On February 18, 2023, the Charles E. Weniger Society for Excellence held its 48th annual awards ceremony at the Loma Linda University Church in Loma Linda, California. This award aims to honor the legacy of Charles Weniger—renowned seminary dean, English professor, and public speaker—by celebrating the contributions of those who exemplify the excellence displayed in his life.
This year, four awards were conferred. Bonnie Dwyer presented the first award to Charles Sandefur. Sandefur worked as a pastor for 17 years before moving on to a career in church administration, working in the Hawaii Conference, Rocky Mountain Conference, and the Mid-American Union. While working in administration, he also served as the chair of the Versacare Foundation Board of Directors for 30 years, helping to distribute millions of dollars to Adventist schools and independent organizations.
The second award went to Serena Tonstad, MD, PhD, presented by Lawrence T. Geraty. Tonstad is currently the head physician for preventative cardiology in the Department of Endocrinology, Morbid Obesity, and Preventive Medicine at Oslo University Hospital. She is also an adjunct professor at the Loma Linda University School of Public Health. Research has been at the forefront of Tonstad’s career. She is responsible for 291 publications in English and 46 in Norwegian. In 2021, she contributed to a publication on preventative cardiology from the European Society of Cardiology. Tonstad also has a master’s in epidemiology and a PhD in preventive medicine, which has guided her career in research that has led to actionable changes and advancement in the lives of many.
The third recipient, John C. Brunt, was also the keynote speaker for the night. Gerald Winslow presented his award. Brunt’s message titled “Water Skiing Across Paul’s Letters” gave an insightful overview of some of Paul’s writing. Brunt taught at Walla Walla University for 12 years before becoming the dean of the School of Theology. He then served as the university’s vice president of academic administration. After Walla Walla University, he pastored at the Azure Hills Seventh-day Adventist Church in Grand Terrace, California, for 13 years. He moved back to Washington State hoping to retire; however, he eventually pastored at the Edmonds Adventist Church. Brunt currently serves as the vice chair of the La Sierra University Board of Trustees. Throughout his career, he has published 15 books and numerous articles focusing on the Bible.
Gerald Winslow introduces John C. Brunt.
The Wedgwood Trio were the final key awardees of the night. Donna Carlson presented their award. The trio, comprised of Bob Summerour, Jerry Hoyle, and Don Vollmer, recorded their first collection of folk and gospel hymns in 1966. They soon gained popularity, even catching the eye of H. M. S. Richards Jr. They traveled and sang in well-known venues such as the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. However, in 1970, the group went their separate ways to pursue their careers. Summerour completed medical school and residency in psychiatry, and Hoyle completed a doctoral program in clinical psychology. He served as a faculty member at Loma Linda University. Vollmer completed his MDiv at Andrews University and pastored in North Carolina, Ireland, and Southern California. In 1990, they reunited, and by 1995, they had 25 performances per year. They are credited with opening the way for a new variety in Adventist music styles. The trio performed a concert for the awards ceremony, sharing the folk and gospel sound for which they are known and loved.
Along with the primary awardees, 13 students from Adventist colleges and universities across the US and Canada were awarded scholarships. Each student received $1,500, half provided by the Weniger Society and half by the student’s institution. Daniel G. Matthews presented the awards.
Charles Weniger is remembered for his thoughtfulness, humility, and care for others. The awards in his name continue to honor those who exemplify similar passions and characteristics in their lives and careers.
Ezrica Bennett is a writer, public speaker, and coach passionate about working with young adults to help them navigate life and faith. She is also committed to helping churches, and church leaders, find innovative ways to integrate young adults into church leadership and empower them to honor God’s calling on their lives.
Photos by Alexander Carpenter.
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