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Jeff Uphaus Memorial Tournament and Scholarship
The Jeff Uphaus Memorial Basketball Tournament, held each fall at MNU, is both a special way to honor the memory of a great alumnus who exemplified Christian character and to keep focused on those traits.
Jeff Uphaus (’89) was the first basketball recruit signed by newly appointed head coach Rocky Lamar in 1986. Jeff had just finished his freshman year at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, and elected to transfer to MNU to play basketball. After graduating with a degree in business, Jeff worked for Deloitte & Touche, a Kansas City-area financial services provider, and was on track to become a principal in the firm. When Jeff passed away suddenly on April 22, 2000, of a heart attack, he was doing one of the things he still loved most: playing basketball. He left behind his wife, Dalene (Shellenberger ’91) and three adoring sons: Grant, Cole, and Reece. His many friends began to think of a way to honor him, and from that came the tournament and scholarship.
Chuck Nunamaker (’75), longtime family friend and a prime mover behind those efforts, says he enjoys staying focused on the traits that Jeff exemplified, which continue to be important today. A $5,000 scholarship to a worthy student each year helps do that.
“The scholarship rewards leadership and character. It’s given to a varsity basketball player who demonstrates the Christian character, academic excellence and athletic talent that Jeff displayed,” Chuck says. “Growing up Jeff was a Texas gymnastics champion, a varsity basketball and baseball player, a trumpet player, and graduated third in his high school class academically, which he did deliberately so as not to have to give the commencement address. Jeff was very broadly talented and a very committed Christian. He could identify with people from all walks of life.”
Each fall, Nunamaker meets with Jeff’s family, the basketball coaches and Jeff’s former roommates Jonathan Foster (’91) and Dale Gray (’89) to choose the scholarship recipient.
“We talk about each of the candidates and try to identify the candidate who best represents Jeff’s qualities. Then the foundation funds the scholarship for the recipient.”
The tournament is an important part of honoring that greatness also. “It began as a four-team tournament and still is,” Chuck says. “Our objective is not necessarily to grow the tournament, though that would be great, but rather to use it as a vehicle to honor Jeff’s memory.”
For the first few years, the tournament was organized year-to-year, relying heavily on the support of Coach Lamar, Nunamaker says. “Then about 2012, with the help of Jon North, vice president of university advancement, MNU institutionalized the scholarship and tournament so as to sustain it. We all wanted to do that to keep the tournament going after we are gone.”
Chuck, who has also served on the MNU Foundation Board since 2009, says the professors, staff and coaches at MNU have the most influence on students, but others can help by supporting efforts like the tournament and scholarship.
“I think we help by creating more visibility about the kind of person Jeff was, the kind of athlete and scholar he was,” Chuck says.
Chuck’s support for MNU comes from a deep belief in the influence the school has on young lives. He met his wife, Kathy (Mitchell ’77) there. His daughters Laurie Myers (’05) and Amy Hepker (’07) and both sons-in-law are all MNU graduates.
“After I graduated from MNU, for the first 10 or 15 years I viewed it as a place where I got my math degree,” Chuck says. “But since then I’ve reflected on how my adult values were established and where my closest friends are, and I realized that any university is critical in a student’s life well beyond academics. I realized that MNU, and the professors and students there, had a tremendous influence on me during an important and formative time in my life, when I was solidifying my values that I would carry into adulthood. MNU has an extremely positive influence on students who come there.”
After Chuck and Kathy graduated from MNU, they transferred to Austin, Texas, in 1979. There they met John and Anita Uphaus at church and became close to them and their children Jeff, age 12, and Juli, age 6. After relocating to Olathe, the Nunamakers hosted the Uphaus children when they went off to college at MNU. “They were like a younger brother and sister to us,” Chuck says.
“When he passed away a big group of friends talked about doing something to honor Jeff’s memory, and that’s how the scholarship started,” Chuck says. “That group included Coach Rocky Lamar, Don and Pam Bell, Don Bell Sr. and Faith Bell.”
MNU continues to honor Jeff’s memory as well, with a quote from Jeff that hangs in Cook Center, just outside Bell Family Arena: "The light we shed, the Message we convey, and ultimately the way we Touch people in our short time on earth is what it's all about. —Jeff Uphaus, in an email to his dad, May 19, 1999.