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Alumni Awards

The Spring Arbor University Alumni Awards are given to celebrate character traits, values and accomplishments that exemplify the discovery, development and realization of individual potential, as found in Christ.

These awards are not given simply to bring attention to the recipients, but to emphasize the high ideals of Spring Arbor University, which these individuals personify. The purpose is to challenge our alumni to greater effectiveness in life and service to Christ. To to learn more about our alumni awards and to nominate an alum, click here.

Alumna of the Year Award

2023 Recipient – Kay (Gallagher) Dunckel ’59

Retired SAU Coach and Faculty Member

Kay is a fifth-generation graduate of Spring Arbor, having once lived in the house that stood beside the iconic oak tree. Kay joined Spring Arbor College as a coach and faculty member in the fall of 1973. She truly believes this was the Lord opening the right door.

Kay has many accomplishments from her career at Spring Arbor, but none more notable or unique than the 11 seasons that she and her husband, Darrell, served as co-coaches of the women’s basketball team. That shared time and experience is a highlight of their marriage. In those 11 seasons, Spring Arbor was 207-110, including six straight years of 20-plus wins. The Cougars also won two National Christian College Athletic Association national titles (1982-83, ’86-87) with a runner-up finish (1983-84) and a third-place finish (1984-85). She also led women’s basketball to three state AIAW Championships and two AIAW regional championships, while leading the women’s volleyball team to three state AIAW championships.

Kay was a pioneer of women’s athletics at Spring Arbor. She recalls her first athletic budget of $1035 for both the volleyball and women’s basketball teams, and there was just one set of uniforms with no warm-ups. She knew all along that the girls wanted an opportunity to compete and she continued to pave a way until that became a reality. One of the highlights of her career was when her girls were taking the main basketball court, which she shared with the men’s team, and the men’s team gave high fives to the girls. In that moment, she felt like they had finally arrived. The guys didn’t feel bad giving up the court to the women because it was their turn.

Kay was not only a pioneer of women’s athletics at Spring Arbor, but on the national stage being an active voice in the implementation of Title IX on college campuses across the country. Her courage and strength as she invested her time, energy, and resources into building the women’s athletic program at Spring Arbor provides a strong foundation for female athletes then, now and in the future.

The alumnus of the year is selected on the basis of the broadest aspects of Christian service to humanity and achievement in the recipient’s chosen vocation, community service, or service to Spring Arbor University, and whose life exemplifies Christian principles. Nominate an alumna/alumnus for our 2024 alumni awards.

Professional Excellence Award

2023 Recipient – Canena Adams ’14, ’19

Internal Communications Coordinator for the University of Tennessee, Founder of “She’s UP” and a Spring Arbor University – Michindoh Board Member.

Canena wears many hats; she’s a wife of 21-plus years to her business partner and best friend Gregory Adams; she’s a mother of five and a mentor. Canena has a relentless pursuit of excellence, and it illuminates the path for future generations. She embodies the transformative power of education, demonstrating that dreams can become realities. Her story of triumph is nothing short of amazing, and her life is an extraordinary example of unwavering commitment to making a difference in this world!

Canena has held various leadership positions, which include her current position as Internal Communications Coordinator for the University of Tennessee; Founder of “She’s UP,” previously known as “WOW”/Women of Worth, Inc. 

Canena also served as Interim Executive Director of Marriage Matters Jackson; CEO of Birthline of Jackson, Women’s Chair/President of a Women’s Group (a position she held for over 14 years); Outreach Specialist/Social Worker for the Department on Aging (located in Jackson County, Michigan); and Link Scholars Program Advisor for Spring Arbor University.

Canena is a certified SRA (Sexual Risk Avoidance) Specialist and Adjunct College Professor, and she uses her credentials and expertise via public speaking, teaching, training, and more! Canena has a lengthy background in healthy relationship training (youth and adults), hosting and participating in community events, and other initiatives centered around helping individuals thrive! She holds a bachelor’s degree in social work and a master’s in communication from Spring Arbor University; and is currently pursuing her Ph.D. at Liberty University. Canena has sat on various boards and serves on the Spring Arbor University, Michindoh Board of Trustees.

Canena considers herself very versatile in that she is comfortable in one-on-one settings but has also stood on larger platforms as the keynote speaker with audiences of 700 or more. Canena has taught, keynoted, and facilitated small and large groups and events. Additionally, Canena has done contractual work with the US Department of Health and Human Services/ FYSB (Family and Youth Services Bureau) and has been honored to speak at the Capitol in Washington, DC, as and keynote for the US Dept. of Health.

Above all the achievements and accolades, her foundation is her faith and purpose in Christ. She enjoys reading, shopping, spa days, date nights with her husband, family time with her children, and good food!

The purpose of the Professional Excellence Award is to recognize alumni who have made outstanding contributions to their profession and community, and achieved honor and distinction for Spring Arbor University. The recipient must have been established professionally for at least five years and must hold membership in at least one professional organization. The recipient’s accomplishments, achievements, or contributions must have been previously recognized by their profession. Nominate an alumna/alumnus for our 2024 alumni awards.

Faithful Servant Award

2023 Recipient – Al ’83 and Diane (Stevens) ’80 Mellinger

Missionaries for Economic Development with Missions Igniter

Al & Diane Mellinger both attended Spring Arbor University (College) but actually met in Wisconsin at Sky Lodge Christian Camp where they were working for the summer. They were married two years later and began serving as Directors of Sky Lodge. Their first son Bradley was born while they lived there.

Next, they moved to Elgin, Illinois where Al work for David C Cook Publishing and at Our Redeemer Free Methodist Church (FMC). From there they moved to Michigan serving for four years at the Ferndale FMC where their second son Casey was born.  McPherson, Kansas was the next stop where they served on staff at the FM Church there as well as teaching Youth Ministry at Central Christian College of Kansas. Diane went back to work outside the home as a full time music teacher. It was during these years when Al & Diane began to take students on missions trips all over the world.

After eight years in Kansas, they were called back to Michigan and Crossroad Community Church as youth pastor, growing the youth group to over 200 each week. During this time, Al served on the Alumni Board at SAU and was president for a term. Al also taught a youth ministry class at SAU for one semester, and Diane taught music at several Catholic schools.

The next adventure for Al & Diane was a call to missions full time as missionaries to the Balkans, with Free Methodist World Missions, living for 14 years in Bulgaria. As pioneer missionaries their ministry grew from only a few contacts to assisting with the creation of the Balkans Provisional Annual Conference of the FMC. Programs include a Bible School, a safe house, farming programs and livelihood groups. There are currently more than 60 Churches planted in five countries (and growing).

Currently, Al & Diane are Missionaries for Economic Development with Mission Igniter, taking the ideas they learned in Bulgaria and creating models to help the poor, disenfranchised, persecuted, disabled and unemployed here in the greater Jackson, Mi area. They are founders of Marketplace Manna, a retail and training foundation serving the needy.

Al & Diane has mentored more than 50 youth group students who are now serving in some form of full-time Christian ministry, and over 300 students have completed coursework through Al’s college classes as they prepare for a career in ministry.

Al & Diane are all about raising up leaders and helping these leaders see what God can do in and through them.

The purpose of the Faithful Servant Award is to recognize alumni of SAU for faithful service to church, family, community, or others with the purpose of furthering God’s kingdom. . Nominate an alumna/alumnus for our 2024 alumni awards.

LeRoy M. Lowell Award

2023 Recipient – Dr. Paul Patton ’74

Professor Emeritus of Communication and Media at Spring Arbor University, Pastor and Counselor

Paul D. Patton (PhD, Regent University) is Professor Emeritus of Communication and Media at Spring Arbor University. An ordained minister and trained counselor, he was on the pastoral staff at Trinity Church in Metro Detroit from 1978-1993 where he founded Trinity House Theater, an experiment in the integration of Christian faith and the arts. He is the author of over thirty produced stage plays, radio plays, and performance essays. He is co-author of Everyday Sabbath: How to Lead Your Dance with Media and Technology in Mindful and Sacred Ways (Wipf and Stock, 2021) and currently serves as a Senior Fellow with the Christianity and Communication Studies Network (CCSN).

The purpose of the LeRoy M. Lowell Award is to recognize excellence in employee service (past or present) characterized by consistency and outstanding contribution to the educational ministry of Spring Arbor University. The recipient need not be an alumnus of Spring Arbor University. Nominate a candidate for our 2024 alumni awards.

Young Leader Award

2023 Young Leader – Matthew Hazzard, MD ’04

Chief of Neurosurgery at Northside Hospital Gwinnett

Matt was born April 9, 1982 to parents Aaron Richard Hazzard ‘76 and Nancy Sue (Kinnaman) Hazzard ‘77, who met while at Spring Arbor. Matt’s grandfather, Vernon Harold Hazzard, attended Spring Arbor when it was a junior college.

Growing up, Matt was exposed to healthcare through his father, a healthcare administrator, and mother, a registered nurse. He enjoyed learning generally about how things worked, excelled in the sciences, and even spent time shadowing physicians. He visited Spring Arbor College campus with his parents on more than one occasion.

Matt attended Spring Arbor University from fall 2000 to spring 2004, majoring in biology (pre-med) under advisor Dr. Chris Newhouse. He enjoyed a wide variety of classes both within and outside his major. Funny enough, he shared two of his college professors with his father (Dr David Johnson – Inorganic Chemistry, and Dr Garnett Hauger – Statistics). While at Spring Arbor, Matt met the love of his life, Lindsey Marie (Whitaker) Hazzard ’04 (B.A. Social Work). The two were married one week after undergrad graduation in Spring Arbor Free Methodist Church by Pastor Mark Van Valin on May 22, 2004. Matt and Lindsey lived in Spring Arbor, MI on Burr Oak Dr the year after they married while Matt studied for the MCAT and worked in outpatient clinical research with Dr. Matt Rosenberg and Lindsey worked at Outback Steakhouse and Catholic Charities in Jackson.

In the summer of 2005, Matt and Lindsey moved to Indianapolis, IN where Lindsey completed her Masters in Social Work with concentration in Mental Health at Indiana University IUPUI campus. Lindsey went on to work in clinical research in pediatric ADHD and autism at Indiana University, Riley Children’s Hospital, and Eli Lilly Pharmaceuticals while Matt completed his medical school training at Indiana University School of Medicine IUPUI campus (2005-2009). After graduating medical school, Matt and Lindsey moved to Durham, NC where Lindsey worked on staff in clinical research at UNC Chapel Hill and became a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) and Matt completed his residency in Neurosurgery at Duke University Hospital. While in residency, Matt and Lindsey were blessed with their first born daughter, Juliana Mae Hazzard, January 2014.

Upon completing residency, God closed a few doors and opened another and the two moved to Braselton, GA where Matt joined the Longstreet Clinic and Lindsey graciously set aside her professional career and transitioned into becoming a stay-at-home mom. (Thank you Lindsey!!! I cannot imagine trying to do any of this without you!). Matt and Lindsey  welcomed their second born, Anderson Matthew Hazzard, in May 2016. Matt worked at Longstreet Clinic from 2015 – 2020 before accepting an opportunity to join Northside Hospital Gwinnett where he currently practices and serves as the Chief of Neurosurgery for a busy Level 2 trauma center in Lawrenceville, GA.

Matt enjoys spending time with and traveling with his family, date nights with his wife, helping coach his son’s baseball and flag-football teams, watching his daughter ride horseback, and generally just being a husband, father, friend, and neurosurgeon. Matt would like to express his sincere gratitude for the benevolence of his Heavenly Father, the grace and mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the continued friendship and guidance of the Holy Spirit. “If there is any good you see in me, it is only from and because of Him.”

The purpose of the Young Leader award is to recognize superior achievement of alumni whose lives exemplify Christian principles and who are outstanding leaders in their profession and community, and who demonstrate promise of further distinction. The recipient must be between 25 and 40 years of age. Nominate an alumna/alumnus for our 2024 alumni awards.

Concept in Action Award

2023 Recipient – Courtlyn (Helder) Paule ’23

Resident Director at MyPlace

Courtlyn obtained her BSW from SAU and is pursuing her MSW through Spring Arbor University’s accelerated program. Courtlyn worked as a house liaison with MyPlace Jackson for over a year and completed her BSW internship with MyPlace. Courtlyn has grown so much in her time with MyPlace and is thrilled to be starting her new role as resident director.

The purpose of the Concept in Action Award is to recognize a graduating senior who most closely embodies the values and goals of the Spring Arbor University Concept. The recipient must demonstrate academic excellence, leadership qualities, exceptional commitment to service opportunities, and a life dedicated to Christian principles. Faculty, staff and administration of the University will recommend candidates for this award.