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2012 recipient: Larry Willms

Larry Willms

The Alumni Committee of Conrad Grebel University College is pleased to announce the selection of Larry Willms as this year’s recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Service award.

Larry Willms was a fixture at Conrad Grebel in the 80’s; serving as Don and in a variety of student leadership roles. He also managed to take many Grebel courses in Peace and Conflict Studies (PACS) and Religious Studies while studying Mechanical Engineering.

Studying a combination of mechanical engineering and religion may sound like an odd mix, but Larry found it to be a perfect combination as a basis for his career as a family physician (along with his wife Marilyn), currently working at the First Nation Mishkeegogamang, and in the Emergency Department of the Meno Ya Win Health Centre in Sioux Lookout, Ontario. "Helping people who are ill involves partly understanding the body as a complex machine and partly understanding that a person is much more than the body," he notes. After 15 years, Larry says that his job is never boring; practicing medicine in this setting "involves a complex mix of biomedicine, socioeconomic factors, local politics, and more."

"I have many fond memories of Grebel," says Larry. "I arrived quite naive to larger questions of faith and to the interplay between vocation, a suffering world, and the spiritual path. Grebel was the place where lifelong friendships were forged, and the foundations for my current vocation were laid. Of course, it was also just plain great fun."

Larry completed his medical studies at McMaster in 1994, where he met his wife Marilyn Koval. In 2004, he completed the Fellowship in Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona. Integrative Medicine is a reform movement within medicine that seeks to restore older healing traditions, self-care, and holism, to the current biomedical paradigm. "This progression to a more holistic view was in no small part a consequence of sensibilities I developed at Grebel," Larry notes.

In the first years following his days at the College, Larry was heavily involved with Peace Brigades International (El Salvador and Guatemala). He also worked with Mennonite Voluntary Service in Fresno California as a VORP (Victim Offender Reconciliation Program) mediator, and also was interim co-pastor at Warden Woods Mennonite Church in 1987-88. He spent a term in Chiapas, Mexico in 1995 where he and Marilyn combined medical work at the Altamirano Hospital with documenting human rights abuses associated with the Zapatista uprising.

In 1998 he was part of a delegation that went into war-torn Iraq as part of a team sponsored by Jubilee Partners, delivering medicines to several children’s hospitals in defiance of the US embargo.

Since 1998, Larry and Marilyn have homeschooled their three children and continued their medical practice among the Ojibway and Ojicree First Nations of northwestern Ontario. They also attend St. Andrews United Church, a small, socially active congregation in Sioux Lookout.

Larry provides an inspirational example of following an interesting life path. "He provides Grebel graduates with a prime example of how one can follow their passions and use their education to make a difference not only in their own back yard but in the broader community and around the world. This type of intentional living fits well with Grebel’s mission to seek wisdom, nurture faith, and pursue justice and peace in service to church and society," said Wendy Cressman Zehr, Alumni Committee Chair.

The Alumni Committee will present the 2012 Distinguished Alumni Service Award to Larry at a Community Supper this fall.