HUD branch chief recognized for efforts during COVID
For large government agencies that oversee large projects on a regular basis, it’s not unusual for things to fall through the cracks. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the limitations and changes in procedures just made that more probable.
So it seems natural that Gerald Smith’s recent efforts to prevent just that would result in one of the highest honors presented by the U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Dr. Ben Carson. Gerald, who works as Branch Chief over the Asset Resolution Specialists Branch of HUD’s Office of Multifamily Housing based in Chicago and serving six states in the Midwest, received the special Secretary’s Award for Excellence citation in a virtual ceremony held Aug. 12.
“I was really taken back by this honor. It’s nice to be recognized but more important to me is to make a positive difference in the lives of those less fortunate and to be able to take the skills and education that I have obtained over the years and use it to the benefit of others,” says Gerald, who earned his bachelor’s degree at the San Antonio campus in 2010 and his master’s degree in 2012. “If you are making a difference in the lives of others, that’s what it’s all about.”
The case that brought Gerald to the attention of the award committee definitely fits that bill, ultimately meaning that 108 families in the Greenwood Manor affordable housing project were potentially able to remain in their Decatur, Ill., home.
Keeping families at home
It all started when Gerald learned in October 2019 that the property had received a Notice of Default. When this happens, the tenants are informed of the building’s closing and given Section 8 assistance in the form of Tenant Protection Vouchers allowing them to move to other HUD assisted housing anywhere in the nation. But as Gerald noted, it’s not that simple for many families.
“But the reality of those who live in subsidized housing in the inner-city is many of them don’t know anything outside of about a 5-10 mile radius. When you’ve worked at a site level like I have, you come to understand how highly dependent our tenants are on the services they receive, even sometimes for something so simple as filling out a money order. Some just don’t have those basic skill sets,” he explained. “When I heard they were going to issue vouchers, I thought this just is not that simple. It’s easy to do on paper, but where are these families going to go?”
Gerald put his detective skills and his compassionate spirit to work, investigating the breakdown for the property. He traveled the 180 miles to Decatur and found a great building in a great area but with some disrepair that needed definite attention. His research found that the building’s owner had been hospitalized for cancer treatment and believed negotiations already underway with the city and the prospective new buyers. They had applied for low income housing tax credits as part of their plan to rehab the building had been turned down, so they were in the process of working on an alternative plan. On the HUD side, it simply looked like unresponsive owners and thus the Notice of Default, which begins the process of relocating the tenants had started.
Working for success
Building a relationship with the new management company, he was able to work with the potential buyers and approve them to take over management operations at the site. The new company agreed to a comprehensive plan which required weekly updates and monthly reporting to meet the official HUD agency standards for approval. Working within COVID limits for on-site visits, they relied heavily on photographs and email communication.
“We worked together to put together a plan, ran it past the general counsel and then engaged with the Regional director, who agreed to a meeting with the city officials,” he said. “We had one chance to sell the plan and convince stakeholders that we could preserve this housing based on my evaluation of the plan.”
They succeeded, and in the final analysis, those 108 families got to stay in place, preserving just one of many affordable housing projects that are so needed – and in some shortage – across the nation. The bigger picture, Gerald says, is what motivated him to go above and beyond his normal job requirements.
“I never forget the real purpose (for my work). We can move up the corporate ladder and forget why we’re really here,” he says. “I find it rewarding to be the voice, the eyes and ears for the folks that call this place their home. If not for me intervening, most would not have had a good idea of what to do.”
What makes Gerald’s actions so remarkable is that he supervises nine Asset Resolution Specialists who typically carry a caseload of 60-70 properties at any given time, meaning their time is spread thinly. Gerald says his office usually deals at the macro level, overseeing large business agreements , which require the review of monthly reports and yearly reviews. But every now and then, a case like Greenwood Manor begs for more personal intervention. As someone who grew up in the Compton area of Los Angeles, Gerald knows how vital safe, decent housing can be.
The journey to HUD
Gerald traces his passion for people to his faith, an aspect of his life that first led him to complete his college degree at Wayland while working for the San Antonio Housing Authority after he left active duty with the U.S. Air Force in 1992. He spent 13 additional years with the Texas Air National Guard and was called back to active duty service after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.
During this period, Master Sergeant Smith served as his squadron's First Sergeant and managed a team of 22 Action Officers providing manpower support to 158 Active Duty and Air Guard Installations worldwide. He provided a central point of contact for more than 3,800 deployed reservists to guarantee critical security augmentation to many bases in the Middle East. Gerald retired with a combined 24 years of service in 2005 and was presented with the Texas Lone Star Distinguished Service Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal and Air For Force Commendation Medal (Third Oak Leaf Cluster) during a ceremony honoring the culmination of his career.
Gerald worked his way up the housing authority ranks to the position of Acting Assistant Director but found his career plateaued without the higher education. He earned both his undergraduate and graduate degrees at Wayland, attending full-time while working full-time, and found a home in the faith-based atmosphere and some major skills that have served him well.
“I was pleasantly impressed by how far those credentials really took me,” says Gerald, who applied with the U.S. Department of HUD after he received his master’s degree in 2012. He began as a Senior Troubled Project Manager and has already been promoted to Branch Chief in the Office of Multifamily Housing. “It has been extremely rewarding, and it’s amazing how much of what you’ve learned in school, that you’ll really apply.”
The faith-based aspect of Wayland was particularly appealing to Gerald.
“Going to Wayland was important to me as a God-fearing man. The atmosphere was just great,” he says. “My beliefs and the beliefs of Wayland – which says ‘Go ye therefore,’ and I know what that means – are in line. And that’s very important to me.”
Military alumni couple follows each other to degrees
Initially, Chris Schlegel said he had no intention of finishing his college degree. With his first experience out of high school less than stellar, he followed that with a 30-year career in the U.S. Navy that was much more successful.
But when his wife Patty Roebuck enrolled at Wayland’s Hawaii campus in 2013 to finish her bachelor’s degree, his tune began to change.
“She would come home and tell me about this course and was so excited, and I got jealous,” laughs Chris, who lives with Patty in Montgomery, Texas. “I got jealous that she was going to class, having fun and learning something that I had only ever heard one way my entire life.”
Impact of early courses
Patty said that her first Bible courses were the source of great discussion but also great enlightenment as both of the couple were raised Catholic and had not studied the scriptures in such a setting. Her sister Angie was living with them at the time and enrolled in the class with Patty, finding the same enjoyment in the Bible subject matter. In the end, it had a much more profound effect.
“It’s not that I was not religious or spiritual, but I truly started my walk with God while going to Wayland. It really opened my eyes to all these wonderful things I never had,” says Patty, who was asked to give the student address when she earned her bachelor’s degree. “Before then, faith wasn’t something I was really involved in. Going to Wayland opened my eyes that it wasn’t about the dogma; it was a beautiful story and beautiful history that there is a guiding spirit. It’s become more important to me to identify as a Christian and with those values and the beauty of it. It’s a big part of who we are now.”
Hearing what she was learning raised Chris’ curiosity. He also knew his military retirement was approaching and he’d be looking for civilian work. Despite his initial refusal at Patty’s urging to join her at Wayland, he started changing his mind. A degree couldn’t hurt.
Starting the journey
A few months later he enrolled at Wayland and set about to finish his degree in only a year, taking four classes per term that first few terms. He graduated in 2015 a few months after Patty. By then, she was already into her master’s degree work and the story repeated itself.
“I started looking at the job market and thinking if I really want to get my leg in the door and not just my foot, a master’s degree would be beneficial,” explained Chris, who then enrolled for the Master of Management degree in 2016, finishing that degree in 2017 just as he was about to retire.
Chris wrapped up a 30-year military career, most of which he spent on submarines running nuclear power plants. Initially planning to serve 4-6 years, he became fascinated with the work of subs and worked his way up to head the engineering department on the next three ships. He also served a few stints as an instructor to those working nuclear power plants and then ran the largest school in the Pacific fleet in Hawaii on the engineering weapons and damage control side. His last job was as a senior advisor on an admiral’s staff, working with ships undergoing overhaul at Pearl Harbor.
Patty spent her 30 years first as an intelligence analyst then joined the ship crews when women were allowed at sea. As a command master chief, she was senior advisor to the captain for several stints and for one deployment in Kuwait, where she processed Navy personnel in and out of the Middle East. Her last position was as the Admiral’s senior enlisted advisor running the ships out of Hawaii, the first woman to hold that position. She retired before Chris and headed to Texas.
Though both based in Hawaii at the time, their careers did not overlap often, and the couple actually met while serving stints in Navy recruiting and attending school in Pensacola, Fla. It wasn’t exactly love at first sight.
“I thought he was a chucklehead,” laughs Patty.
“I didn’t like her because she was just a loud mouth,” Chris adds. “About a week in, we realize we have to hang out with each other. We kept in contact and ended up at a refresher training in Chicago later.”
The couple were married in 2004 in Las Vegas and have enjoyed laughing together ever since. They have six children between them and one grandchild, along with some fur babies.
Chris and Patty are enjoying military retirement, and he is working in a project management role with Entergy, an energy company based in New Orleans, doing much the same work he did in the Navy. But following in his wife’s educational footsteps is not over.
One more diploma
When Patty decided to sign up for the second cohort in the Doctor of Management program with Wayland, Chris initially had zero interest. He felt fully qualified with his two degrees and did not want to tackle the challenges he saw her facing with the advanced degree.
One of those challenges, however, was not directly related to the educational pursuit. On Dec. 18, 2017, just a few days before Chris arrived in Montgomery and the first day of his new job, Patti had a fall in their home and sustained a traumatic brain injury. After two days in the neurological ICU and a few more in the regular neuro unit, Patty was allowed to go home. Chris urged her to take a break from the degree to recuperate fully, but she was having none of that. When the semester started back after the Christmas break, she was on board.
“It was very important to me; that was not going to be taken away from me,” she recalls. “The professors were very kind to me. I did all the work, and they told me honestly when the work was not where it should be. But I was able to stay with it and continue with the program. I would literally have lost my mind if someone told me to quit.”
Patty stayed the course and finished her degree, thankful to Dr. Samantha Murray for her guidance as her project chair. The couple journeyed to Plainview when she received her doctoral degree in December 2019 and enjoyed seeing the more traditional side of the Wayland family. It has made them appreciate the breadth of the Wayland story and their part in that.
Following once more
While Chris still thought he didn’t have time or need for the degree, he later decided he might jump in as well.
“I know how the program is run from an outsider’s perspective. I love the subject material, which is management and leadership and things that I am involved in my whole life,” says Chris. “I got in (to my company) because they were looking for people from the outside to do internal assessment but they didn’t have those skill sets and I did. Now I’m in, and I realize I need a bigger toolbox to reach into to help influence change across the organization in a positive manner. I need to expand my skill set.”
“(Wayland) is something we’ve become very proud of and it has been such a blessing to us,” Chris says. “We keep coming back because we know the faculty and their dedication to the students.”
Patty decided to spend the rest of her GI Bill dollars on another master’s degree, this time in public administration with an emergency management specialization, opting to continue learning and growing her skills to a new career in retirement.
Devotional: Go out and love on someone
Genuine love... biblical love. The world tells us that love is merely an emotion; as long as you feel in love, you love. Once you no longer feel in love, there is no love.
The Bible knows nothing of this kind of love. Oh to be certain, biblical love touches our emotions, but it is not based on our emotions. Worldly love is carnal, shallow and far to often self-centered and self-serving. It knows little of sacrifice but always asks the question, "what's in it for me?" Love based in this world rarely goes the distance and is never satisfied.
The love that comes from God is pure, giving and sacrificial. It is more concerned with the needs of others than self. It always shows itself in what it does, not in how it feels. It is not shallow; it is committed. It does not celebrate evil and certainly does not rejoice in injustice. It is accountable; it challenges us to do right.
Biblical love is always pointed outward; it's looking for the opportunity to bless others. It esteems other more highly than self. It gives its life to others and if need be, it gives its life for others.
This is the love of Jesus... this is the love He has called us to. This is the love that reveals we are the followers of Christ. Go on out there today and love on people! Our world sure needs it these days.
Tony (Lawrence) Pierce earned his degree in 1983 and has served as pastor of First Baptist Church Fountain Hills in Arizona for 13 years of his 30 years in ministry. He and wife Teresa, a 1981 graduate, live in Mesa. They have two grown children and four grandchildren. This devotional is an excerpt from Tony's devotional book "From a Pastor's Heart" available for $10 through the church by calling (480) 837.3374 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the History Files
This month's look back at history is a testimony by alumnus Donna Rebadow, who played for the Queen Bees and earned her Bachelor of Science degree in 1974. Donna was part of the group of Flying Queens who were honored in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Honor in September 2019. The following is an excerpt of Donna's thoughts on her ring commemorating the event, printed original on the Flying Queens Foundation Facebook page.
I just put in my order for a commemorative Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame ring. I’m flooded with a TON of emotions and want to capture this moment. There were NOT a lot of opportunities for young girls, nor women for that matter, when I was growing up. In the late 60s, young girls who liked sports were called “tomboys” and I was one of those “tomboys.” I liked to watch sports, play sports, and read about sports all the time. It was my “outlet.” There were no female role models for me.
My first love was basketball. I loved the feeling of jumping, flying, floating, dribbling and shooting. I was the only girl with a basketball that I ever saw until I entered junior high school. Then finally, I could play basketball! I was in heaven!! I think it was the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) that provided this outlet. By the time I got to high school (1966-70) there were very strange rules put on girls’ basketball by athletic conferences. We played “6 man” basketball, and we could only play two games a week. Meanwhile, I was playing 3-4 games on Saturday and then maybe again on Sunday in basketball tournaments playing AAU ball.
During my freshman year at Erie Community College, a friend of mine was training for a spot on the US Olympic Cycling team. I asked him if the United States had a women’s basketball team. He gave me the address for someone in the US Olympic movement so I wrote a letter asking for a chance to be on the US Women’s Basketball team. That letter somehow ended up on the desk of one Mr. Harley Redin at Wayland Baptist College in Plainview, Texas.
Mr. Redin wrote me back using the backside of the original letter, saying that women’s basketball wasn’t an Olympic sport yet, but they did have a team for the Pan Am games, and that he was the coach of the 1971 team. He suggested that I plan a visit to Wayland Baptist College. So, off I went in January 1972 to try out for the Wayland Baptist Flying Queens. I wasn’t offered a scholarship but was told to come back and enroll after I graduated from Erie in 1972 and see what would happen. So I did.
I had a horrible Junior year. It was tough mentally, emotionally, spiritually, culturally and athletically. In every way possible, it was bad! I was relegated to the “junior varsity” – the Queen Bees. How humiliating! I was homesick. I called my dad every week. I didn’t understand the West Texas dialect, religion, culture or quiet prejudice against “Yankees.” This was just at the end of September!! I had October, November and December to get through! My dad pleaded with me to just hang in there. Things would change, I would change, this would make me a better person. I was stuck! Okay – so, Wayland, the Queen Bees, and Texas it was.
Then things DID start to change. I changed my roommate, I changed my attitude, I changed how I viewed and interacted with Texans. My Queen Bee friends started helping me out. I decided to throw myself into school. Wayland was starting to grow on me, and I totally forgot about transferring. I got involved with the college newspaper and a couple of campus organizations. I stayed and graduated from Wayland Baptist College in May 1974 with a double major and a 4.0 in psychology. I feel as if I really grew up in West Texas. I came to love Texas, those crazy talking Texans and my time and life at Wayland.
Fast forward 43 years: I get an email from the Hutcherson Flying Queens Foundation stating that, as a member of the Flying Queens women’s basketball program at Wayland (1948-82), I am eligible to purchase a commemorative Hall of Fame ring celebrating Wayland’s 2019 Induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. I put on my vintage Wayland Baptist College jersey and began thinking about this opportunity.
Should I get a ring? I felt as if I really didn’t earn it. I never played for the varsity team. I played for Marsha Sharp, the coach of the Queen Bees, who went on to an actual Hall of Fame coaching career at Texas Tech and is in the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. All of this history and all of these emotions came flooding back. I thought of all of the lessons I learned, all of the friendships I made, and all of the obstacles I’d overcome… because of Wayland. Then, I ordered my commemorative Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Ring AND will wear it proudly, as a member of the Wayland Baptist College Women’s Basketball Family!
Yes, I bought ring and I will wear it . . .
- . . . For all of the blood, sweat and tears from playing women's team sports in the late 60s/early 70s.
- . . .For putting up with all of the crazy rules and notions that people had about girls and women in sports.
- . . . For all the names I have been called, all the names that all of us had to endure.
- . . .For knocking down the doors for all of the girls and women who would come after us.
- . . .As a reminder that there still is prejudice and discrimination in the United States, and in the world against women, people of color and people who are just different.
I will wear it for ALL of the young girls around the world that now have female athletic role models. I will wear it for me and for my dad, my family, my teammates, and for all the right reasons.
Meet Your Alumni Board: Paul Kite
One of our newest alumni board members has the distinction of earning two degrees from Wayland but from two different campuses. Paul Kite, who works at the City of Plainview overseeing water utilities, earned his undergraduate degree at the Amarillo campus in 2014, then pursued his Master of Public Administration degree after moving to Plainview, completing most of the degree online and finishing this summer.
After moving to Plainview for work, Paul and his family enjoyed coming to sporting events on campus, and he signed his children up for the Pioneer Pals program. Being connected to the Wayland family in a new way inspired him to have a new interest in serving on the alumni board.
"Living and working in Plainview, I understand the impact Wayland has on the community," he said. "The impact Wayland has had on my life has been tremendous. I wanted to give back for all it has done for me professionally and spiritually."
Some of Paul's favorite memories in Amarillo were being greeted by long-time advisor Connie Jackson when arriving for class. He enjoyed camaraderie with others like himself.
"I liked being around a group of classmates that was as devoted to succeed as me. The professors didn’t always make it easy but they believed in you," he recalled of that time. His master's degree was more about late night studying, online discussion boards and visits to the business office to make payments.
Paul noted several professors who were special to his journey. Leslie Boyd in Amarillo stood out for her ability to inspire students to do their best, and Dr. Trish Trifilo with WBU Online, whom he said made the online experience much more interactive with video and her shared thoughts.
Paul said he would encourage anyone to pursue their education with Wayland, whether traditional or otherwise.
"Once you start you will not regret anything," he said. "It has been an amazing experience that has transformed my life. You will have doubts but professors and other students will help you along the way. You are going to get out of it what you put into it."