Stay With Us: On Inclusion

“Two or three things I know for sure, and one of them is how long it takes to learn to love yourself … ”
— Dorothy Allison

Did you know Otterbein publishes a bi-annual Equity and Inclusion Matters campus newsletter? Read all back issues in the Digital Commons @ Otterbein →

Early this summer, I was at a stoplight, distracted with thoughts about work and the grocery list. I missed the light change. The driver behind me laid on the horn. I hit the gas and waved, “I’m sorry.” But my delay ignited fury. The car stayed dangerously close to my rear bumper. The horn blared. I could see the driver shouting at me through the windshield. Another red light. The car pulled up next to me. The driver rolled down the window and raged. I gripped the steering wheel and waited it out. When the car finally sped away, confusion and fear twisted my stomach. We can be so wounded by a stranger’s cruelties.

It’s worse, of course, when it’s someone we know. Someone we love. It’s worse when it’s a friend, a co-worker, a teacher, a teammate. It’s worse when the people we call home deny our humanity. We can be so wounded by rejection, disrespect, and discrimination.

After I came out, my sister didn’t speak to me for almost a year. My parents tried to be accepting and supportive, but I felt the discomfort and judgements they circled. And I needed to say I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner, to explain that I was afraid of unbearable losses and stayed quiet.

But we got through it. With love, patience, and empathy. We are closer now, our connections more honest and authentic. We didn’t let go. We stayed. Even when it got hard.

You are safe here, you belong here. This community wants you to find understanding, acceptance, your people, and your self here. You are home.

Inclusion is important because in its absence there is exclusion. Disconnection. Unbelonging. Inclusion is important because in its absence there is pain. But we heal in and through relationships. I remember the first time I felt completely safe with another human being. I remember the first time I felt completely known and completely loved. I remember finding place and purpose at Otterbein. From that openness, I learned to love myself.

Inclusion creates relationships of healing. I try to teach – and live – from that truth. Otterbein’s commitment to inclusion is a promise we make to each other. With it, we say, “You are safe here, you belong here. This community wants you to find understanding, acceptance, your people, and your self here. You are home.”

Professor Ashworth was recently named the 2021 Ohio LGBTQ+ Leadership Award recipient from the Ohio Diversity Council. Read more about her award in our website profile story →

Still, how do we do that? How do we do inclusion? How do we make an inclusive world?

There are lots of different answers to those questions. Many focus on simple acts of caring: a sincere “how are you,” asking for someone’s perspective on an issue, reinforcing shared experiences.

For me, the “how” is also more fundamental than that. It goes deeper than that. It works through two interdependent capacities. An ability to stay and to stay with. “With” as in together, attentive to, and in respect to. Stay with a person, stay with a newness, stay with a difference. When we stay, we hold space for each other. We commit to being in a relationship across misapprehensions and difficulty. We know that there is always more to discover, more to learn. We trust that more understanding will come in time.

And true understanding happens only through grace, humility, and compassion.

Suzanne Ashworth, Ph.D., is a professor in the Department of English and the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program. She recently was awarded the 2021 Ohio LGBTQ+ Leadership Award by the Ohio Diversity Council.

Philanthropy in Action

Along with faculty member Dan Steinberg, communication students Felicity Boykin (left) and Malachi Brooks (right) met with former parent, donor, and CEO of Huntington Bank Stephen Steinour P’15 (center) at his office earlier this summer to express their gratitude for receiving the Kaitlin Steinour ‘15 Communications Endowed Scholarship, established by the Steinour family to honor their daughter and Otterbein alumna, Kaitlin, who graduated with a degree in public relations.

The Hargis Family Foundation, established by Jonathan R. Hargis ’79 and Gretchen Freeman Hargis ’77 and their family, have made a generous $100,000 pledge as the lead supporters of a new four-year initiative, Every Student Will. The program will provide a custom education and career path for every student at Otterbein.

In July 2021, Virginia Phillippi Longmire ’55 made a gift of $35,000 to support the Campus Center Renovation Initiative. Her support will help revitalize the Campus Center and make it the heart of Otterbein’s student community once again. We are also grateful for her continued support of the Otterbein Fund with a leadership gift of $10,000.


In honor of his retirement from Deloitte after 41 years of service, Kenneth and Lynn Weixel designated a donation to the Brittany Weixel Endowment. This fund, established by Jean Weixel Reynolds ’77, is named in memory of their daughter and provides critical support to the Office of Student Affairs’ eating disorder educational efforts.


The Class of 1971, in honor of their 50th Golden Reunion, has established the Class of 1971 Promise House and Community Garden Endowed Fund to help offset barriers to college success as a result of food insecurity.  Major donors include Jim ’71 and Linda Ancik ’71 Augspurger, Jim Francis ’71, David Phillips ’71, Wendy Roush ’71, Candace Scott Simms ’71, and Tom ’71 and Cheryl Kirk ’72 Turner.  The funds raised so far total more than $68,000.


Trustee Dr. Mindy Phinney ’85 made a generous $100,000 commitment to support the President’s Fund for Strategic Initiatives, which will help Otterbein launch special initiatives and capitalize on opportunities that will benefit the University and its students. The gift also supports the Otterbein Fund, helping to offset the University’s most pressing annual needs and opportunities.


Curt Moore ’64 made a $10,000 gift in support of Access and Affordability as part of the For the Love of Otterbein fundraising initiative. He also made a gift of $1,250 to provide flu shots to Otterbein students in need.


James Shilling ’77 and his wife, Hyo, have documented a $250,000 planned gift to support Otterbein’s unrestricted endowment. The couple has generously supported the University and the Otterbein Fund for 23 years. Shilling currently serves as the George L. Ruff Endowed Chair in the Department of Finance and Real Estate at DePaul University in Chicago.


Lois Szudy MAE’99, retired director of the Courtright Memorial Library, made a $52,000 gift from her IRA to endow funds for the Library and Department of Equine Science. She had previously made a planned gift to these funds in her estate.


Jack Whalen ’66 and Karen Persson ’67 Whalen made a $15,000 commitment over three years to expand the Every Student Will initiative. They feel strongly about investing in extraordinary out-of-classroom learning opportunities for students, including internships, research, study abroad, and other professional development experiences.


Otterbein is grateful to the Fotis Family for gifting $50,000 to endow two funds at Otterbein. The Eleanor Fotis Endowed Scholarship will fund a major in the Department of Sociology, Criminology and Justice Studies. The William Fotis Experiential Learning Endowed Fund will support students who want to expand their knowledge outside the classroom.


Deborah Banwart Lewis ’77 in Altadena, CA, gave a substantial planned gift along with a current use gift, both to the Department of Theatre and Dance.


Otterbein is grateful for $55,000 from William “Bill” Cole ’54, who established in the spring through an estate gift, the William E. Cole and Barbara Seabrook Cole Class of 1954 Athletic Endowment. This will be the first endowed fund for the Otterbein athletic director’s use. He also continued his gifts toward enhancing Memorial Stadium, which began with the Cole Victory Bell. Sadly, Bill passed away in September 2021 on his 94th birthday.


A lead gift from the late John Howard established a fund to honor two Otterbein families. The families were linked by marriage through multiple siblings. In total, 19 were alumni, trustees, and one was an Otterbein president. The Howard/Norris Endowed Scholarship Fund, at more than $41,000, was created in loving memory of these individuals.


Ann Harting P’94 established a fund with a gift of $25,000. She and her late husband, Bob, are parents of Annette Harting Boose ’94 and Robert Harting. Son-in-law, Andrew Boose ’06, and granddaughter, Elisha Boose ’14, are also alumni. The Robert J. and Ann M. Harting Endowed Award is created to continue their legacy.


Otterbein is grateful to William W. Davis and Ellen D. Gagne for an additional contribution to the Dr. William and Mary Davis H’01 Memorial Scholarship. William and Mary participated in numerous Otterbein activities. They leveraged their education to improve others’ lives; to honor this, their family made the endowment in 2019.


Annbeth Sommers Wilkinson ’56 has supported Otterbein with a commitment of $45,000 earmarked for the Campus Center Fund, Otterbein Fund, and Robert and Annbeth S. Wilkinson Scholarship. Wilkinson is a member of the Class of ’56, which celebrated its 65th reunion this year!


Grants, Corporate and Foundation Support

The Vida S. Clements Foundation

Otterbein remains grateful for the ongoing generosity of the Vida S. Clements Foundation, which recently pledged $30,000 to support the Department of Chemistry with replacing its nuclear magnetic resonance equipment. The Foundation also made a $3,000 gift to support digitization initiatives for Otterbein’s archives, in addition to support for the “O” Club.


This grant will fund six faculty liaisons from each division to focus and re-imagine the faculty role in student discernment of vocation in preparation for the implementation of Every Student Will in 2022. The six faculty liaisons will be charged with learning and understanding the role of vocation in higher education during the fall of 2021 and, in the spring of 2022, helping to develop and implement training to their faculty peers. The goal will be to transform the faculty advising relationship from one focused on transactional academic progress, to one that focuses on exploring vocation. Additionally, all faculty and staff instructors for the First Year Seminar and Senior Experience courses will participate in a retreat focused on vocational exploration for students embedded in their curricular experiences.



Jen Bechtold, Co-Principal Investigator
Kate Lehman, Co-Principal Investigator

The Council of Independent Colleges and the Lilly Endowment

Mary B. Thomas ’28 Commitment to Otterbein Award Winners

The Mary B. Thomas ’28 Commitment to Otterbein Award was established by President Emerita Kathy Krendl and the University Board of Trustees to recognize extraordinary philanthropic leadership, service, and advancement of Otterbein’s mission. It is the highest honor Otterbein bestows upon its community members for transformational leadership and commitment. Two awards were conferred at this year’s Celebration of Otterbein event at Homecoming and Family Weekend on Sept. 18.

Alan Goff ’75 and Coral Harris are deeply committed to Otterbein and making a difference in the lives of our campus community and beyond. After relocating from Maine to Westerville in 2018, the couple fully immersed themselves into life on campus. Together they embrace Otterbein’s work toward creating a model community of leaders and learners and they epitomize what it means to work collaboratively with the University and its faculty, students, and staff.

Goff and Harris have been advocates for a number of causes, from sustainability to lifelong learning to COVID-19 support and more. Their involvement and philanthropic support can be seen in a number of areas in which they are passionate. In addition to supporting the Where We STAND Matters campaign, they established the Dr. David Deever Mathematics and Computer Science Endowed Fund, Innovative Sustainability Fund, Rolling Green Fund, and the sustainable water feature and outdoor lab at The Point. They are also dedicated supporters of the Otterbein Fund, Promise House, Friends of the Library, Department of Theatre and Dance, and the Kathy A. Krendl Distinguished Lecture Series. The couple has also earmarked a planned gift for Otterbein to be used in support of the University endowment that will have a major and lasting impact.

Joyce Strickler Miller ’61, president of the Westerville Otterbein Women’s Club, accepts the Mary B. Thomas ’28 Commitment to Otterbein award from President Comerford.

Also honored this year was the Westerville Otterbein Women’s Club, an organization that has had a remarkable impact on countless students and our community for 100 years. The Westerville Otterbein Women’s Club was established in October 1921 by 30 visionary alumnae, faculty, and their spouses to honor outstanding Otterbein women and provide financial support to the University. For the past century, the selfless members of the Westerville Otterbein Women’s Club have never wavered from their mission.

In the beginning, members hosted teas, luncheons, and picnics for new faculty, senior women students, the campus community, and guests visiting Otterbein. The club’s first donation was shortly after its founding when they donated $5,000 in 1922. In 1952, the Club established a volunteer-run thrift shop on campus to help fund donations to Otterbein under the leadership of volunteers Carol Frank and Vida S. Clements. Known simply as the Thrift Shop, the Westerville Otterbein Women’s Club has donated more than $1 million dollars to support the University since it was established, and continues to donate between $30,000-$35,000 each year.

In total, more than 30 volunteers work over 2,000 hours each year to operate the shop two days a week. All proceeds go directly to support the endowed scholarships the club has founded, including the Westerville Otterbein Women’s Club Scholarship, Donna L. Kerr Scholarship, Westerville Otterbein Women’s Club Service Scholarship, and Diamond Jubilee Grant, which provides emergency assistance to a student or students who experience unexpected financial hardships.

Come From Away Comes Back to Broadway



Randy Adams ’76

Randy Adams ’76 is an accomplished Broadway producer with two Tony Award-winning productions under his belt, including Come From Away, an acclaimed musical that tells a story of hope during the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001.

Broadway closed its 41 playhouses in March 2020 amid the global pandemic and reopened on Sept. 21, 2021, when Come From Away returned to the stage 20 years to the month after the events that inspired it. Come From Away is now playing in Columbus through Feb. 13, at the Ohio Theatre. Tickets are available on

To commemorate the 20th anniversary of 9/11, members of the cast performed a free concert staging of the musical at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., and a filmed version of the staged production that was released on Apple TV+, both on Sept. 10.

Towers spoke with Adams, who says he believes New York will come back better than ever and he hopes Broadway and the arts will be the crown jewel of the city.

Where were you when it was announced that Broadway was closing due to the pandemic?

I was in the air coming back to New York City from London when I received word that Broadway would be shut down for a minimum of four weeks. We had just replaced part of the cast for the second year of the London production and celebrated their opening night performance the prior evening. Within five days, all productions of Come From Away were shuttered around the world. Melbourne, Australia, was the first to return on Jan. 19, 2021.

Photo by Matthew Murphy, 2018

Photo by Matthew Murphy, 2018

How has the closure of Broadway during the pandemic impacted the theater industry?

In the blink of an eye, everyone was unemployed. All the people associated with a Broadway show — actors, musicians, crew, stage managers, ushers, maintenance people, theater cleaners, box office personnel, marketing teams, general management and company management teams, dry cleaners, playbill printers, and on and on — went from working non-stop hours to nothing. All touring across America stopped. The number of people who lost jobs overnight was staggering. Broadway is a driver of tourism as well, so hotels, restaurants, and stores were also devastated. It will take time to recover all of it, but hopefully we will.

Do you think Come From Away takes on new relevance today?

I am fortunate that Come From Away is about kindness and goodness and taking care of people when they needed it most. It is an uplifting and energizing story at any time.

I find now that it is even more relevant because of what we have all collectively experienced this past year, during which people did extraordinary things. The people of Newfoundland still don’t think they did anything special. They think, “We just took care of people when they needed help — isn’t that what we are all supposed to do?” Indeed, it is what we all hope we would do in the same situation, and I think many people experienced it this past year in many ways — big and small!

Photo by Matthew Murphy, 2018

How does the reopening of Broadway provide hope?

Theater people are the most resilient people in the world. The energy that will be in those theaters when they have their first performances will be the most amazing thing people have ever seen. The world is hungry for live performance and connection with people again. I think the reopening of Broadway safely is a giant boon to all arts and the city of New York. I most look forward to what new art, new shows were created during this pandemic or post-pandemic.

Hopefully, Broadway and the tours will come back stronger than ever. Hopefully, all people will return safely with new protocols to make sure people on stage, backstage, and front of house can do their jobs and be safe and healthy.

What message does Come From Away impart to its audience?

Come From Away is based on the true story of when the airspace over the United States was closed due to 9/11 and 37 planes holding around 7,000 people landed in Gander, Newfoundland, Canada, a town of about 8,000 people. They welcomed the passengers and took care of them for five days. During this challenging time, people found love, laughter, and new hope in the unlikely and lasting bonds they forged. Kindness and generosity of spirit are great gifts at any time but during times of need are the most important gifts.

Photo by Matthew Murphy, 2018

Visit Alumni Travel for more details and to make your reservation.

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Are you ready to experience live theatre again? Do you support regional theatre? Would you like to experience Broadway through the eyes of an Otterbein alumnus? Join us on April 21-26, 2022, for a very special event.

Meet Come From Away producer Randy Adams ’76 in New York City and explore behind-the-scenes of the Music Theatre of Connecticut with co-founder Jim Schilling ’79.

Space is limited for this theatrical tour.

Homecoming & Family Weekend 2021

It was a beautiful weekend that gave alumni and families the chance to celebrate the friendship, memories, and pride that come with being a part of the Otterbein community. Weekend highlights included the Class of ’70 Golden Reunion, Class of ’56 Reunion, Celebration of Otterbein, President Comerford’s State of the University, Homecoming Parade, Cardy Zone, Otterfest and so much more!

Our Alumni Award winners impressed and inspired us with their achievements and loyalty to Otterbein. You can enjoy their acceptance speeches and look for more Cardinal Homecoming moments below.

2021 Homecoming Livestreams

Celebration of Otterbein
Football vs. John Carroll

2021 Homecoming Photo Galleries


See More Otterbein Galleries →


Common Book Program Welcomes Anna Rosling Rönnlund

The 2021 Common Book is Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong about the World—and Why Things Are Better than You Think. Swedish physician and academic Hans Rosling collaborated with his son, Ola, and daughter-in-law, Anna, on the book, which was published after his death in 2017. In Factfulness, the Roslings argue against assumptions that we make based on preconceived “instincts,” and they outline the instincts that prevent us from recognizing facts. The authors conclude that our resulting negative view of the world — on topics like poverty, natural disaster, and the environment — can be corrected and made more positive if we recognize our biases and respond with logic. Anna Rosling Rönnlund discussed the book at the annual convocation on Oct. 26.

Otterbein University Common Book Convocation

Thresher Leaves Legacy of Leadership

After serving 21 years as a member of the Otterbein University Board of Trustees, with eight of those as chair, Mark Thresher ’78 has retired. He leaves behind a legacy of impact for generations of students and employees to come.

“My wife, Debbie ’77, and I always had a focus on education. Being on the board of Otterbein provided us the opportunity to extend our interest to a different group of kids,” said Thresher. “Since myself, my wife, our daughter, and son-in-law are all alumni, it was the right place for us to give back.”

Thresher joined the board as a respected leader in the central Ohio business community. His connections and experience helped facilitate the development of The Point, which has transformed the University’s ability to recruit and retain students. This, in turn, helped give space and inspiration to a new Department of Engineering and provide robust on-campus experiential learning opportunities. These new additions to campus are some of his proudest accomplishments.

“Mark was always a champion for new ideas and possibilities,” said President Emerita Kathy Krendl. “He was consistently supportive of the work and innovations Otterbein wanted to accomplish. His expertise was a major factor in securing the future of the institution.”

In addition to The Point, Thresher was also on the steering committee for the Clements Recreation and Fitness Center and supported building and renovation projects for the Art and Communication Building, Shear-McFadden Science Center, Austin E. Knowlton Center for Equine Science, Memorial Stadium, new track and turf, and two residence halls.

Thresher has been a key part in aligning Otterbein’s academic offerings with evolving market demands through the introduction of new programs. During his tenure, the Doctor of Nursing Practice, Zoo and Conservation Science, and Engineering programs were all established, giving Otterbein students new avenues towards a successful post-graduation life and career.

See More Photos of Mark Thresher →

“Mark’s best talent is that it isn’t about him,” said President Emeritus Brent DeVore. “He is first and foremost on the side helping our campus community achieve the ultimate goal of student success. He puts his ego in his pocket and provides much needed guidance.”

Current Otterbein President John Comerford has felt fortunate to have Thresher as board chair. “Mark has a remarkable legacy at Otterbein. His time on the Board has been hugely impactful. Everyone has benefited from Mark’s passion for Otterbein and unique ability to lead boldly and collaboratively,” he said.

“My hope is that every graduate leaves Otterbein on the path to make a difference in the world,” Thresher said.

Thresher has no doubt that his successor to board chair, Cheryl Herbert, will continue to grow Otterbein along with the success of Cardinals of the future.

Otterbein University would like to welcome the newest members to the Board:

Rev. April Casperson ’03, director, diversity and inclusion, Connectional Ministries, United Methodist Church West Ohio Conference
Dr. Talisa Dixon, superintendent of Columbus City Schools
Greg Jordan, senior vice president and chief audit executive, Nationwide
Kathryn Stephens ’97, executive vice president, marketing and development, at The Buckeye Ranch (Alumni Council trustee)
Hannah Sturgeon ’23, student trustee
John Tansey, Ph.D., professor, Department of Chemistry (faculty trustee)

Otterbein would like to thank the following Board of Trustees members for their service. We are grateful for the leadership and commitment they shared with the University.

Rev. Larry Brown ’80
Jocelyn Curry ’78
Joan Esson, Ph.D.
Meredith Marshall ’21

Herbert Steps Up as First Female Chair

Succeeding Thresher as chair of the Otterbein Board of Trustees is Cheryl L. Herbert, the first female to hold that role at the University. Herbert served as the vice chair under Thresher.

“I’m honored to be the next chair of the Board of Trustees,” Herbert said. “Chair Thresher has left a big legacy to live up to, but I’m ready to take on that challenge and help position Otterbein for continued and future success.”

Comerford said Herbert is poised for success in her new position. “Cheryl has shown true engagement as a board member, committee chair, and vice chair. She has been, and will continue to be, an excellent leader for Otterbein,” he said.

Herbert has over 30 years of experience in the healthcare industry. She is a nurse whose career began at St. Ann’s Hospital before it moved to Westerville. She has held executive administrative positions at multiple hospitals and now serves as a senior vice president at OhioHealth.

Herbert earned her bachelor’s degree from Capital University and master’s degree in business administration from Ashland University. She is a member of the American College of Healthcare Executives, has served on numerous community Boards, and works as a volunteer in her community.

“I’m excited to see the directions Cheryl will take the University,” said Thresher.

Otterbein Makes Big Jump in U.S. News, Earns Honors in National Publications

Otterbein University has been collecting honors this fall, as it is recognized in national publications for its programs and values, including U.S. News & World Report, Colleges of Distinction, and Washington Monthly.

In the U.S. News & World Report 2022 edition of “America’s Best Colleges,” Otterbein jumped from 21st place to 12th, placing it in the top 8% among 157 peers in the Regional Universities–Midwest category. Along with its overall ranking, Otterbein was recognized on these lists: Best Undergraduate Teaching, Best Value School, A+ School for B Students, Top Undergraduate Nursing Programs, and Top Performers on Social Mobility. The entire survey can be viewed at U.S. News Best Colleges.

Additionally, Otterbein has once again been recognized as one of the nation’s Colleges of Distinction, with program-specific recognition in Business, Education, Engineering, Nursing, and Career Development.

Thanks to the ongoing voting registration and education efforts led by a non-partisan, student-run campus group called Raise Your Voice, Otterbein has been named one of “America’s Best Colleges for Student Voting 2021” by Washington Monthly and a “Voter Friendly Campus” by the Campus Vote Project.