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Gardner-Webb’s Annual Community Memorial Day Observance Scheduled for May 24

Retired U.S. Air Force Veteran Master Sgt. John Whitaker Speaker for Service

BOILING SPRINGS, N.C.—Retired Master Sgt. John Whitaker, a decorated war veteran, will be the featured speaker for Gardner-Webb’s Annual Community Memorial Day Observance and Prayer Gathering. The service will be held on Friday, May 24, at 9:30 a.m. in front of Hamrick Hall. In case of rain, the program will be held in Dover Chapel.

Each year, the University pauses to remember the lives of those who have died in military service to their country. The national Memorial Day observance dates back to 1868 and exists to recognize and remember those who paid the ultimate price in order to make the world a safer place.

Retired Master Sgt. John Whitaker, U.S. Air Force

The program will begin with a welcome and invocation by Vice President for Christian Life and Service and University Chaplain Dr. Josh Parrott. Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Music Dr. Aaron Rice will sing the national anthem. Vice President for Advancement Nate Evans will lead the responsive reading from Psalm 67:1-7. Gardner-Webb President Dr. William M. Downs will introduce the speaker.

Whitaker, a native of Gastonia, N.C., serves as discipleship pastor for City Church, a multiple campus church of over 3,500 members. He is also executive director of Hope4Gaston, a Christian non-profit that over the past 10 years has provided food to over 500,000 individuals, remodeled over 800 houses for families in need, and operates a free clothing store that has served over 250,000 individuals. Whitaker also volunteers as the chaplain for the Gastonia Police Department, providing ministry support for 190 officers and administrative staff. He is a graduate of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Matthews, N.C. He is married to Amy, their blended family includes two daughters, three sons, and four grandchildren.

He entered the U.S. Air Force after graduating from Hunter Huss High School in 1986 and served 25 years, retiring in 2011. Whitaker spent 10 years of his military service flying in support of America’s War on Terror. He has accumulated over 2,500 hours of total flight time as a C-130H3 Flight Engineer. Whitaker has over 1,000 combat hours flying missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Whitaker was awarded the U.S. Air Force Meritorious Service Medal, The Air Medal, seven times for combat aerial operations; the Arial Achievement Medal, twice; Afghanistan Campaign Medal, The Air Force Combat Action Medal, for direct combat engagement against enemy forces, and The Global War on Terrorism Medal and several other accommodations for valor and service. He also has over 500 hours of flight time dedicated to humanitarian missions involving hurricane relief, providing food in developing countries and firefighting missions in the Western United States.

After Whitaker’s remarks and devotion, Vice President for Student Development and Dean of Students Lesley Villarose will conduct the Remembrance of The Fallen: Silence is observed as the bell tolls 21 times, the highest military honor to those who died defending our freedom and democracy. Associate Vice President of Marketing Wilson Brooks will play Taps. Downs will give closing remarks, and Associate Minister for the University for Pastoral Care Stacy Simmons will offer the benediction.

Auxiliary aids will be made available to persons with disabilities upon request 10 working days prior to the event.  Please call 704-406-4270 or email [email protected] with your request.

Gardner-Webb University is North Carolina’s recognized leader in private, Christian higher education. A Carnegie-Classified Doctoral/Professional University, GWU is home to nine colleges and schools, more than 80 undergraduate and graduate majors, and a world-class faculty. Located on a beautiful 225-acre campus in Boiling Springs, N.C., Gardner-Webb prepares graduates to impact their chosen professions, equips them with the skills to advance the frontiers of knowledge, and inspires them to make a positive and lasting difference in the lives of others. Ignite your future at

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