Alumni of the Year 2021

Meet the Alumni of the Year 2021, honored for service and achievement that embody the spirit of their alma mater.



Gale Crosby '81

THE IMPORTANCE OF education was instilled in Gale Crosby ’81 from a young age. With no Adventist academies nearby, his parents sold the family farm in Michigan and moved 6-year old Gale and his three siblings to the Walla Walla Valley. There Gale attended Rogers Adventist School, Walla Walla Valley Academy, and finally Walla Walla University.

“My parents gave up their home, heritage, and livelihood in order to provide educational opportunities they knew to be important for the success of their children,” Gale says.

That value of Adventist education influenced Gale to spend more than 40 years working in educational settings. He has taught at Redlands Adventist Academy; principled at Buena Vista Adventist Elementary School, Hood View Adventist School, and Portland Adventist Academy; and currently serves as educational superintendent for the Oregon Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

“A teacher’s true mark on the world is seen through the changed lives of their students,” says Gale. His current work is to develop plans to help teachers and principals provide opportunities for students to learn, grow, and serve those around them. The team works to instill in each student the confidence to know they are true sons and daughters of God.

Gale says, “To make a difference in the life of a child—there is nothing more powerful. It has been my true honor to spend my career in Adventist education after having received such a great education at WWU that prepared me for this work.”

Handel Wellington '01

HANDEL BEGAN HIS college career at Northcentral University, but transferred to Walla Walla University to pursue a degree in civil engineering. While studying engineering, new friends introduced Handel to the field of aviation. It was then that he realized his true passion. He graduated in 2001 from WWU with a bachelor’s degree in aviation technology and a professional pilot license and ratings.

Due to the events of Sept. 11, the fall of 2001 was a difficult time to be looking for a position as a pilot. However, with much prayer and a strong commitment to his goals, he obtained a position as a loadmaster, worked as a flight instructor with the Pan Am International Flight Training Academy, and eventually obtained his first piloting job with Air Tahoma.

Handel subsequently worked for Spirit Airlines, Qatar Airways, and UPS while traveling the world. He has been entrusted with management positions and the responsibility of recruiting and assessing new pilots. He has also pursued a law degree at Taft Law School and is a registered arbitrator and mediator.

Handel says that God has used the foundation he received at WWU to lead him to wonderful career opportunities. He has been blessed with his wife, Maria Carmen, and their two children, Charles and Cataleya. His advice to all WWU students is to “Never forget to put God first in your life. Once you do that, there is nothing in life you cannot achieve.”

Kelli Wheeler '86 to '91

YOU MAY KNOW Kelli Rizzo Wheeler by her professional radio name, Kelli Caldwell.

Her journey to radio work started in 1986 when she first went on air for WWU’s Positive Life Radio. Of her college days, Kelli says, “The memories we made in those years are some of the best in our lives, and the friends we made through I Cantori, band, and our Christian contemporary music band are still friends today.” She took these memories with her when she and her husband, Mark, left Walla Walla University in 1991.

Living in Fresno, California, Kelli and Mark were called to travel as musical missionaries with The Celebrant Singers. Kelli says, “Our years as missionaries were life-changing as we saw that God was alive in His people all over the world.”

AIn 2001—after several years back in California and now with two sons, Jarod and Alec—Kelli was again called to serve through Christian music. She worked with Christian radio station KDUV before God opened doors to a position with K-LOVE Radio. Kelli has now worked as on-air talent for Air1 and K-LOVE for the past 15 years. She has emceed concerts in Madison Square Garden and sang a duet with Amy Grant on the radio.

Gary Wiss '94

WHEN HIGH SCHOOL senior Gary Wiss first stepped onto the Walla Walla University campus after the long bus trip from Portland Union Academy Grade School, he was in awe. “The campus before me was the most beautiful place I had ever seen... Oddly, I felt I had come home.”

That fall, he enrolled as a pre-dental major, but soon found a penchant for writing and began studying English. To pay for tuition, he held a handful of jobs including cleaning the floors of the administration building and working for The Collegian.

Despite his hard work, at the start of his senior year he didn’t have the money to go back to school, so in November 1958, Gary was drafted and sent to Fort Sam Houston to train as a surgical technician. When he left active duty in 1960, Gary returned to Portland and worked as a lab technician and perfusionist at the University of Oregon Medical School.

His work there was pleasant, but Gary says, “Far back in my mind, my alma mater was forever whispering, calling me back to finish my education.”

In 1965, he quit his job and returned to WWU where he enrolled as a 30-year-old, married, senior English major. Just a month before graduation, he was offered a faculty position at the university. Gary went on to teach for 44 years, serve as the chair of the English department, aching. He retired in 2011. “I had wanted to help people, and I think I succeeded,” he says.

Gary and his wife, Cheri, now live in Ferndale, Washington. Their son, Nate, and his family live nearby in Bellingham.

Gary says, “Night after night, the places and faces of Walla Walla University enliven my dreams, and as long as I live, they will be vivid in memory.”