Homecoming engagement high again as Avondale alumni gather online

Members of the Class of 1961 enjoy their Homecoming 2021 honour year reunion.

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With COVID-related lockdowns again limiting gatherings and movement, almost 260 former staff members and students, and friends of Avondale, indicated their interest in connecting over the weekend (August 27-28).

The Memories service on Friday proved the most popular event. In a first for a live stream at Avondale, the evening featured live crosses, to alumnus Ben Milis in Sydney who performed hymns and songs from the decades. Hosts Rachel Humphries and Pr Brock Goodall encouraged viewers to comment and share stories, reading and sharing on screen the most enlightening or entertaining during their talk breaks. The engagement helped the stream reach more than 2600 people on Facebook and 550 on YouTube. Not far behind: a virtual tour of the Lake Macquarie campus that featured stunning drone videography in long, single takes.

With the ubiquitous use of Zoom, most alumni seemed comfortable using the videoconference platform for honour year reunions on Saturday. More than 20—some were helpful family and friends—joined the 1951 honour year reunion. Age and distance usually halves the number who attend in person. Three times as many joined the 1961 reunion. The early- to mid-afternoon times suited not only those in the southern but the northern hemisphere, too, with the host of the 2001 reunion, Morgan Roy, doing so from Chicago. Others hosted from Perth and Canberra.

Earlier in the day, alumni watched the Homecoming worship service on YouTube, with Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Kevin Petrie presenting his first Homecoming sermon. The service also featured a musical item by The Promise, with each part recorded individually at home by members of the Avondale vocal ensemble and pieced together in post-production—and a giving segment that included a Zoom recording of six top scholarship recipients.

Content posted online included the return of a well-received initiative: interviews recorded on Zoom with award and citation recipients.


Avondale Alumni honours a Young Alumnus, Alumna and Alumnus of the Year at Homecoming. It revealed the names of these award recipients on Saturday morning.

The first: David Toogood (BMinTh, 2015), whose reputation as a disciple maker preceded him—the campus church at La Sierra University (Riverside, California, USA) called the young alumnus to serve as its youth pastor. Then came COVID and an extended lockdown. Confined mostly to his apartment, David could minister only online, connecting and building relationships with young adults he had never met. He lasted eight months before returning home to protect his mental health and reconnect with family. He now considers the decision a personal and professional accomplishment. While the sudden change “brought new questions and doubts, what I’m realising is there’s beauty to be found in pausing long enough to be truly present.” His award is for prioritising people while confronting the challenge of change in ministry.

Honouring Margaret Herbert (CertAccy, 1971) as Alumna of the Year recognises her concern for and commitment to the care of Seventh-day Adventist Church retirees. At a sensitive transition in their lives, she has gently and pastorally served the denomination’s outgoing employees for more than 22 years. “It’s been a privilege, an honour and a challenge,” she says. “Many times, it’s been humbling to be part of their journey.” The former missionary is quick to deflect attention from herself. “In everything I try to do my best knowing [God] will do the rest.”

Classmate Gavan Grosser (BATh, 1971) received his award for bringing healing and hope amid grief and loss. With an “absorbing and fulfilling” role as a civil celebrant, the Alumnus of the Year has officiated at more than 11,000 funerals, weddings and community services. While most are “without the common religious trappings, they acknowledge the basic spirituality that resides in all of us.” With training and experience in field and clinical pastoral ministry, and having dealt with the death of his son, Gavan understands the importance of validating feelings of hurt or pain. “We’re not alone on life’s journey.”


Like the awards, class citations also recognise dedication to transforming lives, engagement with learning and discovery, and commitment to service. Receiving these were:

  • Missionary Veronica Baird (Secretarial, 1951) for a career dedicated to supporting the mission of the Adventist Church in the South Pacific and southern Asia and twin sister Yvonne Eager (Secretarial, 1951) for her faithful, lifelong response to the “privilege” of providing Christian care;
  • Educator Iris Landa (DipThTch, 1961) for her investment in the emotional wellbeing of communities in need;
  • Builder Bob Walker (BA Ed, 1971) to honour the enduring legacy of his manual labour;
  • Author Linda Brooks (Audio-Secretarial, 1981) for using the power of words to explore the complexity of the human condition;
  • Chaplain Sharyn Harrington (DipTch, 1991) as a woman in ministry who is leading young people to Christ;
  • Ron Green (BEd, 2001) as a teacher and community leader who serves his world for good, and;
  • Communicator Charmaine Patel (BA VisCom, 2011) for exploring, encouraging and celebrating faithful creativity.

“While it’s a little easier organising an online Homecoming, it’s disappointing not seeing the joy of alumni meeting face-to-face,” says Humphries, the Alumni Relations Officer. “But rather than cancelling the event, we’re blessed to have access to technology that enables us to carry on and connect.” With lockdowns here and abroad, “we need to connect with each other: it’s healthy, especially for older alumni—they don’t want to wait another 10 years to do it again.”

Brenton Stacey is the Public Relations and Philanthropy Officer for Avondale University.

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