This story was originally published as part of the winter edition of The Master’s University Magazine. Read the full magazine here.
When we ask alumni about their favorite memories of Los Angeles Baptist College, The Master’s College, or The Master’s University, one theme consistently emerges: friendships.
When people reflect on their time as students, they inevitably think about the foundational relationships they formed here — relationships that, in many cases, are still going strong years (or even decades) after graduation.
For this story, we asked alumni to talk about ongoing friendships that formed during their college years.
Some of these friends live in the same place and work side-by-side. Others support each other from across the country or the globe. But in every case, those involved in the friendship are striving to love others the way Christ has called us to. We hope these stories encourage you as much as they have encouraged us.
When Dr. Gregg Frazer first arrived at LABC as a freshman in 1974, he made a beeline for the basketball court and joined a pick-up game.
One of the other players that day? Dr. John Stead, professor of history. After the game, Stead invited Frazer and two other students to a Dodger game that night.
It was the beginning of a friendship that continues to this day — a friendship that has both shaped Frazer’s career and created an academic program.
“My first couple years at LABC, I worked on my general education classes,” Frazer says. “I had five majors I was considering, and I went and talked to the heads of each department. But on registration day for my junior year, I went to Dr. Stead and told him, ‘OK, I’m a history major.’ And I picked that major largely because of Dr. Stead. I tell my students today that my major was Stead-ology; I took some 40 units from him.”
On top of the history major, Frazer and another student also asked Stead to teach them about politics, becoming LABC’s first-ever political studies minors.
“Dr. Stead created the program for us,” Frazer says. “There was no political studies major at the time.”
Then, 10 years after graduating, Frazer heard from Stead, who by then was serving as the school’s academic vice president.
“He said, ‘I want to start a political studies major, and I want you to come and be the one to do it,’” Frazer says. “So I did.”
That was 35 years ago. Ever since, Frazer and Stead have taught side-by-side in TMU’s history and political studies department. Today, their office doors are feet apart inside the John P. Stead School of Humanities, where Frazer serves as dean.
“One of the greatest blessings in my life was to watch Gregg mature,” Stead says. “Not only as a tremendously committed Christian, but also as an outstanding example of academic scholarship.”
Kathleen Thomson and Cindy Hallman didn’t know each other before college — but even still, their paths to LABC were connected, and their paths have been connected ever since over the course of a 40-year friendship.
Thomson came to LABC in 1975 as a physical education major.
“They had just started women’s sports that year, and I was really involved in that,” Thomson says. Thomson also sang in the summer gospel team, a mixed quartet that traveled and performed at camps and churches up and down the coast.
“During the summer after my junior year, we were at a camp in Carnation, Washington, and Cindy Hallman was a lifeguard and counselor there,” Thomson says.
Hallman was two years into college at that time. But Thomson talked to her about the possibility of transferring to LABC. After much prayer in less than a week, Hallman decided to come to the campus, sight unseen, as a liberal studies major to pursue her lifelong dream of teaching.
From there, Thomson and Hallman bonded over athletics, playing together on the volleyball, fastpitch softball, and basketball teams.
After graduation, their connection with each other and the school continued. Thomson married her husband, David, on North Campus and had her wedding reception in the Student Center. Hallman married Jeff, a fellow LABC athlete and a longtime friend of Thomson’s husband.
“We always stuck together,” Hallman says. They attended the same church and the same Sunday school class for many years, and when the Thomsons began raising kids, the Hallmans became godparents. Cindy was a teacher and Kathleen a substitute teacher in the Saugus Union School District together for a time.
Today, they serve together in the Pearl C. Shaffer School of Education, Thomson as a credential analyst and Hallman as an associate professor. A huge part of their friendship now is laboring together to prepare students to serve Christ in the essential field of teaching.
“We’ve kept up with how to make our classes better, to allow our students to be the teachers they need to be,” Hallman says. “And that is important because it’s a tough job. Children must have someone who’s passionate about what they’re doing.”
A gregarious group of freshman men’s soccer players arrived at The Master’s College in the fall of 1986.
The newcomers didn’t immediately endear themselves to everyone on campus (“Oh, they’re just those Soccerheads,” some would say). And it’s true, the players may have had some maturing to do. Nonetheless, the group was able to lay the foundation for a winning program, and over time, they won their classmates over, too. After graduation, a number of the players have stayed in touch.
The group eventually expanded to include soccer alumni from the 1990s and 2000s. Frequency of communication and time together has ebbed and flowed, but an enduring camaraderie and interest in each other’s spiritual lives has remained. Tim Tallman (TMC, ’91), largely considered the Soccerheads’ leader, shares devotionals and sermons in group text messages. He has also hosted reunions at his home in Louisville, Kentucky, on multiple occasions.
During those reunions, 10 to 20 guys descend on his home for three days of golfing, catching-up, and engaging in Christ-centered discussion.
“Every time the Soccerheads get together, there is nonstop laughing and reminiscing,” Tallman says. “It’s crazy how we all can remember small details of games from over 30 years ago. But what’s most important is our spiritual brotherhood. We relish the opportunity to encourage each other and share what the Lord is teaching us. It’s amazing.”
As a pastor, it’s nice to have someone outside your church you can turn to for advice on especially difficult matters.
It doesn’t hurt if that person is your best friend from college.
The friendship between Mark Spansel and Steve Balentine crystallized at The Master’s College as they roomed together in Waldock Hall and served together on ASB — Spansel as president, Balentine as chaplain.
The two men graduated from The Master’s Seminary in 1997 before spending the subsequent decades in ministry. Balentine has served as a pastor at San Gabriel Community Church in San Gabriel, California, for the past 26 years. Spansel worked at TMC before serving as a pastor in Corona, California, and then in northeast Ohio. In 2019 he returned to Santa Clarita, where he’s now a discipleship pastor at Crossroads Community.
Over the years, Spansel and Balentine have encouraged each other with timely phone calls and visits. Balentine preached the installment ceremony at Spansel’s church outside Cleveland and visited on one of Spansel’s birthdays during a particularly challenging time.
“Steve is pretty much the go-to for me when it comes to ministry struggles, when I just need to talk something out,” Spansel says. “We have a lot of history, and we’re very like-minded in ministry. It really is a Proverbs 18:24-kind of friendship.”
Now that they both live in the Greater Los Angeles area, they meet up for coffee once a month. They still make each other laugh, but they say that’s not the main thing that’s bonded them together.
“We love the same things,” Balentine says. “The Lord, the church, the Word, our wives, our kids.”
Says Spansel, “There’s also a lightheartedness. Student Life was big for both of us. The community and discipleship that took place in the dorms and on campus — our friendship was a product of that.”
For two decades, they’ve gotten together nearly every summer to reminisce and remind each other to live for Christ.
Mike Penberthy, Bobby Bandara, Steve Garrett, Matt Ratzlaff, Jes Dailey, Ken Brown, and Kirk Welch all attended TMC in the early 1990s.
Since graduation, they’ve moved to different parts of the country (Welch, a pastor in Indiana, is the farthest east), and they’ve taken on different careers (Penberthy works for the Denver Nuggets basketball team, Bandara is in construction, Ratzlaff is in real estate, Brown owns a custom cabinetry company, Dailey is director of a large bottling plant, and Garrett teaches and coaches high school basketball). But beginning in 2003, they’ve kept coming back together because of their bond in Christ and the friendships they formed at TMC. The only year they’ve missed was 2011, due to the national economic downturn.
“The group has become really close through the guys being intentional,” Bandara says. “We ask each other the hard questions, as far as how we’re really doing. If we were to ask our wives how we’re doing, what would they say? We have those types of conversations. We’ve made a point to say, ‘Listen, man, these three days together, we’ve just got to commit to it.’”
Usually they meet in Orange County or Shaver Lake, outside of Fresno, California. The three-day gatherings consist of golf, good food, and plenty of spiritual conversation. (They used to play pickup basketball, but those days are long gone.) On the last day, they always spend time in prayer.
“Christ is the center of the group,” Penberthy says. “After that comes love, accountability, and friendship.”
There’s a standard truism: Most college friendships will not be quite as close after graduation as they were during school. But for the Bohrs and the Anthonys, it was quite the opposite.
While Mike and Danielle Bohr and Ryan and Michelle Anthony all majored in different subjects as students, their paths crossed because of their involvement in Chorale and Majesty. But when the Bohrs graduated in 1998 and the Anthonys followed in 2000, their friendship was somewhat incidental.
“I really didn’t even become friends with Ryan and Michelle until after we graduated,” Danielle remembers. “My husband was friends with them first.”
It was music ministry that brought the couples together.
“My wife and I went right into music ministry after we graduated,” Mike says. “We went to a church up in the Antelope Valley, and the Anthonys followed us.”
Ryan served as a sound technician for the Bohrs’ music ministry, and Michelle joined in as a singer.
“That was when we really got close and became best friends,” Mike says. “And we started our long tradition of spending New Year’s Eve together.”
That tradition has been going for the past 22 years.
Now, the Bohrs live in Van Nuys and the Anthonys are in Newhall. Mike works in real estate and solar consulting, Ryan teaches at Legacy Christian Academy, and Danielle and Michelle serve as stay-at-home moms. Their kids (the Bohrs’ four and the Anthonys’ two) love spending time together as much as their parents do.
In fact, the oldest sons of both families are now at TMU and singing in Chorale together.
“It’s been a blessing from the Lord that we’ve been able to maintain a close relationship and grow together as friends,” Mike says. “And having our kids together at TMU is a blessing, too. We love the relationships that they’re establishing there.”
Michelle agrees, saying that TMU was instrumental in making their friendship last.
“The foundation of faith and truth we received at The Master’s University really was and has been the backbone of our close friendship all these years,” she says. “That’s why we feel strongly about our kids going to TMU, as well.”
The time difference is 12 ½ hours. So when Nicole Williams sends a late-night text message from western India, it’s received by Kellie Cunningham and Beth Busenitz early in the morning in Southern California.
That hasn’t stopped the trio from staying in touch over the years after graduating as music majors from TMC. During college, they grew close through classes, singing in The Master’s Chorale, and serving at Grace Community Church. Beyond that, Nicole and Beth were involved in a serious car accident, the aftermath of which brought all three girls closer.
Since graduation, Nicole has served in India with her husband, Sammy, also a TMC alum, for more than two decades. They return to the U.S. every couple years and always get together with Kellie, Beth, and Beth’s family of six. In fact, when Nicole brought her daughter Hannah to TMU this fall, they spent time with the Busenitz family getting Hannah ready for the semester. Hannah is also taking a piano pedagogy class from Kellie, an adjunct professor at TMU. “Twenty-five years later, my best friends are taking care of my girl,” Nicole says.
Beth and Kellie, both of whom live in Santa Clarita, have served together in various capacities at Grace Community. Even with Nicole so far away, the three women continue to build up each other spiritually.
Says Kellie, “The reason we are so much like family is because the Lord is primary in each of our lives. And that’s so evident in the darkest, hardest times and in the most exciting and wonderful times.”
The friendship between Sarah Ehrsam and April Board proved particularly precious in December 2020 and the months following, when Ehrsam was diagnosed with breast cancer and began treatment. Board texted her friend every day to check in on how she was doing and prepared home-cooked meals for Ehrsam to reheat.
Says Board, “It was such an encouragement to me spiritually to see her walk through this really difficult trial and how He grew her faith and trust in Him. She never wavered in that. She didn’t want her suffering to be in vain; she wanted to be able to point people to Christ and encourage them any way she could.”
Ehrsam, in turn, was encouraged by her friend’s persistent care. “April is somebody who loves other people very well,” she says. “She’s very others-focused. She’s always that consistent, empathetic person you know you can call.”
Ehrsam and Board’s friendship began in fall 2000 when they both transferred to TMC — Ehrsam to major in biblical studies, and Board to major in business. They met as wingmates in Sweazy Hall, and in the spring, they had two classes together.
“April was the only person I knew in that first class,” Ehrsam says, “and we would get lunch together before the second class. That was how we really got to know each other.”
After graduation, April married Darren Board (TMC ’03) and moved several times, but Sarah and April worked to keep their friendship strong. Now they’re both back in Southern California, with the Boards living in Bakersfield and Ehrsam in Santa Clarita working as an athletic trainer at College of the Canyons. “Even with all of those moves, she’s my best friend,” Ehrsam says. “She’s my iron-sharpening-iron friendship.”
Ehrsam’s trial (she is now cancer free) was just the latest example of how their friendship continues to strengthen and sharpen them.
“We know we’re there for each other to listen and to pray,” Ehrsam says. “We rejoice with each other and weep with each other. And we encourage each other with Christ’s truth. I’m just super thankful for her.”
Adrienne McCabe will tell you there isn’t anything extraordinary about her friendship with Amy Kidder and Hannah Leake.
McCabe says the women have simply taken what they learned about Christ-honoring relationships at TMC and kept it going.
“To be a good friend, you need to be in each other’s lives and ask questions and be consistent,” McCabe says. “It’s been 13 years of that.”
These days McCabe is based in Santa Clarita, but she frequents other states (her job as a project manager for Disney corporate HR provides the work-life balance that allows her to do so). When she’s in Maryland, she stays with Leake, who works in procurement for Geon Technologies. Kidder lives in Missouri and is a stay-at-home mother with three young children.
As you can imagine, the women are busy. Text messages can go long unanswered. Because of that, they make a point of scheduling phone calls to catch up.
They also look for opportunities to travel together. Several months ago, they spent a weekend in Asheville, North Carolina, getting coffee and massages and continuing their totally normal but exceptionally consistent friendship.
“Having a good friendship is harder when you’re older,” McCabe says. “It’s really easy to be like, ‘I don’t live there anymore,’ or ‘I don’t have kids so I can’t relate to you.’ But we’ve consistently found common ground. And if it’s not common ground, we care enough about the other person to know what’s going on in their lives, even if we can’t relate.”
Maddie Olling travels the country and the world for her wedding photography business.
Olling shot 42 weddings this year. And since taking up the gig full-time several years ago, she estimates she’s worked in more than 20 states and four countries. In any given year, she might spend 280 days away from home.
More than ever, she says she’s aware of her need for community. That’s one reason why she moved last year to Anchorage, Alaska, where she’s surrounded by TMU friends like Hannah Edwards (Karlberg), Taylor Cherry (Brooks), and Mary Sliwinski.
“It’s been really fun. I was burnt out from traveling for work, as you can imagine, and I have some really close friends up there and a good church,” Olling says. “It made it easy to jump back into life when I was home because I had people I love nearby.”
When Olling travels, she makes it a priority to stay with TMU friends or to visit a TMU-affiliated church. Recently, she spent time with TMU alums Wyatt and Jessica Sosey in Paris, where Olling was shooting a wedding.
“It’s essential to have accountability as a believer,” Olling says. “When you’re not able to go to your home church or have a consistent schedule every week, it can be easy to not read the Word or not have the right thinking. So having those people who know me so well and have the same worldview and values is incredibly grounding.”
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