With an air of excitement, around 600 guests began arriving as soon as doors opened to the Riverside Convention Center on October 3, 2022. They were there to attend La Sierra University’s Centennial Gala, which celebrated La Sierra University’s 100th birthday through stories of the past, recognitions, music, and fellowship.
The Centennial Gala capped a year of celebrations as the university commemorated 100 years of operation in Riverside, California, United States. Festivities were launched on February 15 with the dedication of a new campus sculpture titled “The Lost Sheep.” Special events during alumni weekend on April 29 and 30, which was themed “Celebrating a Century,” featured a banquet, Centennial Campus Walk, and fireworks show.
The October gala was anchored by the recognition of 100 Presidential Award honorees, the presentation of a newly published book on La Sierra’s history, and a historical overview of the life of the university. Classical pianist and renowned performing artist Alpin Hong riveted the audience along with an appearance by operatic tenor and La Sierra alumnus Anthony León.
“There are so many people responsible for La Sierra's success over the decades,” La Sierra University president Joy Fehr said in introducing the presidential award recipients. “Simply put, there are countless people who deserve public recognition and honor. Those of us who have found our lives changed by this institution are truly indebted to them.” Dozens of individuals were nominated from across the university’s history and included posthumous recognitions of historical figures.
Honorees included scholarship donor and Adventist education supporter Elsie Chan; Class of 1958 alumnus and renowned contralto Del Delker; Charles Teel, former religion faculty member; school of religion alumna and singer Patty Cabrera, a Latin Grammy nominee and Gospel Music A Dove Awards nominee; Zapara School of Business alumnus Brian Wright, general manager of the National Basketball Association’s San Antonio Spurs; Seventh-day Adventist philanthropists Thaine B. Price and Tom and Vi Zapara; La Sierra University President Emeritus Larry Geraty; Frank Jobe, alumnus and celebrated sports orthopaedic surgeon; 2021-22 Student Association president Lawrence Steven Dorsey III; and León, who performed for the gala audience.
Class of 1992 alumnus and Presidential Awardee George Bryson said that his grandfather Elmer Bryson also attended La Sierra and worked on the college dairy farm during the 1930s. “It was great to hear the history of the dairy farm. I’d heard so many of his stories,” Bryson commented. “I feel very connected to the community, so it was nice to be recognized.”
“The gala is really great,” retired La Sierra University physical education teacher Vernon Scheffel said following the centennial celebration. He received a copy of the university’s 100-year history book during the gala. “I’m a little hard of hearing and so I didn't get everything. But I’ve got it here in the book. I’m a good reader,” he said.
Scheffel’s father attended La Sierra Academy between 1932 and 1934. Beginning in 1945, Vernon also enrolled at La Sierra Academy while in the fifth grade and continued at La Sierra through college. He later taught at La Sierra for 20 years, from 1980 to 2008. He was the first graduate of La Sierra’s physical education program.
Vernon’s wife, Coral Scheffel, also commented on the gala: “I loved it, it was beautiful. The music was out of this world,” she said.
Many La Sierra University staff members also attended the centennial gala, including financial literacy specialist Andrea Schröer. “As someone who went to undergrad [at La Sierra] and as now a staff [member] it’s amazing to be able to be a part of this milestone moment,” she said, noting the impact of the evening’s musical entertainment. “It really is once-in-a-lifetime.”
León, award-winning tenor and also an alumnus of the New England Conservatory of Music, performed two pieces accompanied by Hong, who headlined the evening’s entertainment. León sang “Angelo casto e bel” by Gaetano Donizetti and “He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands,” arranged by Margaret Bonds. They followed Hong’s riveting piano performances of “Tarantella Op. 43” by Frédéric Chopin; “Clair de Lune” by Claude Debussy, and the remarkable “Sonata in B minor” by Franz Liszt.
Léon was also among the 100 centennial honorees recognized during the gala. He is among the most recent members of his family to attend the university.
“For me it’s a huge deal, because I grew up in the La Sierra community,” he said. “I went to La Sierra Academy from kindergarten to graduating high school, and I went to La Sierra University all four years. My mom and dad have graduated from La Sierra University, and my uncles and cousins; the whole family has been involved. It was kind of my grandfather's dream to go to the La Sierra community and to live in California. And so, for me, it’s really special to be here and to be able to share what I’ve been doing with my alma mater and to hopefully keep the torch lit for the next generations. It’s really an honor for me.”