Bluefield College honored three of its outstanding graduates with distinguished alumni awards and two of its former student-athletes with induction into the BC Sports Hall of Fame, October 21, 2017, during Homecoming and Family Weekend 2017.
Among the graduates honored: Erin Johnson DeHart (’03) of Bland, Virginia, who was named Young Alumna of the Year; Jeremy Hardy (’08) of Chesapeake, Virginia, who received the Primitivio Delgado Christian Service Award; Rev. Roger Roller (’81) of Forest, Virginia, who was named Alumnus of the Year; and David Kessler (’85) of Atlanta, Georgia, and Omar “Juice” Reed (’10) of Houston, Texas, who were inducted into the BC Sports Hall of Fame.
The Distinguished Young Alumna award is designed to recognize Bluefield College graduates who are 40 years of age or younger who have exhibited the values and mission of Bluefield College; achieved outstanding accomplishments in their profession; and displayed significant leadership in their community through service. This year’s recipient, DeHart, earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Bluefield College for the purpose of building a career in law enforcement. In fact, while completing a required internship with the Bluefield (WV) Police Department she not only experienced law enforcement firsthand, but also developed connections that led to her first employment in the field.
“I am honored to be the recipient of this award,” said DeHart about earning the Distinguished Young Alumna honor. “Hearing the description of the award and all that is involved with it, I really am very, very humbled. I hope that I have to this point and will continue to bring honor to Bluefield College through my work.”
While working for a law firm in Wytheville, Virginia, DeHart attended and graduated from the Appalachian Sschool of Law. After passing the bar exam on her first attempt she became an assistant Commonwealth’s attorney for Wythe County. Later, she worked for the Pulaski County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, before being named the Commonwealth’s attorney for Bland County. Four years later, after much success in the courtroom, DeHart was elected to serve as judge for Virginia’s 27th Judicial District Court, a distinction she credits primarily to her parents.
“My family – I am so grateful for the supportt you have given me throughout the years,” she said. “You never set a limit on me, and I know that is why I have been able to accomplish what I have. You always encouraged me. You gave me every opportunity to succeed, and you gave me opportunities to fail and to learn from my mistakes, and I’m grateful for it. Without you guys I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Established in 2004, the Primitive Delgado Christian Service Award honors alumni, faculty and staff who live a life of service and who demonstrate BC’s core values in their daily living. The award is named in honor of former BC academic dean Dr. Primitivo Delgado, who lived a life committed to Christian service and ministry. This year’s recipient, Hardy, studied graphic communication at Bluefield College and is now the executive director of Vigilant Hope in Wilmington, North Carolina, whose mission is to equip, educate and empower the church to properly serve the homeless and impoverished communities.
“This is such an honor,” said Hardy about being recognized for his service. “Thank you so much. It is such a blessing to think of how Bluefield College played such a huge part of my life to equipo me to go out and serve those in need, and I’m very thankful for that.”
Founded in 2006, Vigilant Hope provides urban outreach, relief ministry, and educational programs, all for the purpose of not only serving the disadvantaged, but leading them to Christ. One particular ministry that is new and thriving is the offering of free showers in a shower trailer four times a week to the homeless. Hardy says that if they can get them to take a shower, they just might restore their dignity and consequently convince them to complete job training and other educational programs that will eventually lead them out of homelessness.
“it really has been such an incredible journey, and I love that my foundation is here at Bluefield College,” said Hardy. “I barely got into Bluefield and now see what the Lord has done is unbelievable. Looking back at it now, I truly do not understand how it all happened.”
The Alumnus of the Year award, established in 1985, recognizes Bluefield College graduates who have achieved outstanding accomplishments in their field. They must display significant leadership in their community and represent the values and mission of Bluefield College. Roller, the 2017 Alumnus of the Year, began his career after BC as a pastor, serving two churches for nine years, before creating the Roger Roller Evangelistic Association. Now in this 25th year as a full-time evangelist, Roller leads about 26 revivals each year, having conducted nearly 650 revivals altogether. He has preached overseas on mission trips in Hungary, Cuba, Panama, the San Blas Islands, India, Brazil, Honduras, South Africa, and Ghana.
“This is a real honor. I feel like I stand on the shoulders of a lot of good people from Bluefield College, who cared about us and encouraged us,” said Roller as he named a number of BC professors who influenced his life. “I sort of stand on their shoulders as I stand here and accept this award today.”
Roller’s evangelistic association has also provided the funds to help build seven churches overseas and through partnerships with other ministries build training centers in Uganda and Honduras. In addition, the association employs and supports an association evangelist in Honduras and two other evangelists in Ghana. Furthering its cause, the Roger Roller Evangelistic Association provides grants to college and seminary students going into full-time Christian service. In fact, 52 Bluefield College students have benefited from the grants since 2003.
“Bluefield was good to me,” said Roller, who met his wife Ester (’75) at BC. “It was a schooll that took me in when I couldn’t get into any other schoo,, and I’m grateful for what the school has done for me.”
Kessler, one of two 2017 Sports Hall of Fame inductees and a native of Hurricane, West Virginia, played both basketball and baseball at BC before becoming an assistant coach for Rams basketball in 1984-’85, the same year the team finished runner-up in the National Little College Athletic Association National Championship. After BC, he studied teacher education at Georgia State University-Irvine. He returned to coaching as and associate head coach at South Gwinnett High School in Georgia, where he helped lead the team to the 2004 Georgia State Championship. He continued his highs chool coaching career n North Atlanta High School, Prince Avenue Christian School, Schley County High School, and finally Brandon Hall School, where he led that team to its first-ever state tournament appearance.
“Wow, what an honor!” said Kessler as he spoke of the “special” BC coaches, teammates and professors who made a difference in his life. “What fond and great memories I have of this place. It seems like it was just yesterday. I’m very thankful for that Bluefield College did for me.”
Today, Kessler is most recognized as the owner, founder and head coach of the Atlanta Show, a minor league professional basketball team in the North American Basketball League (NABL). In its first season ever, the Show completed a perfect 17-0 record and won the NABL championship. As a result, Kessler was named NABL Coach of the Year.
“Bluefield College was good to me. It laid the foundation for me and my coaching career,” said Kessler as he also recognized teammates in attendance who became lifelong friends. “All the successes I’ve had over the past 30 years are the result of the foundation I received right here at Bluefield College. Hopefully these words convey just how special this place is to me and how much this award means to me.”
Reed, the second 2017 Sports Hall of Fame inductee and a native of nearby Tazewell, Virginia, was a four-year starter on the Bluefield College men’s basketball team. He scored 1,760 points and grabbed 1,079 rebounds during his career as a Ram, averaging 13.8 points and 8.4 rebounds per game, including a double-double average of 16.2 points and 11.1 rebounds during his senior season. That same year, 2009-2010, he was named Appalachian Athletic Conference (AAC) Player of the Year and AAC Defensive Player of the Year. He also earned a spot on the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletic (NAIA) Third Team All-American squad. A proven winner, Reed led the Rams to 89 wins – 22.2. per season – during his four-year career, winning the AAC Championship during his freshman, junior, and senior seasons, including an unblemished 18-0 conference mark in 2008-2009.
“It was a long road, a long journey,” said Reed, who started his freshman year on the junior varsity squad before earning a starting spot on varsity. “Nothing was given to me. Everything I earned, I had to take it.”
After BC, Reed began a professional basketball career in 2010 in the English Basketball League, before playing two years in the National Basketball Association Development Lead (NBA-DL) with the Austin Toros (affiliate of the San Antonio Spurs) and the Maine Red Claws (affiliate of the Boston Celtics). His pro career also includes two years of play in Japan, a year in Argentina and Panama, and a year in the Dominican Republic where he is currently a starter for Indios de San Francisco of the Liga Nacional de Boloncesto. Reed returns to Bluefield and Tazewell every year from Texas to host basketball cams and other events in the community for the purpose of serving as a role model to local kids. In fact, he and his wife, Jelicia, are the founders of LIFE (Leadership in Full Effect), a non-profit organization which provides service and support to communities in Houston, Tazewell and Bluefield.
“I was actually shocked when (the college) contacted me and said you’ve been selected to the inducted into the Hall of Fame,” said Reed. “I said, ‘Hall of Fame? I’m only 30 years old!’ The Hall of Fame is not for 30 year old people. I was truly surprised, and I really appreciate it. It means a lot to me. Bluefield College is really special to me. Everywhere I go, this school will be attached to my name. The people here are special. It’s a small, tight, close-knit community that values relationships and I appreciate that.”