Video by Columbia College Senior Video Production Strategist Mark Baumgartner

To know Michael Garver ’03 ’13 is to love Michael Garver. Those are the first words that come to mind for D’Arcy Crane when thinking about the longtime Columbia College advisor and Relay for Life volunteer.

“Michael is the heart of our mission and leads by example,” says Crane, associate director of the American Cancer Society, the organization behind Relay for Life. “He’s very serious about it but also likes to have a lot of fun, and you can’t really beat that. He’s a super fun human being and an absolute joy.”

Positive. Contagiously enthusiastic. Focused on others. Always walking the talk.

People who have a front-row seat to Garver’s daily life can hardly contain their praises, perhaps amplifying their voices even more in light of him not seeking the spotlight for himself.

Garver has worked in financial aid and academic advising at Columbia College for more than 20 years after graduating from the Evening Program with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. He received a Master of Business Administration in 2013. Giving back to his alma mater, he was inducted into the President’s Society in 2018.

Garver has been instrumental in growing the college’s Relay for Life fundraising efforts for more than a decade, serving as a key leader for a team that regularly has been the top performer in Boone County, Missouri. Since its inception, the CC team has raised more than $175,000 to fight cancer. He has also been a member of the leadership group that plans the entire event for the county.

For these contributions and his inspirational example to those around him, Garver is the 2023 recipient of the Columbia College Alumni Association Community Service Award.

Michael Garver ’03 ’13 is the 2023 recipient of the Columbia College Alumni Association Community Service Award. Photo by Columbia College Photographer & Graphic Designer Abigail Wade

“What’s not to like about Michael?” asks Allyson Meredith, systems analyst in Tech Services, who has volunteered for Relay for Life with Garver. “He’s always willing to go the extra mile. He has a positive attitude and a sense of humor that he brings to all that he does. He’s just a truly good human being who sincerely cares about others and shows up.”

Garver remembers sitting on benches in the parlor of Missouri Hall, shaking with transcripts in hand, when he arrived as a student for the first time.

“High school wasn’t the easiest for me, so I was trying to figure out why I would want to put myself through torture again,” Garver says. “But that quickly changed. Columbia College is a very supportive, loving, safe environment, and I really felt at ease.

“I always have felt like this is my family away from family.”

While his feeling of home at Columbia College influenced his desire to serve the community around him, the passing of his father provided a deeply rooted source of motivation for his Relay involvement.

“It’s a way to connect with my dad,” Garver says. “I lost him in 2009 to lung cancer. It did take me about three years to get involved with Relay because I was afraid of the emotions it might invoke, but I thought it was really fun, I got to meet people and again I felt support from Columbia College itself.

“I’m just so honored to take what was the great foundation built by previous faculty and staff and continue to carry on that legacy.”

“Anytime anyone needs something, whether it’s Relay for Life or a neighbor or a friend, Michael’s always there willing to help. The word ‘no’ is not part of his vocabulary.”

Theresa Veit, Columbia College nursing simulation and skills lab coordinator

Dr. Eric Cunningham, former associate dean at the college who helped found the Relay team in 2000, credits Garver for smoothly taking the reins of leadership.

“Michael made an impact right away,” Cunningham says. “His energy level was invaluable. We had been doing it for a while when he came on the team. We needed an energy boost, and Michael provided that. He made a strong team into an extraordinary team. I will always be thankful for him for that.”

Garver is the catalyst that keeps the college’s Relay team going, says Tery Donelson, senior director of Military Operations and Partnerships.

“Michael is an extremely positive example of someone putting service before self,” Donelson says. “He is always there first, leaves last and has a smile on his face the entire time. His efforts and commitment should be recognized with this award, even though Michael will say it is not necessary.”

In addition to Relay for Life, Garver has supported Big Brothers Big Sisters; Mid-Missouri PrideFest; and Trail to a Cure.

“He’s not only giving in Relay for Life,” says Theresa Veit, nursing simulation and skills lab coordinator. “He never stops giving. Anytime anyone needs something, whether it’s Relay for Life or a neighbor or a friend, Michael’s always there willing to help. The word ‘no’ is not part of his vocabulary.”

Payroll Manager Phyllis Grant ’90 says Garver puts “200%” into everything he does.

“Michael is deserving of the Community Service Award,” Grant says, “because his middle name could be ‘Community Service.’ He just gives so much. He is a role model for all of us.”

Garver deflects praise for the award by crediting the village around him.

“I’m just so honored,” he says. “This is such a big community, a big family, and to be notified that you made a difference and helped Columbia College with its prestigious name out in the community, it’s just really gratifying. I’m truly honored and I couldn’t have done it without everyone who supported me.”