York College to Recognize Distinguished Alumni

From pulpit ministry to occupational therapy to volunteerism, a number of alumni will be recognized for their lives of service and success this year at Homecoming with a range of awards. 

The alumni to be honored include: John ’66 and Ellen (Whitman ’66) Lucas; Dr. Aimee (Burney ’04) Piller; Ben Smail ’12;  Norman Morrow ’63 (posthumous). These awards will be presented on Saturday, October 19 at a luncheon following alumni chapel. The event will be at Chances R. Tickets are $15 .

Alumni of the Year:  John ’66 and Ellen (Whitman ’66) Lucas

John and Ellen Lucas met at York College in 1965 and married a few years later. After college they settled in Iowa where they raised three children (Laura Lucas-Johnson '92, Julie Engebretson '96, and Daniel '02). John had a long career with the federal government and he served on the advisory board at YC in the 80s. They served in several small congregations in rural Iowa and logged many volunteer hours at Midwest Bible Camp over the years and beyond when their children were there as campers. 

When John retired in 2008, the couple decided to uproot and see what adventures could be found on the open road. They sold their house, bought an RV and signed on with the Sojourners, a service organization that travels the US serving congregations, camps, children’s homes and schools associated with the churches of Christ. They were instrumental in increasing the involvement of the Sojourners at York College (in 2019, 30 Sojourners were active on campus). After ten years of full-time service with Sojourners, the Lucases have moved back to Iowa and are enjoying the opportunity to spend more time with their eight grandchildren. Married 52 years this August, the couple is still active in service at the Central Church of Christ in Cedar Rapids and on the York College campus. “Just because you retire from the secular world doesn’t mean you have outlived your usefulness,” said John. “Sojourners broadened our vision of opportunities open for seniors to get involved in the work of the local church.”

​Young Alumni of the Year: Dr. Aimee (Burney ’04) Piller 

Dr. Aimee Piller is the owner of Piller Child Development, a chain of pediatric occupational therapy clinics in the Phoenix area. “It’s very rewarding work,” says Piller. “I get to come to work and make a difference in someone’s life every day. It’s an amazing opportunity I’ve been given.” Piller began working as an occupational therapist in 2006 and started her own practice in 2010. The business has grown exponentially since then. Currently the team of 45 occupational and speech therapists she manages provides service for more than 1,900 clients. Her team serves children with all kinds of challenges, from Down Syndrome and Cerebral Palsy, to general motor delays or sensory processing concerns. Many of her patients are on the autistic spectrum, which motivated Piller’s recent doctoral dissertation (she graduated from Texas Woman’s University in 2016). Her research focused on how the sensory environment impacts the classroom participation of preschool students with autism and sensory processing disorders. Her work on this topic has been published in American Journal of Occupational Therapy, Occupational Therapy Journal of Research, and several other academic publications. 

Piller specializes in sensory integration therapy and is one of only a few thousand practitioners to hold two certifications in sensory integration therapy. She is passionate about working with children and the relationship between sensory integration and learning. “I believe that all children should have the opportunity to learn, grow, and become independent in their environments. I am committed to helping children reach their true potential,” she said.

Piller is a member of the York College President’s Council. Her husband, Glenn, manages the IT needs of Piller Child Development. 

​Young Alumni of the Year:  Ben Smail ’12

Ben Smail is a high-producing realtor in the Omaha area who is well-loved by his many happy clients. He is often praised by buyers and sellers for his continual commitment to serving them as well as his track record of successful sales.

Testimonials about Smail's work focus on his passion for educating and encouraging clients. “I like doing the unexpected extras for my clients and I want them to know how much they’re cared about,” he said. “For some Realtors, the relationship ends once the check is cashed. I want to serve my clients and be valuable to them years beyond that.” It appears to be a winning strategy. The average Realtor in Omaha sells about six houses a year. Last year, Smail sold 60 houses. In 2019 he’s already sold 52. That puts him in within the top one percent of salespeople nationally affiliated with Better Homes & Gardens Real Estate.

In 2018 he was recognized with Better Homes & Gardens Real Estate Excellence in Marketing award, given annually to one agent out of more than 11,000 nationwide. Soon after, he was one of four in the nation recognized with the NextPAIGE Award from the company for his commitment to the company's core values: passion, authenticity, inclusion, growth, and excellence. This award recognizes industry professionals under 30 who live by these core values in their personal and professional lives. Smail's commitment to good financial management paired with his proven track record of sales has allowed him to be an Endorsed Local Provider for Dave Ramsey’s organization. The endorsement means he’s committed to guiding clients in alignment with Ramsey’s Christian finance principles.

Smail is very active at York College, working with the President’s Council to improve the student experience. Smail is married to fellow Panther Megan (Grimes ’10) Smail

​Servant Leader Award: Norman Morrow ’63 

Norman Morrow started his ministry to small, rural congregations as a teenager. He was living in Wichita and would travel to neighboring communities with his brother, where the pair would take turns preaching and leading worship. Their parents encouraged them in this work, but the young men were driven by their love for the Lord, according to Norman’s wife, Mary. This early start led to a long career in ministry. Norman attended York College for two years, then completed a Bible degree at Abilene Christian University (where he and Mary met). His first full time preaching job was in Maljamar, New Mexico, where he spent several years. He and Mary married in 1966 and moved to Kansas, where they would live for the next 52 years.

Norman worked as a mechanic and wheat farmer, while continuing to preach in small congregations. For a few years, he preached at two churches each Sunday. Eventually, the church in Saint Francis offered him the pulpit full-time. He served there for more than four decades. Eventually he retired from farming and mechanic work, but he was still very active in ministry. In addition to leading the congregation at Saint Francis, he was active in the community. He was a part of leading a weekly men’s Bible study that drew people from a cross-section of the area churches. He also had a longstanding weekly study with residents at a nursing home. 

He saw every venture, whether it was his participation in the Lion’s Club or chatting with someone as he fixed their engine, as a chance to spread the Gospel, said his son David Morrow ’98. Norman and Mary’s other children are John '91, Derek '00 and Doug. 
Norman also served on the board of trustees at York College for 31 years. He passed away unexpectedly on January 29, 2019. He is remembered as a constant encourager and a Godly man who devoted his life to ministry. He was instrumental in the strength of the church in Kansas and in the continued success of YC.