Olivet The Magazine | Closing the Distance from California to Bourbonnais

“As a grandparent, I am thankful for Godly professors who are helping my grandkids be the best Christians they can possibly be.”
Laura Warfel headshot

LW Warfel

February 19, 2024 Giving, Olivet The Magazine

ONU cousins

Lillian Wisner first heard about Olivet Nazarene University when she was 6 years old and growing up in Concord, California. Her church’s new pastor and his wife were Olivet alumni.

“When my husband, Ray, and I married, I worked to put him through college and seminary,” Lillian says. “He became a pastor in the Church of the Nazarene. We had four daughters together. All are married and blessed us with a total of 11 grandchildren. Our whole family lived within three blocks of one another for many years. Our grandchildren all went to the same Christian school, where Ray taught music. I was their Sunday school teacher. All of the cousins have a very close bond.”

Destined To Connect With Olivet
During Ray’s years of ministry, he and Lillian made a new Olivet connection. The parents of Dr. Lance Kilpatrick ’02, now associate dean of Olivet’s School of Education, pastored in the same district with the Wisners. The Kilpatricks also graduated from Olivet.

Lillian recalls Dr. Kilpatrick as a young man when he came to Canoe Camp, part of the Sacramento District summer camps. Ray served as the director. Campers would leave each morning to canoe down different parts of the Sacramento River.

“Lance would bring a youth group from San Jose to the camp,” she says. “As we got acquainted with him, he talked with us about Olivet.”

When Canoe Camp closed in 2014, Dr. Kilpatrick asked the Wisners if he could buy the canoes for Olivet students to use. He drove to northern California, picked up the canoes, returned them to Illinois and stored them at Manteno Church of the Nazarene.

Strengthening the Connection
In the late 2000s, two of Lillian and Ray’s daughters moved away from the family in California. One relocated to Pennsylvania, and one moved to Michigan. That was when another Olivet connection began.

“My granddaughter, Isabella McCleskey, was looking for a college and going on college visits in Michigan,” Lillian says. “She wants to be a music educator like Ray.”

Isabella and her mom then decided to make an unplanned visit to Olivet, where they met with Sonya Comer ’95, assistant professor in the School of Music, who talked with Isabella about the music program.

“As Isabella and her mom were leaving, she prayed with them,” Lillian says. “Isabella told her mom that day, ‘Olivet is home for me.’”

Cousins Natalie Broersma, a family and consumer sciences major; Makinzee Morrison, an education major; and Brody Coggins, an accounting and corporate finance major, are also freshmen at Olivet. Lillian shares, “Maki tells us, ‘Olivet is my place.’”

Even With Miles Between
“As a grandparent, I am thankful for Godly professors who are helping my grandkids be the best Christians they can possibly be,” Lillian says. “They are doing well academically, and I don’t worry about that. I want them to be at Olivet because the professors genuinely care about them and because they can grow spiritually there. That’s more important than grades.”

After a long fight with cancer, Ray passed away in 2020. Lillian and her two dogs now live close to family in Marysville, California, one hour north contact with one another through daily texts and timely phone calls.

“I’m not a traveler,” Lillian says. “I’ve never been to Olivet. I’ll probably never go there. But I’m praying and trusting that Olivet will continue to produce students who put God first and impact our world for Christ.”

From Olivet The Magazine, On Purpose – Winter 2024. Read the full issue HERE.

Laura Warfel headshot

LW Warfel

Laura Wasson Warfel is a story gatherer, writer, editor, and follower of Jesus Christ. A good listener, she distills details into meaningful communications. Her greatest joy is to bring others along with her on her faith journey. In 2015, she launched More Than A Widow, a ministry to help widows live beyond the label and find their more.

Student on main campus wearing pink sweater and holding water bottle.

Where Your Future Begins

We Believe. You Belong Here. Discover why Olivet is a place where faith meets calling. Take the first step today.

Plan a Visit Start my Application