockers players who want to follow in her footsteps.
“She spends a lot of time with her young girls,” said Columbia College assistant softball coach Debbie Jameson, who accepted the award on Welch’s behalf. “She’s just a real inspiration, provides a lot of guidance and puts a lot of time in. She’s really good at it.”
Founded in 1994, WIN for Columbia is an organization that promotes the importance of participation of girls and women in athletic and physical fitness endeavors, along with increasing the athletic opportunities for girls and women in the community.
Natasha Brown, associate head coach for the Missouri track and field team and this year’s keynote speaker, stressed how important such efforts are.
“I honestly wish, when I was growing up, I had an event like this,” Brown said. “This is amazing. This is really beautiful.”
Brown described how she used a mixture of a strong supporting cast and her own perseverance throughout her life to mold herself into a world-class runner. Brown was a member of the silver medalist 4×400-meter US national relay team at the 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics, and she won the 1989 indoor national title in the 400 meters while running collegiately at Missouri.
“If there’s that thing you’re putting off, that you don’t want to do, don’t want to try it, I just want to say: maybe think about trying it. You don’t know where it’s going to lead,” Brown said. “For everybody in this room, you’re all so important to the athletes that you touch. You never know what your words are going to mean to somebody who’s listening to them.”
Columbia College women’s basketball coach Jessica Keller, softball player Molly Carter and soccer player Molly Klein were also finalists for WIN awards.
Keller, who led the Cougars to a 27-6 record last season, was a finalist for the Female Coach of the Year award won by Missouri women’s basketball coach Robin Pingeton.
Carter hit .472 as a freshman to earn honorable mention All-America honors and a nomination for Collegiate Sportswoman of the Year, which went to Missouri cross country individual national champion Karissa Schweizer.
Klein was a finalist for the Inspiration Award, after battling through a stress fracture to score 10 goals and log eight assists for the 19-2-3 Cougars this past season. Missouri cross country runner Jamie Kempfer won the award.
This feature was published in the latest edition of Affinity Magazine! Click here to check out the magazine in its entirety.
Brian Meny ’90 turned down Bob Burchard.
Brian Meny, a 1990 Columbia College graduate, has won more than 400 games in his 23-year high school basketball coaching career.
(Photo by Kaci Smart)
Burchard, the Hall of Fame Columbia College men’s basketball coach, wanted Meny to come play for him at Missouri Western in St. Joseph, Missouri, where Burchard was an assistant coach in the mid-1980s. The freshman opted instead for Benedictine College in nearby Atchison, Kansas.
Before the 1988-89 season, Meny transferred to Columbia College to be closer to his hometown of Paris, so his parents could watch him play. The Cougars were going through a coaching change at that time, and Meny didn’t know who his new coach would be. Who do you think showed up on the first day of practice?
“In comes Coach Burchard through the door and says, ‘Hey, I’m the new coach,’ ” Meny said. “I was like, ‘Oh, no. I’m going to have to really work hard.’ ”
Meny did. The forward set a program record of 314 rebounds in the 1989-90 season that still stands, and he ranks ninth on the Cougars’ career rebounding list with 561. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Education, Meny embarked on a coaching career that led him to Van-Far High School in Vandalia, Missouri — where he won a state title in 2004 — and Palmyra (Missouri) High School.
Now he’s back in Columbia, taking the reins of the Battle High School boys basketball program for the 2016-17 season. He plans on seeing his old coach quite often.
“(Burchard) has taught me a lot,” Meny says. “You can look at the x’s and o’s, but knowing how to treat kids off the court and those kinds of things is valuable in today’s times. Who better than a Hall of Fame coach to learn from?”
Meny says his interest in coaching grew organically after his playing career ended. He started as an assistant coach at Madison High School, about 40 miles north of Columbia, before getting his master’s degree and taking over the programs at Van-Far and Palmyra.
He helped build all three programs into district champions and compiled a 431-280 record as a head coach over 22 seasons.
“You get around the kids, I’ve gotten a lot better over time,” Meny says. “I’d like to take some of those teams I had early, knowing what I know now. Things change a lot.”
The move back to Columbia was a long time coming. In the past, Meny would come back to campus a time or two a year to take in a game, hang out with former teammates and give Burchard a hard time.
Now, he’s looking forward to his family — his wife, Sheila, his sons, Trae (a junior at Battle), Tristan (an eighth-grader) and Trevor (a redshirt freshman on the Quincy University basketball team) — getting a chance to thrive in the community.
“I told my wife we probably should’ve tried to get to Columbia a long time ago,” Meny says. “We felt like Columbia was a good spot for us.”
Meny has his work cut out for him in turning around the Battle program.
The Spartans won only 16 games in their first three seasons of existence, but Meny is enthusiastic about the commitment he’s seen from his players, starting with offseason conditioning. He says 58 students showed up for an informational meeting at the start of the school year.
“The number one thing we talked about was changing the culture,” Meny says. “It’s tough. Everybody wants to play at Kentucky and Duke. But do you really want to go somewhere and help build a program and say, ‘I was part of that at the beginning?’ ”
The rebuilding process is off to a good start. Battle is 7-12 on the year after starting the season 1-6. The Spartans recently went on their first three-game winning streak in program history.
If Meny ever needs any pointers, Burchard’s right across town.
“It’s easier to give him trouble about his coaching when you’re done playing for him. You don’t want to do it when you’re playing for him,” Meny said. “It’s neat listening to him. He always makes a winner out of no matter what he has.”
This feature was published in the latest edition of Affinity Magazine! Click here to check out the magazine in its entirety.
By Ann Muder
Last year, as Ashley Celey-Butlin ’13 prepared for a backpacking trip through Asia with her fiancé, she knew she’d experience a different culture and way of life.
She didn’t expect she’d use the trip to start up a yoga mat company to help build schools in India. Celey-Butlin had just quit her job in the real estate business and was contemplating her career goals. She thought the six-month backpacking trip would help her regroup. “I thought ‘getting away from it all’ might be rejuvenating,” she says. “It was an opportunity to unplug and figure out my next step.”
A couple of months before her trip, Celey-Butlin met with the founder of Change Heroes, an online fundraising platform. He inspired her to use her business knowledge for social entrepreneurship.
“I had been spending a lot of time at my yoga studio, nurturing my passion for yoga,” she says. “It was about two weeks before my backpacking trip when the idea for FlowMats hit me full force. Then everything just fell into place.”
As she and her fiancé embarked on their trip, Celey-Butlin began researching how to create the company. She decided to team up with the nonprofit organization Free the Children (now WE Charity) after researching different nonprofits. The group helps improve access to education by building schools in poverty-stricken areas of India.
“I think one of the most difficult things to determine is how to effectively solve global poverty,” she says. “I don’t have all the answers, but I believe education is one of the most important areas where we can invest.”
After an extensive online search, she found a manufacturer that could work with a small business and allow her to offer a reasonably priced product. After emailing back and forth with several manufacturers, she chose one based on their values and commitment to the environment and ethical labor practices.
Then she worked with the manufacturer on the mat’s design. In particular, she wanted it to include diagrams of yoga poses called sun salutations.
“I was working on establishing a home yoga practice for myself and thought it would be helpful to have the poses on my mat so that I wouldn’t need to look at a video or other diagram,” she says. “Having the poses embossed on the mats helps keep you focused on your practice, not distracted.”
The diagrams also show when to breathe in and out with each pose. The “empty” figures indicate exhales, and the filled-in poses are inhales.
“Learning when to inhale and when to exhale is the difference between a mindful practice and an unsafe or scattered practice,” she says. “Yoga is more about breath than movement.”
As she made her way through Southeast Asia and India, Celey-Butlin finalized her business plans. According to her company website, she received the first prototype while in Laos; the first payment was sent to the manufacturer from a “spotty Internet connection from a hostel rooftop in Cambodia.” She launched the website as she was completing yoga teacher training in India.
Today, the yoga mats have sold in more than 20 countries and are now sold on Amazon. Nearly 100 percent of the profits go directly to the nonprofit mission, she says, so to help recoup costs, the company also sells yoga bags.
By the fall of 2016, nearly 500 mats and more than 300 bags have sold. When 1,000 mats are sold, the money will be donated to Free the Children to build a school for more than 1,000 children in India.
“Once all the mats and bags are sold, we will have raised the necessary funds to start construction,” she says. “My goal is to gain momentum with the brand on Amazon and hopefully expand my mat offerings.”
Celey-Butlin says Columbia College played an integral role in giving her the self-confidence and skills needed to be an entrepreneur. “Completing my degree online in eight-week sessions with Columbia College showed me that given enough self-motivation and time management, I can really do anything,” she says.
If you would like to purchase a yoga mat or bag from FlowMats, visit Amazon.com. Use the code COLUMBIA, and you’ll get 10 percent off your entire order from FlowMats. The code is one per person and never expires.
Standing in Gov. Jay Nixon’s chambers at the state Capitol in Jefferson City on Nov. 28, 2016, Jason Jameson couldn’t help but feel a little out of place.
Jason Jameson ’08 was awarded the Missouri Medal of Valor at the Capitol on Nov. 28, 2016. Jameson is a former sergeant in the Boone County Sheriff’s Department who is now in the police academy in Arlington, Texas.
(Photo courtesy of Carsen Sikyta/Columbia Missourian)
Jameson, who earned his bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice from Columbia College in 2008, was one of 10 public safety officers from around the state of Missouri at the Capitol that day, for a ceremony in which Nixon awarded each a Medal of Valor for actions undertaken in the line of duty in 2015.
For someone as humble and unassuming as Jameson, all that attention was appreciated, yet unusual.
“There were guys that literally ran into burning buildings with no protective gear on,” Jameson said. “To me, that’s a hero. What I did was just my job.”
Jameson, a former sergeant in the Boone County Sheriff’s Deputy, earned his medal for what he did on the night of Feb. 28, 2015, when he shot and killed a man who was on the run after being suspected of killing three people just outside of Columbia earlier that day.
“It’s one of those things where every cop, you plan for the worst and hope for the best,” Jameson says. “I spent 12 years of my life training for that exact scenario and hoping it never happened.”
Now, Jameson is in the middle of police academy training in Arlington, Texas, nearly two months away from completing the 32-week course and being able to join a new force.
While nothing can totally prepare someone for the unique challenges faced every day by police officers, Jameson says Columbia College helped him gain a solid grounding in law and allowed him to achieve a lifetime goal.
“I’m the first male in my family that’s ever gotten a degree,” Jameson says. “Columbia was very flexible. It took me forever to get my degree, because I’d work and save enough money and, once I got enough for a semester, I’d pay for it and do it a semester at a time.”
Jason Jameson holds his Missouri Medal of Valor, which is awarded to public safety officers who risked their lives to save and protect others.
(Photo courtesy of Carsen Sikyta/Columbia Missourian)
Learn more about Jameson in the latest CC Focus!
CCC: How did your family and friends react to your Medal of Valor?
JJ: My whole family is supportive of law enforcement. They understood the toll it took on me going through that. They were pretty thrilled that society recognized me having to go through that.
CCC: What’s it like being a new recruit again in Arlington?
JJ: It’s a very unique feeling. I’m just at such a different place in my life than most people who are going through the academy down here. All the kids I’m with, they either call me “Dad” or “Big Brother.” I’m playing the unofficial supportive role in it. Being a cop is being a cop, no matter whether you’re in Texas, New York or wherever. It’s the same thing, just the laws are a little bit different. It’s been fun.
CCC: What made you choose Columbia College?
JJ: My aunt (Jill Jameson ’70) went to Columbia College when it was still Christian College. I kind of knew about it because of that and thought it was cool. I just kind of fell in love with it. It was big enough to where it gave me a lot of stuff I could do, but it wasn’t too big to where I felt like I got lost.
CCC: Did you have a favorite teacher or class?
JJ: Keith Abernathy, because he had a story for everything. I would leave his class like, “This is going to be the best job in the world!” He was the one that got me really excited about it. Being a cop is so much interpersonal skills and communication. Scholastically, it prepared me for going to court. When case briefs come out, I have a good background to be able to read and understand them. (Constitutional Law) helped me the most because, when the Supreme Court comes out with something new, I can understand it where some other guys who have never done it before probably struggle with it a little more.
In the summer of 2015, CC Connected asked Columbia College photographer and 2009 alumna Kaci
Photographer Kaci Smart ’09
Smart to tell us a little bit about some of her favorite pictures that have come out of the more than 1,000 events and photo shoots she has cataloged during her time working at the college.
Then Kaci just kept taking more amazing pictures over the past 16 months, so we felt like it was time to catch up with her again. As 2016 draws to a close, here are some of Kaci’s favorite photographs from the year that was.
An Earth Day Visitor
April 21, 2016
KS: “The College hosted a few different events on campus for Earth Day this year, and the University of Missouri Raptor Rehabilitation Project brought along a great horned owl. It was a unique experience to be able to take photos of an owl on campus and I like how Dorsey Hall serves as such a strong background in this photo. The owl handler is a former Columbia College student and the student taking the cell phone photo ended up working as a student photographer for me this semester.”
May 4, 2016
KS: “On a campus full of students cramming for finals, I found a solitary one nestled in a quiet corner of Atkins-Holman Student Commons. I love how the lines of the building and windows lead your eye into the photo and frame the student, and the lines are contrasted by the chairs strewn about the area. There is also a great deal of contrasting light and color which makes the photo stand out to me.”
Col. Charles McGee at Military Recognition Day
May 26, 2016
KS: “I always like these sorts of pictures within a picture. That’s Col. Charles McGee ’78 in the light blue blazer, an alumnus who is a National Aviation Hall of Famer and flew 409 fighter missions in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. He was in town for our annual Military Recognition Day, and our Development director Keith McIver snapped a picture of McGee and an admirer. There are a lot of blue tones in this photo that really stand out to me.”
Constructing the Quad
June 8, 2016
KS: “You see the Quad now as a finished product, but it was fascinating to be able to chronicle its construction. In walking through the chaos that was the Quad in its early days, you can see an underground tunnel from Columbia College days gone by.”
The Game Hut
June 23, 2016
KS: “It was right around noon and the sun was in a really great spot for me to be able to capture a huge sunburst over the roof of the Game Hut, the home of our new eSports team. I like lens flare effects in photos but often have to avoid them since I am usually taking photos of people and I don’t want light spots over people’s faces. Campus building photos tend to be a good opportunity to be creative with lens flares to create additional interest in photos.”
Affinity magazine, Summer 2016
KS: “This is alumna Valerie Wedel, tending to one of her art installations. We shot this in Missouri Theatre, which is always a really neat place to shoot. There are so many contrasting textures and lighting in this piece. Plus, the angle of the background going off-scene makes for an interesting photo.”
Storm the Gate
Aug. 28, 2016
KS: “These two photos may look posed, but they’re not. The men’s and women’s basketball teams congregated on the curb on either side of the stairs leading up to the St. Clair Hall entrance during our annual ‘Storm the Gate’ event to kick off the school year on Bass Commons.”
KS: “I love panoramic shots in general, but especially when I’m shooting the Quad. There is so much to the Quad that, to really do the whole span of it justice, you kind of have to do a panoramic to get even close to all of it in one shot. The top picture is an evening shot, which made for darker, more saturated colors. We’ve used this photo in all sorts of media, but the bottom one hasn’t been as widely circulated. I like it because it covers a lot of the Quad while also getting Atkins-Holman and Williams and Dorsey halls in the background. It gives a little different perspective than the top picture because it’s shooting in the other direction from the other side of Alumni Fountain.”
Alumni Fountain Unveiling
Aug. 29, 2016
KS: “I took this just as Alumni Fountain was turning on for the first time, on the first day of the fall semester. Notice President Scott Dalrymple off to the right, seeming to summon the water up with his left arm. A lot of people showed up for the event, and it was awesome to see everyone’s excitement in the moment.”
Sept. 29, 2016
KS: “It’s always fun to shoot inside the Game Hut because of its interesting ceiling lighting fixture that can change color. This is eSports player Connor Doyle posing in the team’s arena. I especially like how the angle of the logo slants on the wall behind him, leading the eye toward the subject of the picture.”
Every day for two weeks, Tim Rich would walk nervously into Dr. Donald Ruthenberg’s office and check inside the Columbia College president’s rolltop desk to make sure it still contained two things.
Tim Rich, a 1989 alumnus and executive director of Welcome Home, stands at the future site of the organization’s new shelter for homeless veterans.
(Photo by Kaci Smart)
One was an envelope with cash that Ruthenberg had saved from trading antique cars he had restored. The other was a journal notebook containing Ruthenberg’s will.
Rich was working through a bachelor’s degree at Columbia College while serving as Ruthenberg’s special projects coordinator. Ruthenberg had headed out on one of his regular trips to the Far East, Japan this time.
“A cleaning crew’s coming in every night. What if someone stumbles on it?” Rich remembered, with a laugh. “He placed his trust in me with something very tangible. That changed the way our relationship was. There’s something very powerful about knowing that someone trusts you with their memory and their money.
“It was still there when he came back, which he was pleased with.”
Rich, who graduated from Columbia College in 1989, has used Ruthenberg’s example to guide his own career in non-profit organizations all the way to his latest post as the executive director of the Welcome Home homeless veterans’ shelter, where he started in September.
Welcome Home is a Columbia, Missouri-based organization that can provide housing for up to 12 homeless veterans at a time as they work to get back on their feet and into a more permanent living situation. Rich made the move to Welcome Home after a short stint in the private sector that followed a six-year tenure as executive director of the Heart of Missouri United Way.
Rich said he’s excited for the challenge, especially with a significant expansion to Welcome Home’s service capabilities coming within the next year.
“In the last month or so, we’ve turned away 15 veterans that would have been eligible for our services, because we didn’t have enough bed space,” Rich says. “We’ve never been able to serve all the veterans that were here, and it’s heartbreaking when you have to turn somebody away knowing full well they qualify for everything and we could literally change their lives if we could get them in.”
Since its founding in 1992, Welcome Home has been a valuable tool for homeless veterans who are getting their lives back together. Rich says that the shelter can accommodate a veteran for up to six months through contracts with the Veterans Administration, but their average stay is only about 3 ½ months, after which 95 percent of their tenants are able to find permanent housing.
Richard Harding, a retired Air Force lieutenant general, vice president of the Welcome Home board of directors and Columbia College trustee, says homeless veterans living together can be an important bonding experience. Welcome Home is the only shelter in the state devoted solely to veterans.
“They support one another just like they did on the battlefield. The reason they fight as hard as they do in war is because of their buddies,” Harding says. “That translates extremely well in a homeless shelter. They’re there for each other. That kind of support is pretty important.”
The problem is Welcome Home can only serve a portion of the estimated 700 homeless veterans in the state. The organization broke ground in June on a new, $3.1 million, 32-bed facility by Patriot Place Apartments on Business Loop 70 as part of an $8.1 million Patriot Place project, and Rich expects it could be completed by next Memorial Day or July 4, at the latest.
It doesn’t fulfill the entire need, but it’s a start. The new facility will also be able to accommodate female veterans and families, something the current home cannot.
“Having the success rate we have, which means we can turn people through pretty quick and get them stabilized and back into housing, I think we’ve got a program in this new facility that we will be able to really take a chunk out of veteran homelessness in our area,” Rich said.
Rich wound up at Columbia College precisely because of his admiration for Ruthenberg. Rich became the Salvation Army officer in charge of Boone County operations in 1984 and met Ruthenberg’s wife, Dee, through her work on the Salvation Army board. Ruthenberg served as a keynote speaker at the Salvation Army’s annual meeting, and Rich came away so impressed that he wrote Ruthenberg asking for an opportunity to learn under him.
Ruthenberg created a position for Rich with one condition: He also had to go to night school and earn his degree.
When Rich graduated with his degree in individual studies with a business and marketing focus, he got to walk across the stage, look his boss straight in the eye and give him a big hug.
The contents of the rolltop desk remained safe and sound.
“He taught me some of what I have to do as a leader going forward. I have to teach and mentor my staff, then I have to entrust them with authority and responsibility to implement whatever it is we’re working on together,” Rich said. “I can’t withhold all of that authority and only put the responsibility on them. You have to have both of those. I looked up to him as a father figure in an awful lot of ways.”
Melinda Wrye-Washington hung one specific picture just to the right of the door leading into her office at the Southwell Complex, so that it’s directly in her eye line when she’s sitting at her desk.
Women’s volleyball coach and former player Melinda Wrye-Washington earned a spot on Columbia College Athletics’ Wall of Honor. (Photo by Cindy Potter)
It’s the 1994 Columbia College women’s volleyball team posing with the banner from that year’s NAIA National Tournament, commemorating the first time in program history the Cougars made nationals. Wrye-Washington, then a senior transfer from the University of Missouri, led the team in kills, aces and digs, all marks that still rank in the top three of the program’s single-season records, and became the first Cougars player to earn first-team All-America honors.
“I look a little bit different there, but I still have it on the wall,” says Wrye-Washington, now in her 17th year coaching the Columbia College volleyball team. “It is my alma mater. It’s close to my heart. It reminds me that it’s where I came from. It’s not just a job to me. It’s much more than that.”
To supplement the picture, Wrye-Washington has plenty of other plaques and pictures on her office wall from her time as a player and coach. When you rack up a 628-98 record, advance to seven national championship matches and win two national titles, the accolades tend to accumulate.
She has so much on her wall that she almost didn’t have room for the latest addition, a framed tribute commemorating her inclusion on the Columbia College Athletics Wall of Honor, for which she was recognized before the Cougars’ home sweep of 11th-ranked MidAmerica Nazarene on Oct. 4.
“I’m tremendously honored to be up there,” Wrye-Washington says. “There are not many names that are up there, and the names that are up there are very special.”
Her former coaches at Columbia College, Wayne and Susan Kreklow, were on hand to help celebrate the occasion. They fit it into the schedule between straight-set wins by the team they coach now: the Missouri Tigers.
“They meant a lot to me as a student-athlete here at Columbia, to keep me on track to graduate and to really find a home,” Wrye-Washington said. “Then with my career, they mentored me as a coach and really helped me in all aspects of what I do.”
Wrye-Washington learned at a young age that you can’t do it all on your own. That’s actually how she got the nickname that’s stuck with her since her childhood in Barnett, Missouri: “Minnow.”
When she was around 3 or 4 years old, her grandfather, Truman Wrye, observed how stubborn Melinda could be. She didn’t want any help tying her shoes. No help combing her hair.
He told her she was “just a minnow in a big pond.” There’s no shame in letting others lend a hand.
“My grandmother was a teacher at Eldon Elementary and my mother was doing student-teaching there, and they started calling me that in the school, then my classmates,” Wrye-Washington says. “I think there’s kids at Eldon that, by the time we graduated, didn’t know my real name. I was never called ‘Melinda.’ Ever. Even at graduation.”
“Minnow” is how Wrye-Washington is referred to on the Wall of Honor, where her number 14 is one of only five displayed, along with men’s basketball players Marvin Malone and Thomas Roberts, volleyball player Amy Lodes and softball player Wendy Mertz.
Of course, most of her players call her “Coach.”
The Cougars, coming off their fourth national championship in program history, are 15-11 this season — including a 7-2 mark in American Midwest Conference play — with about a month to go until the national tournament. Wrye-Washington said this is the toughest schedule she’s ever put together for her team. She made sure to include ranked opponents in regular intervals throughout the slate so that, even if the Cougars dropped some matches, they’d use the quality competition to stay sharp and focused.
“I did not lay off of them one bit in scheduling,” Wrye-Washington said. “If we take losses, we take losses. But we will be prepared for the end.”
The strategy appears to be paying off. The Cougars are hitting their stride, winning seven of their past 10 matches and posting a string of five consecutive straight-set wins that spanned from the upset of MidAmerica Nazarene on Wrye-Washignton’s Wall of honor enshrinement night to a road win over William Woods on Oct. 12.
An experienced core of players such as seniors Sashiko Heredia and Eirini Chatziefstratiadou and junior Peiyi Liu, all veterans of last year’s title run, is helping lead the resurgence.
“We are getting where we need to be,” Wrye-Washignton says. “I think we’re going to be a contender late in the season. That’s where I want to be.”
Trent Finley had already wowed one panel of judges with his business pitch for “What R My Chances?,” a website he and his partners are developing that will use an algorithm to help dental school applicants handicap their odds of getting into certain schools. That netted him $5,000 at Columbia College’s ’Trep Week Student Business Pitch Competition in April.
Brandyn Chambers (left) and Trent Finley at the ‘Trep Week pitch competition in April. (Photo by Kaci Smart)
Last week, delivering an updated pitch in a regional competition, he did the same thing.
Finley, a 2016 Columbia College graduate, won the top prize at the Bringing Up Business: Mid-Missouri Innovation Week pitch competition Oct. 10 at the Brouder Science Center’s Bixby Lecture Hall, the same venue at which he won the college-wide competition in the spring. Fellow 2016 graduate Brandyn Chambers won the “Audience Choice” vote for “Flydra Creative,” the digital animation studio he helped found. Chambers and Flydra won second prize and “Audience Choice” at the ’Trep Week competition in April.
“Winning those pitches improved my confidence levels big-time as far as public speaking goes,” Finley says. “It kind of validated the value of the business, which was really nice. If I was able to win and beat some pretty good start-ups already, I think I’ve got a lot of potential to keep going and keep placing in these pitch competitions.”
Finley, who is in his first year of dental school at Missouri-Kansas City, said both competitions have contributed crucial seed money to his business. He’s targeting an early spring launch for WhatRMyChances.com, which will allow aspiring dental school students to input their academic and work experience data into the site and see their chances at being accepted into different programs.
He plans to present again to Digital Sandbox KC, an organization that provides grants to start-ups, within the next six months.
Finley didn’t have much business acumen before he got involved with Columbia College’s Steven and Barbara Fishman Center for Entrepreneurship and its mentorship program. Now, he’s finding his way.
“They made me start thinking about things I never thought about,” Finley said. “Really, it was that input that helped me work out the kinks of an idea and polish it to make it feasible to become a business. I was also able to develop business relationships and really start networking and meeting people that are valuable in helping my business grow.”
Chambers’ venture has also been in the process of astronomical growth in the six months between pitch competitions. Flydra is creating an animated series called “The Weeklings” that features each day of the week as a character — “Friday is the coolest guy ever. Monday is kind of awkward and no one really likes her,” Chambers says — along with characters representing holidays from a number of different cultures.
A Kickstarter page to help fund the series met its $20,000 goal in only six days.
“We wanted to combat the lack of diverse representation in today’s media, by introducing audiences to and celebrating cultures they may not have seen before,” Chambers says. “We had people donate from Sweden, from Brazil, all these other places that we don’t know people in, and they wanted to help out with this project.”
Chambers said Flydra has been updating its technology to expand on its short-film offerings — some of which have been used at Columbia College — and make television-quality animation products that it hopes to sell to internet streaming services. The studio showcased one of its shorts, “I Bee-Lieve You Can Fly,” at the world-renowned San Diego Comic-Con in July.
The work speaks for itself. Chambers has been doing his share of speaking on its behalf as well.
“It definitely brings you that confidence to step outside of your box, step outside of your limits to be able to contact people you might not have contacted before, to talk to people,” Chambers says. “We have mentors at the Fishman Center that are always 100-percent behind you and always want to see you succeed. It motivates you to do better.”
via the Columbia Missourian
On a night where Columbia College head coach Melinda Wrye-Washington was a Wall of Honor inductee, the Cougars were able to give their coach another win as they beat MidAmerica Nazarene University 3-0 Tuesday night.
“I feel like we needed to make a statement, we need to continue to make a statement, we need to continue to grow,” Wrye-Washington said.
MidAmerica Nazarene came into the match tied for 11th in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics’ top-25 rankings, while Columbia College was unranked. This was the first time the teams have played since Sept. 30, 2005. Since that time, Wrye-Washington and the Cougars have posted a 408-73 record and won a national championship. Coming into the season, Wrye-Washington had an overall record of 613-87, making her the program’s all-time wins leader.
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