Young Life Alumni Awards

The Young Life Office of Alumni and Friends presents two awards annually to deserving alumni: The Young Life Distinguished Alumni Award and The Alumni Service to Young Life Award. Below are the stories of this year’s worthy recipients.

Young Life Distinguished Alumni Award
Chief Justice Don and Carol Lemons

Don Lemons’ connection to Young Life began in the late 1960s when, as a student at the University of Virginia, he was asked by local parents and a clergyman to start a Young Life club in Charlottesville. “I had never heard of Young Life,” Don said, “but immediately recognized how worthwhile this ministry would be.” Meanwhile, Carol was a student at the University of Maryland, and a Young Life leader at Duval High School alongside Chuck Reinhold. Upon graduation, Don joined Young Life staff and a training program led by Reinhold. “I went to a reception for new staff at a beautiful home in Northwest D.C.,” Don said. “At this beautiful home, I met a beautiful volunteer leader who later, by the grace of God and my good fortune, became my wife.”

The newly married couple led club together in Herndon, Virginia, where the local committee chair was also a Juvenile Court judge. The judge asked Don to join his staff as a probation officer, and the seeds for a career in the legal field were planted.

After moving to Richmond, Carol was the area representative for Amicus, Young Life’s student exchange and hosting program for international kids, and they both served on their local committee. The Lemonses’ three children attended Young Life camps, while Don and Carol chaperoned junior high camps and served as adult guest hosts at Windy Gap and Saranac Village.

Don was recently elected to be the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Virginia, where in this capacity he is responsible for administering the entire judicial branch of government in Virginia.

David “Tuck” Knupp, a former Young Life staff member for more than 30 years and now pastor at Swift Creek Presbyterian Church, writes, “As Don’s career trajectory has taken him into ever-greater spheres of influence, he and Carol have never lost their interest in and love for the mission of Young Life. Don’s gifts of wisdom and teaching, and Carol’s gifts of hospitality and friendship, along with the solid Christ-centeredness and sense of humor that they both share, have continued to encourage and mentor many in the Young Life family. They have truly been valued lifelong partners with all of us in Young Life.”

Alumni Service to Young Life Award
Russ and Sharon Stolle

In the late 1970s, a senior at Oak Park-River Forest High School in Illinois gave a self-professed “spiritually disinterested sophomore cheerleader” named Sharon a ride to Young Life club. By the summer of 1978, this “now-interested” teenage girl began following Jesus during the 15 minutes of silence at Windy Gap.

Fast forward to 1987; Sharon is now married to Russ Stolle, and the two reside in Houston, Texas. At that time Sharon became, in her own words, a “full-time volunteer” for Young Life, leading at Lamar High School and serving as head work crew boss at Frontier Ranch. Soon, the Stolles moved to Austin, and Sharon found that many of the kids they knew in Houston were now at the University of Texas at Austin. This was a season full of college Bible studies, welcoming girls and their friends into their home, and raising a family. It also became a season of serving Young Life as committee members in Austin and, for the past 10 years, in Montgomery County where the Stolles currently live.

In 2010, Sharon pioneered WyldLife in The Woodlands, in conjunction with her daughter Emma and three of Emma’s friends. Today, Sharon continues to serve as a volunteer WyldLife leader and has seen more than 120 kids go to WyldLife camp over three camping seasons. For his part, Russ’s many contributions have included: serving on committee for more than 10 years; providing much-needed financial support; and being a listening ear and source of encouragement to many kids, leaders (including Sharon) and staff.

When asked why, after all these years, she still serves the Lord through Young Life, Sharon replied, “In Chicago 35 years ago, people I never met were running clubs, attending committee meetings, praying and giving so Young Life would be in my community to reach kids like me. They loved me, though I was a stranger. I was made for this. We all were. We have had the opportunity as a family to love with an ‘irrational love for strangers.’ Because of this irrational love, I am blessed and grateful. I have no greater joy than this, to see my children (and spiritual children) walk in truth.”

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