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Taylor University prepares for homecoming

UNDER THE SHINING LIGHTS:Verlin Custer, president of Custer Electric, replaces burnt out bulbs in the lights at Taylor University's Turner Stadium on Wednesday. Preparations for this weekend's homecoming activities are underway on campus this week.

BY Emily Rachelle Russell - erussell@chronicle-tribune.com

Taylor University is preparing to host about 2,500 alumni, parents and family members at its Homecoming and Family Weekend this Friday through Sunday.

The three-day event will include a special chapel service and a Harvest Festival dinner on Friday, food trucks and a concert Saturday and an all-campus worship service Sunday morning, according to a schedule posted online. Guests can also sit in on classes, visit residential halls, participate in a bike ride or 5K and attend several athletic events.

During the weekend’s events, President Emeritus Gene Habecker and his wife Marylou Habecker, Pulitzer-Prize winning Cincinnati, Ohio-based journalist Chrissie Thompson Fink and Ohio State University's men's basketball coach Chris Holtmann will be recognized and honored for their accomplishments, along with two other award honorees and three other Athletic Hall of Fame inductees.

Director of Media Relations Jim Garringer shared that the Habeckers will receive Taylor’s most prestigious award, the Legion of Honor, for their transformational leadership during Gene Habecker’s 11-year presidency. Fink, a 2008 Taylor graduate, will receive a Distinguished Service Young Alumnus award for her Pulitzer Prize-winning work as an investigative journalist covering the heroin epidemic in her current home of Cincinnati, Ohio. Holtmann will be inducted into Taylor’s Athletic Hall of Fame for his basketball playing career at the university.

This weekend at Taylor is unique in part due to the combination of homecoming with Parents and Family Weekend, which were brought together for a singular event three years ago.

Joyce Wood of Alumni Relations explained that many alumni are also parents and were having to choose one of the weekends to attend. Many of the events planned for each weekend were duplicates. The alumni office also felt that bringing more people on campus together at once would make the weekend more festive.

The weekend schedule is bursting with a wide variety of events — food, academic offerings, athletic events, family activities and more. Wood said the abundance of “highlights” is part of the planners’ effort to make the weekend interesting and engaging to a wide audience of all ages. Guests for the weekend will include alumni who just graduated in May 2018, alumni coming back for 50th, 55th or 60th reunions and parents and family members of current students. This schedule means there will be something for everyone.

Some highlights Wood pulled from the schedule include the chapel on Friday morning, the Sunday morning worship service and the Michael W. Smith concert on Saturday. According to a Taylor University press release, this will be the award-winning singer’s third time performing at Taylor. Wood also expects high attendance at the athletic events and the Friday evening music concert, where parents and family members often want to see their students perform.

Food is a big part of the weekend. According to Wood, a festive autumnal dinner will be served in the Hodson Dining Commons Friday evening. Saturday’s lunch will be a tailgate in the Odle Arena parking lot. For Saturday’s dinner, 10 food trucks will congregate in the parking lot to serve pizza, Southern-style cooking, ice cream, kettle corn, shaved ice, barbecue and menu items from local favorites like Payne’s and Rock's Concessions.

Garringer, who has worked at Taylor for over 30 years, looks forward to good weather and seeing many familiar faces this weekend.

“One of the greatest things about being able to do the job that I do is that you form relationships with so many different people who you knew as students, and you get to see them come back,” he said. "Whether it’s for a reunion at Taylor or … to be honored by Taylor University, it’s just a wonderful blessing and a privilege (to see them again).”