Six notable Goshen College alumni are honored with awards during Homecoming Weekend

GOSHEN, Ind. – Some work in business, some in theater and music, and others in medicine. But no matter what kind of work they do, they have all been active peacemakers, taking the values they learned years ago at Goshen College and applying them to their daily lives. During Goshen College’s Homecoming Weekend 2011 on Oct. 7-9, the college will honor six exceptional alumni with awards for their commitment to the college’s core values.

Presented by the Goshen College Alumni Board, the 2011 Culture for Service Awards will be presented to Arthur DeFehr ’65 of Winnipeg, Manitoba; Ahmed Haile ’79 of Milwaukee, Wis. (deceased); and Vance George ’55 of San Francisco, Calif. The 2011 Decade of Servant Leadership Award will be given to Kelli Holsopple ’99 of Brooklyn, N.Y. The 2011 Dr. Roman Gingerich Champion of Character Award will go to Marty Gaff ’71 of Kouts, Ind., and the Dr. Ruth Gunden Champion of Character Award will go to Mary Sutter ’80 of Sedona, Ariz.

The award recipients will be honored on Friday, Oct. 7 at 10 a.m. in the Church-Chapel during convocation, with a reception following in the Church Fellowship Hall at 10:45 a.m. These events are free and open to the public.

Arthur DeFehr ’65 – Culture for Service Awardee
Arthur DeFehr ’65, of Winnipeg, Manitoba, attended Goshen College for a year after receiving a bachelor of commerce degree from Manitoba University and went on to travel the world and become CEO of one of North America’s leading furniture manufacturers, Palliser Furniture, Ltd.

After obtaining a master’s at Harvard Business School in 1967, where he graduated in the top one percent of his class, DeFehr used his knowledge to serve others around the world, in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Somalia and Lithuania.

DeFehr has worked at Palliser Furniture since 1967, and has been CEO since 1984. Palliser is a family-owned furniture business committed to environmental sustainability. DeFehr is also active with Habitat for Humanity and was the first chair of Canadian Foodgrains Bank, an organization through which Canadian farmers can share their abundant harvests with the less fortunate of the world. DeFehr’s most recent focus has been on the former Soviet Union, including the founding of Lithuania Christian College University. Additionally, he lectures to businesses, universities and other audiences about business and social topics.

“Goshen provided the context for me to explore and test my faith and my values,” said DeFehr. “The historic events of the mid-60’s were the crucible for shaping ideas and values that have informed my life. Goshen was a great platform from which to experience and explore those extraordinary times and played a critical role in shaping a perspective on life that has served me well.”

DeFehr is married to Leona, and together they have two adult children, Shanti DeFehr and Tara DeFehr-Tielmann. He attends River East Mennonite Brethren Church.

Vance George ’55 – Culture for Service Awardee
Vance George’s ’55 love for music took him from the small Indiana town of Nappanee to San Francisco, and along the way he’s conducted choirs around the world and won several Grammy Awards.

While at Goshen College, George double majored in voice and piano. After graduation, he taught music at the Woodstock School in India as part of conscientious objector duties. Upon returning to the United States, George attended Indiana University School of Music where he received master’s and doctorate degrees in choral conducting. He continued on to work with several schools and choirs, including the University of Wisconsin, Kent State University and the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus.

In 1983, George began his tenure as conductor of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus. Under his leadership, the chorus won four Grammy Awards, including Best Choral Album and Classical Album of the Year. In 2001, the chorus won its first Emmy Award for its concert production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd.” Now he is director emeritus of the chorus and works as a guest conductor, holding residencies and workshops around the country.

George still returns frequently to Goshen College as an advisor to the music faculty and as a guest conductor for the choirs. Deb Brubaker, professor of music at Goshen College, said, “Vance has a way during rehearsal of keeping students vitally involved with their music. He is demanding and a taskmaster, while at the same time encouraging students with humor and inspiring stories. He helps them create a personal relationship with the music, learning to know its intricacies and meanings, and in the process, learning more about themselves. Students leave these rehearsals inspired, tired, yet invigorated, knowing that they have experienced something greater than themselves.”

On February 19, 2012, George will return to Goshen College yet again to conduct the Goshen choirs and the Toledo Symphony in Faure’s “Requiem,” Hayden’s “Lord Nelson Mass,” Bach’s “Nun Danket Alle Gott” and several Copland pieces for a Performing Arts Series concert.

Ahmed Haile ’79 – Culture for Service Awardee
Ahmed Haile ’79 came to Goshen from Somalia to study economics and peace, and returned to his homeland years later as a teacher and a peacemaker. But on April 26, 2011, the 58-year-old Somali diplomat for peace passed away after struggling with cancer for six years. Though Haile was nominated for the Culture for Service Award prior to his death, he will be celebrated posthumously at the convocation on Oct. 7 and his wife, Martha, will accept the award in his honor.

As a teenager, Haile chose to become a Christian, which was rare in the predominantly-Muslim country of Somalia. After he fled Somalia to Kenya, he was enabled by the help of several good friends to attend Western Mennonite High School in Salem, Ore. From there, he graduated from Goshen College with a bachelor’s degree in economics, from Indiana State University with a master’s of public administration and from Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary with a master’s in peace studies.

After completing his studies in the United States, Haile returned to Somalia to teach and lead international development efforts on a local level. After the downfall of the Somali government, Haile began peacemaking efforts between warring Somali factions. In 1991, while he was engaged in peacemaking efforts there, Haile lost his leg to a rocket-propelled grenade attack. Undaunted, he continued with his commitment to peacemaking. From 1994 to 2009, he taught as a professor at Daystar University in Nairobi, Kenya, where he founded the Peace Studies Program.

Robert Herr ’72 and Judy Zimmerman Herr ’74 wrote of Haile: “[As a teacher at Day Star], Ahmed liked to note that it was the tradition of peace he learned about at Goshen that gave him his life’s orientation. He considered himself a Mennonite peacemaker and presented himself this way whenever he could.”

In addition to his peace work in East Africa, Haile wrote a variety of papers, and completed a memoir on his life as a Somali peacemaker prior to his death, titled “Teatime in Mogadishu: My Journey as a Peace Ambassador in the World of Islam,” published by Herald Press. The book, which he wrote with his long-time friend David Shenk, can be purchased online at or by calling 1-800-245-7894. “Teatime in Mogadishu” will also be sold during the Oct. 7 reception at 10:45 a.m. in the Church Fellowship Hall.

In 2009, Ahmed, Martha, and their three young adult children, Afrah ’11, Sofia and Gedi, moved to Milwaukee, Wis., from Nairobi, Kenya, where they had been living for the prior 15 years.

Kelli Holsopple ’99 – Decade of Servant Leadership
Kelli Holsopple ’99, of Brooklyn, N.Y., has used her passion for theater not for self-promotion, but rather to teach others to share their stories.

Holsopple studied communication and theater education while at Goshen College. After graduation, she worked with a variety of theater companies, including the American Shakespeare Center in Virginia. Now, she is co-artistic director of Phoenix Theatre Ensemble, where she works as a producer, actor and director of the educational outreach programs InFlight and Evolve. The InFlight program works to bring drama into New York City public schools for grades K-5.

More recently, Holsopple developed the Evolve Theater Project, an intergenerational theater program. The pilot program of Evolve was documented in a film, titled “Stages,” produced by Meerkat Media LCC. Over a period of 20 weeks, Holsopple worked with a group of older Puerto Rican women and a group of inner-city youth, creating a play with them and empowering them to share their stories. The film follows these groups as they look at their backgrounds, confront stereotypes and create unlikely bonds with one another.

“Stages” received the Best Documentary Award at HBO’s New York International Latino Film Festival. The documentary was also played for a national audience of over 5,000 people in Los Angeles at the annual conference for the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging. There will be a free showing of “Stages” during Goshen College’s Homecoming Weekend on Saturday, Oct. 8 from 12:30 to 2 p.m. in Umble Center.

“Kelli exemplifies what it means to be a life-long learner, even in her typical role as a teacher,” said Goshen College Professor of Theater Doug Caskey. “Her interest in learning about other cultures and individuals different from her keeps her engaged in her community. This desire to understand others and the world around her has been part of who she is from a young age, and I’m sure it will continue for all her living years.”

Marty Gaff ’71 – Dr. Roman Gingerich Champion of Character Awardee
Marty Gaff ’71, of Kouts, Ind., has devoted his life to inspiring young lives through athletics. While at Goshen, Gaff majored in physical education, and continued on to receive a master’s degree and Indiana University in 1976. Gaff worked in Goshen for 11 years, teaching at local elementary and junior high schools. He also coached middle school sports and high school basketball.

Gaff then moved to Kouts High School, where he has been for 28 years, teaching U.S. history and current events. While at Kouts, he has coached varsity baseball, middle school boys track and varsity boys basketball. Throughout his time coaching basketball, he has led the team in a winning record of 354-251 and has won six sectional championships and two regional championships. Gaff holds the most career wins of any boys’ basketball coach in Porter County. He served on the board of directors for the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association for five years, and in 2001, he was named the Gary Post Tribune Coach of the Year.

Gaff and his wife, Sally (Hieser) Gaff ’73 have three children, Cindy, Kristy and Brooke, and attend Hopewell Mennonite Church where Marty has served as an adult Sunday school teacher, a member of the church council and a board member for the Hopewell Preschool Ministry.

Mary Sutter ’80 – Dr. Ruth Gunden Champion of Character Award
Mary Sutter ’80, of Sedona, Ariz., has used her knowledge of medicine to help people around the United States and abroad, providing many of them with care they normally wouldn’t receive.

While studying pre-medicine at Goshen, Sutter was also an active member of the volleyball team. After graduating, she went on to receive her doctorate from the University of Illinois College of Medicine and completed her internship and residency at Good Samaritan Hospital in Dayton, Ohio.

Sutter began her career working at a community health center for eight years in Indianapolis, Ind., where she worked with patients with limited health resources, and many without insurance. Also in Indianapolis, Sutter worked at a homeless initiative often treating patients with mental illnesses or drug addictions. Throughout the next 10 years, she traveled and worked in many offices, from health maintenance organizations to private offices to community health centers and Indian health services.

In various community health centers, Sutter worked with many recent immigrants from countries around the world. Currently, she works with many immigrant patients at the Yavapai County Community Health Center in Cottonwood, Ariz.

Since moving to Arizona, Sutter attends the Church of the Red Rocks and participates in the Sedona area Centering Prayer Group.

Alumni Awards

The Culture for Service Awards were initiated in 1989 and are given annually to honor Goshen College graduates who have made lifelong commitments to service. Recipients distinguish themselves through commendable accounts of service and achievements at home or in their churches, colleges and communities and the larger world.

The Decade of Servant Leadership Award, created in 2004, recognizes a Goshen College alumnus or alumna whose contributions and achievements in career, public or church service and volunteer activities early in post-graduate life are worthy of recognition.

For the sixth year, the Goshen College Maple Leafs Athletic Club is presenting the Dr. Ruth Gunden and the Dr. Roman Gingerich Champion of Character Awards. The two awards, created in 2005, are presented to a male and female alumni athlete who exemplify the college’s core values in their lives, work and community service. Gunden and Gingerich were pioneers in Goshen College’s athletic history.

– By Alysha Landis

Editors: For more information about this release, to arrange an interview or request a photo, contact Goshen College News Bureau Director Jodi H. Beyeler at (574) 535-7572 or


Goshen College, established in 1894, is a residential Christian liberal arts college rooted in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition. The college’s Christ-centered core values – passionate learning, global citizenship, compassionate peacemaking and servant-leadership – prepare students as leaders for the church and world. Recognized for its unique Study-Service Term program, Goshen has earned citations of excellence in Barron’s Best Buys in Education, “Colleges of Distinction,” “Making a Difference College Guide” and U.S. News & World Report’s “America’s Best Colleges” edition, which named Goshen a “least debt college.” Visit