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The 2024 Annual Meeting of the Charles Elliott Weniger Society for Excellence

You are cordially invited to the annual meeting of the Charles Elliott Weniger Society for Excellence, produced by Loma Linda University Church Media Department, Feb 17, 2024 at 4:30 PM, PST. The event will be broadcast live on the Loma Linda University Church website and mobile app, the LLUC YouTube account, and the Loma Linda Broadcasting Network ( 

Charles Elliott Weniger, 1896–1964 
Seminary dean, English professor, gifted public speaker; Charles Elliott Weniger influenced a generation of ministers through his classes in homiletics at the Seventh-day Adventist Seminary in the 1950s. He modeled the charismatic public speaking that he expected of students and encouraged them to explore the worlds of literature, drama, and music to enrich their lives and their sermons. His students remembered him for his modeling of excellence and his kindness, the two proving to be an inspiring combination.

Born October 22, 1896, to Charles and Ida Elliott Weniger, he grew up in Vallejo, California. He was president of his 1918 graduating class at Pacific Union College where he later became the chairman of the English department. The University of Southern California was where he earned both master’s and doctoral degrees in rhetoric. The same year that he earned his PhD he was invited to serve as dean of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary—then in Washington, D. C. When the seminary was moved to Berrien Springs, Michigan, Dr. Weniger was named vice president for graduate studies and dean of the School of Graduate Studies. 

In 1961, he was on his way to a seminary extension program in Beirut, Lebanon when he fell and injured his back. It was the beginning of several health challenges. But the pain he experienced did not change his sunny disposition. He was positive and optimistic even when under mental and physical pressure. Three short years later he died in Loma Linda, California leaving Eunice Clark, his wife of 44 years.

The ethos of the man lived on in his students who remembered his thoughtfulness, kindness, and unexpected care for individuals. He held himself to high standards in speech, bearing, dress, and inspired the same in everyone he mentored.

2024 Charles Elliott Weniger Award Recipients

Lowell Cooper
In 1994, when Lowell Cooper was elected an associate secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, he had the international variety of professional experiences deemed necessary for a position at the world church headquarters, as well as a deep love for the church and its institutions. At the time of his election, he was a department director in the Southern Asia Division headquarters in Pune, India where he had been for 16 years, following an interdivision employee assignment to Pakistan. He also had experience as both a pastor and a conference official in his home country of Canada. In Silver Spring he quickly became an in-house expert on the church’s working policies. A voracious reader who appreciated the work of contemporary theologians, he also pursued professional executive training.

By 1998, when he was appointed a general vice president of the General Conference, he had become an expert on leadership and board management. His understanding of Adventist institutions as the embodiment of the gospel message made him much sought after for consulting and board training globally. He chaired the boards of Loma Linda University Health, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency and Pacific Press. He was vice-chair of the General Conference Auditing Service. LLU was so appreciative of his work as chairman of its board that the university prevailed on the GC to retain his services on a part-time basis after he chose not to stand for election in 2015. And when he finally stepped away from that position, Loma Linda University honored him with a special award.

After spending his career working for the international church organization, Cooper rediscovered the joy of service at the local church upon his retirement. In Kennewick, Washington, he and his wife Rae Lee are now heavily engaged in local church responsibilities such as the feeding ministry. He continues to serve on several boards of denominational institutions, including Walla Walla University. He also continues to consult and train for institutional boards. He has mastered the art of being the hands of Jesus in whatever place he happens to be.

Ginger Ketting-Weller
First, Taal Volcano erupted, followed by the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic and its shutdowns. The year was 2020, and Ginger Ketting-Weller was just settling into her new position as president of Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies (AIIAS) in Silang, Cavite, Philippines. For this daughter of missionary doctors, who grew up in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, the position at AIIAS seemed like the perfect capstone for her career. But these challenges of 2020 were unlike anything she had studied in her educational administration and leadership classes for her master’s degree at Loma Linda University, or at Claremont Graduate

University where she earned her PhD in education. Had she been called to this General Conference Institution with its seminary and graduate school for such a time as this? Apparently, she had. Her studies of cross-cultural experiences and their effect on the children of missionaries gave her important insights into the diverse faculty of her institution, hailing as they did from twenty different countries serving students from 60 nations. She plunged into her new assignment with the goal of modeling and teaching “a better kind of leadership” for the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Previously, she had spent seven years at La Sierra University as dean of the School of Education, ten years at Walla Walla University, first as associate vice president and then vice president for academic administration. Her work in higher education began at Pacific Union

College in teacher education. That is also where she put her music education to good use, writing the music and lyrics for a Broadway-type musical based on the life of the biblical character Queen Esther. She could hum a tune for such a time as this.

In her tenure at AIIAS, the university has worked with the Chinese Union Mission to develop online seminary graduate education in the Chinese language for pastors across China. At La Sierra she led in the development of the university’s first PhD program and in installing the Garden of Gratitude as a place for alumni to honor inspirational educators—such as she has proved to be.

Merikay McLeod
As a junior at Grand Ledge Academy, Merikay McLeod wrote a dramatic story called “NOW” based on The Great Controversy, but with contemporary characters. It captured the imagination of her classmates, and was widely shared. Evangelist Fordyce Detamore published a condensed version that sold more than 100,000 copies and made her famous. As a best-selling Adventist author she met her future husband Kim Silver and later in 1971, she was offered and took a job as a book editor at Pacific Press Publishing Association (PPPA). 

In 1972, when her husband was laid off from his job, she requested head of household pay. After several months went by with no response, she filed a class action lawsuit in 1973 against the press. Her suit set in motion a 10-year court battle over the way Adventist women employees were paid, and garnered the support of the U. S. Department of Labor and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 

In May 1975, the Press fired Merikay and Lorna Tobler, leading the judge to nullify the initial class action suit. On the eve of the court trial, when she was told each woman would have to file on her own, she settled her lawsuit. The stress of the court battle affected her marriage and led to her divorce from Silver. Spectrum magazine recognized her stand for justice, calling her one of the most influential Adventists of the 1970’s-1990’s. In 1985, she wrote Betrayal, her account of Silver vs. Pacific Press Publishing Association and it became another best-seller.

In the years following the lawsuit, her writing career and education continued with communication positions first at Santa Clara University and then the University of California, Berkeley. She earned a double master’s degree in Women’s Studies and Sociology and later another master’s degree in Spirituality. She freelanced and was published in multiple national magazines and newspapers. At Santa Clara University, she also fought for justice for the hourly employees. The Charles Weniger Society for Excellence honors her commitment to justice with an award for excellence.

Lorna Tobler
Hailed by Spectrum magazine as one of the most influential Adventists of the 1970-1990’s, Lorna Tobler was a pioneer in pursuing equal rights for Adventist women employees. As the editor’s secretary for Signs of the Times, a publication of Pacific Press Publishing Association (PPPA), she assisted first Arthur S. Maxwell and then his son Lawrence Maxwell in the editorial work producing the magazine during her fifteen years at PPPA. When Merikay McLeod (Silver) sought equal pay as a book editor at the PPPA, Tobler supported her efforts and subsequently also filed suit against the Press. The U. S. Department of Labor and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission joined the women in their legal pursuit for equality.

After five years of litigation, Silver settled her lawsuit with the Press. Tobler, however, persisted with her suit, and she finally prevailed although it took a decade to accomplish. The court ruled in her favor in 1982, seven years after she had been dismissed by the PPPA on the recommendation of the General Conference Executive Committee. In 1983, the General Conference finally decided not to appeal EEOC (Tobler) v. PPPA to the Supreme Court. Her work with the EEOC helped win a class action judgment of $600,000 on behalf of 140 women underpaid by the Pacific Press. 

It is important for people to stand for justice, she says. Following her dismissal by the Press, Tobler continued to do that. She found work in a law firm specializing in worker’s compensation issues, trained to be a paralegal and had a successful career assisting other employees in their pursuit of fair and reasonable treatment.

Her husband Gus died in 2001 and her mother died in 2003, the same year that she retired. She then moved into her mother’s condominium and became active in the Homeowners Association. She has spent the past twenty years restoring the unit and the association’s governance documents. The Charles Weniger Society for Excellence honors her lifelong commitment to justice with an award for excellence.

John McVay

Weniger award winners all exemplify excellence in their life’s endeavors. John McVay, however, exemplifies excellence in a manner very similar to Charles Elliott Weniger’s, the man who inspired these awards. Both were English majors in college and their facility with words made

them both excellent writers and speakers. Both taught religion at Pacific Union College. Both were deans of the Seventh-day Adventist  Theological Seminary. Perhaps if Charles Weniger had lived longer, he, too, might have been a college president. 

McVay will have been the longest serving president of Walla Walla University when he retires at the end of this academic year in June, having served the university for 18 years. His tenure at Walla Walla was marked by improvements in both budget planning and spiritual planning. He received a commendation from accrediting organizations for the long-range budget planning process that improved the university’s Composite Financial Index rating. He also established a spiritual master planning process.

He and his wife Pam were known for their gracious hospitality, welcoming guests to campus for events such as the President’s Welcome, and Family Weekend.

Weniger would have applauded McVay’s support of higher education beyond WWU’s campuses. While a member of the Independent Colleges of Washington, McVay served as chair of the board and worked with state legislators to bolster the Washington College Grant and the State Work Study Program. He has also been active with the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and the Cascade Collegiate Conference Council of Presidents.

As a scholar, McVay is a specialist in the later Pauline epistles. Recently he wrote the Seventh-day Adventist International Bible Commentary on Ephesians. He holds a master of divinity degree from Andrews University and a doctorate from the University of Sheffield in England.

Kimo Smith

“Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good,” Malcolm Gladwell famously wrote. “It’s the thing you do that makes you good.” In his book Outliers: The Story of Success, he called

it the 10,000 hours rule. For Kimo Smith who started playing the piano at the age of four, he had put in those 10,000 hours seemingly by the age of 14 when he was taking first place in piano

playing competitions, including two that resulted in appearances with the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra. After graduation from Hawaiian Mission Academy, he came to the mainland for his college education, first at La Sierra University and then at the University of Southern California where he completed both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in organ on full scholarships.

His doctorate in musical arts is from the University of California, Los Angeles. While a student, he placed first in competitions sponsored by the American Guild of Organists and the Music Teachers National Association. He was twice honored as outstanding student by the USC Organ Department.

By now, he has also put in those 10,000 magical hours in musical performance for worship services. He is probably best known for his position as organist at the Loma Linda University Church of Seventh-day Adventists where he has served since 1979. His masterful postludes for worship there hold the audience in rapt attention. He has also served as organist at the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood since 1984, and has performed throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, Asia, and South America. He has been the featured artist with orchestras and choral organizations, including the Los Angeles Master Chorale with whom he recorded “A Good Understanding” for the iconic Decca recording label.

Dr. Smith is professor of music and director of keyboard and collaborative studies at La Sierra University where he started teaching in 1980. He has been a full-time member of the faculty since 1990 and served as department chair from 2003-2010. Those 10,000 hours of practice launched a fifty-year career of memorable performances.

The Weniger Fellows Student Scholarship Fund

The Weniger Fellows Student Scholarship Fund is established to apprise undergraduate students attending accredited North American Seventh-day Adventist colleges and universities of the historical Weniger legacy, and to challenge them to emulate these qualities of excellence in all aspects of their lives.

Commencing with the 2013-2014 academic year, the annual honors award has been granted jointly by the Weniger Society and the institution to one undergraduate student who has met the requirements. Recipients of the scholarship will have demonstrated excellence in all of the following areas:
spirituality, academics, civic service, and leadership.

Student Scholarship Recipients, 2024

Adventist University of Health Science – Melissa O’Rourke
Andrews University – Joseph Burton
Burman University – Pamela Kazembe
Kettering College – Ashley Black
La Sierra University – Marash Keshishian
Loma Linda University – Ruben Chipuli
Pacific Union College – Lindsay Luigi Loconi Cruz
Southern Adventist University – Laura Ringstaff
Southwestern Adventist University – Kevin Robles
Union College – Charles Metz
Washington Adventist University – Tiara Best
Walla Walla Walla University – Juliana Zollbrecht

Weniger Student Fellows receive a $1,500 scholarship with $750 provided by the Weniger Society matched by $750 from the institution. Weniger Laureates do not receive a monetary gift. Most of the funds raised go toward the student scholarships. If you would like to help the Society continue this program, send your charitable gift to:

Charles E. Weniger Society
25612 Barton Road, #205
Loma Linda, CA 92354-3110

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