Alumni Awards

2016 Annual Alumni/ae Awards – Iliff Celebration Luncheon During Renewal Conference

The 2016 Annual Alumni/ae Awards are featured at the Iliff Celebration Luncheon during Renewal Conference, February 2, 2016, Iliff’s Shattuck Hall. Read (below) about the 2016 honorees. Plan to join the Iliff community February 2, 2016 for our annual celebration of alumni/ae and the work they are doing in the world.

2016 Honorees

  • Rev. Samuel Cox, MDIV ’60: Outstanding Contribution to Specialized Ministry

  • Rev. Avery Sledge, MDIV ’10: Outstanding Contribution to Parish Ministry

  • Rev. Eric Strader, MDIV ’10: Outstanding Recent Alumnus

Rev. Samuel Cox, MDIV ’60 – Outstanding Contribution to Specialized Ministry

Rev. Samual Cox

I was re-introduced to progressive Christianity in 1952 at the age of 19, as a result of my participation in the non-violent Civil Rights Movement and subsequent mentoring by Dr. Bill Hall, a Professor of Religion at Kansas State Teachers College. Prior to that year, I saw only the injustice in the world, and even within the church. Even the ushers of First UMC of my hometown, Pittsburg, Kansas politely turned away blacks, saying “You have your own church.” I declared myself to be an atheist.

In the summer of 1952, I had the opportunity to participate in a Quaker Youth Work Camp in a black neighborhood in Washington DC within a mile of the Capitol Building. We noticed that many of the children were sickly, but were told there was no medical help. Even the nearby hospital was for whites only.

During the summer one of the children climbed the nearby gated whites-only Public Swimming Pool after hours and drowned. The neighborhood, including ourselves, became incensed and wanted to fight the injustice. Riots were already prevalent in the country. Our Quaker leaders said it was okay to demonstrate, but we needed first to be trained to be “non-violent”. We were warned that we would be greeted with obscenities and violence. We were advised to “look in the eyes of those who opposed us and look for God.”

I recall being confronted by a burly man whose face turned red as he yelled racist obscenities in my face. I tried my best looking into his eyes. I kept asking myself, ”Where is God? Where is God?”

When I returned to my sophomore year at Kansas State Teachers College, I helped organize a like-minded Skeptics Club. Dr. Bill Hall, who helped coordinate the Religious Emphasis Week on our campus, asked me if I would help. I responded, “I can’t. I am an atheist.” He said, “That’s okay. I would like you to be in charge of the Skeptics Hour.” I agreed, and the hall was packed.

I said, “Dr. Hall, I do not believe in HELL!” He responded, “I don’t either.” That is how I became a Methodist! Later, with the help of Wesley Foundation, we integrated the First UMC in Pittsburg, Kansas. Several members of our Skeptics Club later became Methodist pastors, including myself. Bill Hall became my life-long mentor. Last summer after our Cal-Pac Conference in Redlands, my wife and I visited Bill and his wife, Ruth, where they live in Davis, California. They are both in their 90s and still very active. Bill is the one who nominated me for this award.

I attended Iliff from 1956 to 1958 and was ordained with the Rocky Mountain Annual Conference. My most memorable teachers were Dr. Harvey Potthoff, Dr. Charles Milligan, and Dr. Bernhardt. My student charge was Louisville UMC. I also helped found the Mile High Senior Center in downtown Denver. With one and a half staff (I was the half) and numerous senior volunteers, we operated 7 days a week including holidays. This was acknowledged as a special ministry.

I was subsequently commissioned as a social work missionary to Japan with the World Board of Missions from 1960 to 1965. I helped organize the Airindan (Love Community Center) in downtown Tokyo. My lowest point in life occurred in 1964 with the death of my five year old son from acute leukemia. Those were painful months. Yet even in those months, our Japanese social worker friends opened up their hearts to us and shared experiences of tragedy unknown to us. My Bishop, Glen R. Phillips, of the Rocky Mountain Conference, provided some grief counseling. He said, “Samuel, I predict there will always be children in your life.”

In 1966, I accepted the position of Director of Moiliili Community Center in Honolulu, Hawaii and served for nine years. We started one of the first after-school programs in Hawaii, serving 300 children and building upon a Japanese Language School. In 1975, I helped found Hale Kipa for Runaway Youth and served as its Executive Director. At our high point we provided shelter and counseling for 1,500 youth per year.

In 1998, I retired from Hale Kipa. I was asked in 2000 to serve as part-time visitation pastor at Kailua UMC. I also helped found The Interfaith Alliance Hawaii, an interfaith advocacy alliance of Christians, Buddhist, Jewish, Baha’i and Muslim. Among our accomplishments was having Hawaii be one of the early states legalizing same-sex marriage. During our demonstration at the State Capitol, we sang Amazing Grace.

My focus for the past three years has been on the founding of Beacon of Hope transition house, utilizing my former home in Kailua as a place to help women being released from the women’s prison to have a healthy, positive re-entry into society.

I am greatly honored to receive this award, and thankful for the guidance of faculty and the friendship of fellow students who walked with me on my journey.

Rev. Avery Sledge, MDIV ’10 – Outstanding Contribution to Parish Ministry

Rev. Avery Sledge

Avery Sledge was born in LaGrange, Georgia, the eldest of five children. She graduated from the University of Georgia with a Bachelor of Business Administration—focusing her work in the areas of logistics, transportation and economics.

After graduating, she entered the Air Force and served 26 years, retiring as a Colonel in 2001. While in the Air Force she earned a Master’s Degree in Management, with a concentration in organizational behavior and management. Additionally, she accomplished significant post-graduate work in the areas of military weapon systems program management, national security policy, and international relations.

From 2006-2007, Avery led an Economic Development team in Toledo, Ohio, as the Director of the Procurement Technical Assistance Center. In this capacity she directed her staff in assisting small and minority businesses to secure contracts with local, state and federal government agencies—more than doubling the dollar amount of contracts awarded to small and minority businesses.

Answering a call to ordained ministry, she attended the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado from 2007-2010 where she received a Master of Divinity degree with distinction. Her studies concentrated on social justice and pastoral care. While a student at Iliff, Avery served as a hospital chaplain at a Level 1 Trauma Center and was a pastoral intern at Rinn United Methodist Church. She also received the Schlessman Fellowship and the Bloede Award for outstanding ministry in a rural congregation. She credits her Iliff experience with broadening her horizons to incorporate the intersection of theology, history, and social issues.

Raised as a Southern Baptist, and actively serving as a member of the United Methodist Church for over 40 years (leading mission trips and serving on district and conference boards), she found a home within the United Church of Christ. She is ordained within the UCC and serves as the pastor of Highlands UCC in Springfield Ohio—an Open and Affirming Congregation. Avery frequently lectures on a wide range of gender identity and human sexuality issues at colleges, universities, churches, professional organizations and support groups. She is a member of the Dayton Ohio Chapter of PFLAG and served as a member of the Transgender Military Advisory Committee of the Palm Center, Denver, Colorado, which commissioned studies addressing issues such as policy, medical, costs, and military readiness related to transgender persons serving in the military. She actively seeks equality for all persons addressing issues of discrimination based on race, economic circumstance, gender identity and sexual orientation.

Avery is married to her spouse of 38 years and has two children and two grandchildren. Besides being with her family, she enjoys reading, biking, hiking, photography and music.

Rev. Eric Strader, MDIV ’10 – Outstanding Recent Alumnus

Rev. Eric Strader

Rev. Eric Strader graduated from Friends University in Wichita, KS with a Bachelors of Science in Organizational Management and Leadership. He attended Iliff with his spouse, Rev. Amy Strader, MDIV ’10, pastor at First UMC Golden. Eric and Amy have a daughter, a lab named Delilah, and a Chihuahua mix named Francis.

Eric is in his third year as the pastor of Christ Church United Methodist in central Denver, and is the second pastor in the history of Christ Church to once be a student intern and return in the role of Senior Pastor. He sees his responsibility as supporting the lay leadership at Christ Church in bringing wholeness, justice, and love to the world through a thoughtful faithful community. He also sees himself as being the comic relief, using laughter to create a process for change and joy. He says, “laughter doesn’t negate our fears or wounds, but it softens them for the journey together. And, why can’t we have fun while we are going about God’s work?”    

The alumnus who nominated Eric wrote… Rev. Eric Strader has proven his exceptional leadership in the United Methodist Church by being committed to academic and theological enhancement of his community, and is tirelessly dedicated to local and global social justice. Before the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality on a national scale, Rev. Strader helped form a trio of Iliff alumni/ae who would publicly pronounce their willingness to support same-gendered marriages in Colorado. This included risking their own status as ordained ministers to create a space where weddings could be performed and love could be celebrated. Of these three brave, local leaders, Eric was perhaps the boldest of the group.

For reference, a list of award winners from 1980-2016 is also available for review. Previous Award Recipients

Please contact Caran Ware Joseph, donor and alumni relations director, cwarejoseph@iliff.edu or 303-765-3111, if you have questions or need assistance.