Friends University will honor several alumni as distinguished alumni during the university’s Homecoming, Oct. 8. The award categories this year highlight achievements in R.I.S.E. Values, Fine Arts, and Christian Leadership and Service. Awards will honor 2020 and 2021 recipients.
“It is an honor to recognize these alumni for the work they do in their respective fields and communities,” said Brie Boulanger, associate vice president of university advancement. “Their work illustrates the mission and values of Friends University in their daily lives as they honor God and serve others. We could not be more proud to see the work our alumni are doing and how they are impacting the lives of others.”
Distinguished Alumni for Outstanding Achievement in R.I.S.E Values (Respect, Inclusion, Service and Excellence)
R.C. Buford-2021 recipient
R.C. Buford graduated from Friends University in 1987 with a Bachelor of Science in Human Resource Management. He started his professional career as an assistant coach at the University of Kansas and later moved to the NBA joining the San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Clippers in assistant coaching roles. Buford later returned to the Spurs organization as the team’s head scout and was elevated to director of scouting, general manager, president of sports franchises and his current role as the CEO for Spurs Sports and Entertainment. He leads the business operations for all sports franchises owned and operated by Spurs Sports and Entertainment. Buford was also selected as the NBAs Executive of the Year in 2014 and 2016.
Buford is involved in the NBA Basketball Without Borders Africa Camp, serves as an advisory board member for Fuqua/Coach K Center on Leadership & Ethics (COLE) at Duke University, serves on the Board of Directors of PeacePlayers International and is active with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
Buford and his wife, Beth have a son, Chase and daughter, C.C. along with Alexis Wangmene from Cameroon and Samer Jasser from Israel whom they welcomed to their family.
Stan Leach-2020 recipient
Stan Leach, President and Founder of Equipping Leader Ministries, brings a wealth of knowledge and experience from nearly 40 years working in various areas of ministry: youth ministry, foreign missions, new church development, denominational leadership, leadership development, coach and counselor to churches in crisis, and friend to many pastors in churches of all shapes and sizes.
Leach is a 1979 graduate and has a Bachelor of Arts in English from Friends University He also holds a Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry from Fuller Theological Seminary. After serving most recently as Superintendent of Evangelical Friends Church Southwest for 16 years, he felt God calling him to a new season of helping churches of all sizes prepare for the specific challenges that are on the horizon in a culture that is increasingly closed to the idea that church and Christianity are relevant to real life.
Leach has been married to Sandi since 1982 and they have three grown daughters, two sons-in-law and six grandchildren. Since returning from Central America in 1989, they have resided in Orange County, California.
Distinguished Alumni for Outstanding Achievement in the Fine Arts
Tom Reeves-2021 recipient
Award-winning musician, Tom Reeves graduated from Friends University in 1978 with a Bachelor of Music in Music Education. His music career spans over 40 years when he first began as a teacher in the Wichita area and then got his big break as the drummer for the Grammy and Dove award-winning group, The Imperials. He spent a decade performing thousands of shows across the country before landing in Nashville as a studio owner, producer and engineer. He is a key producer/engineer for industry giants such as Opryland Productions, Dollywood Entertainment, Celebrity cruises, Poet Theatricals, Word Music, Lifeway Worship, Brentwood/Benson Music and many more.
Reeves career highlights include recording services for Dolly Parton’s Dollywood Entertainment and her newest Sony release, “I Believe in You”, numerous musical scores for Celebrity Cruise Lines and others, and years of content production for Word Music, Lifeway Christian Resources, Brentwood/Benson and most recently, the full score for Sight & Sound Theatres’ epic show, “Samson.”
Michelle Riney Henderson-2020 recipient
Michelle Henderson graduated from Friends University in 1981 with a bachelor’s in music education and in 1991 earned a Master of Music in Church Music. Henderson is the chairman of the fine arts department and director of choral music at Wichita Trinity Academy where she has taught for 16 years. She is also the musical director for the Trinity Academy musical theatre productions. Prior to joining Trinity Academy, Henderson taught at USD 259 and Friends University for 10 years each, respectively.
During her tenure at Friends University, she was assistant director and accompanist for Singing Quakers and co-producer of Symphony of Spring. Henderson and her husband, Kevin and their three children, Katie (Henderson) Braeuer, Scott Henderson and Kelli Henderson all graduated from Friends University as well. Henderson is also the daughter of Dr. Cecil and Verna Riney, who like her father share the gift of music and knowledge with her students.
Distinguished Alumni for Outstanding Christian Leadership and Service
Norman and Leatha Hein-2021 recipients
Norman graduated in 1972 and Leatha graduated in 1974 from Friends University both with bachelor’s degrees in biology. It was at Friends University where the couple met and had many classes together, later marrying.
Over the years, the couple has been engaged with several careers from hybrid wheat research with DeKalb, farming, teaching science and math, coaching and most notably operating a landscape maintenance business for over 40 years. It is the Hein Lawn Service, Inc. that creates and designs the colorful floral displays in downtown Wichita for the Flowers on Douglas.
The Hein’s love and cherish their families along with the relationships they have made with many people throughout the years. They have been active members of Northridge Friends Church in Wichita, Kan. since college where they are involved in a worship group and an adult Sunday school class. In the horticultural industry, there is a well-known and excellent educational course that is known as Master Gardeners. They are often asked, “Are you a Master Gardener?’’ Their reply is, “No, we are not but we do garden for the Master! No matter where or what we have been engaged in we have done it for the Master!”
Dr. Andre’ J. Thomas -2020 recipient
Dr. Andre’ J. Thomas graduated from Friends University in 1973 with a Bachelor of Arts. He also holds a master’s in music from Northwestern University and a doctorate in musical arts from the University of Illinois. Most recently, Thomas is the retired Owen F. Sellers Professor of Music, Director of Choral Activities, and Professor of Choral Music Education at Florida State University. He was appointed Professor of Choral Conducting and Interim Conductor of the Yale Camerata 2020-2021. Dr. Thomas was also a previous faculty member at the University of Texas, Austin.
Dr. Thomas has conducted various choral organizations in the United States and internationally, to include Australia, Europe, Philippines, Vietnam, New Zealand, China and Israel. He is also a distinguished composer, arranger and author.
Dr. Thomas has been recognized by various musical organizations for his excellence and contribution to music over his long and distinguished career.
For more information about the Oct. 8 award ceremony and Friends University Homecoming visit friends.edu/homecoming.
Friends University, a Christian University of Quaker heritage, equips students to honor God and serve others by integrating their intellectual, spiritual and professional lives.