Kim Denu, Ph.D. received the first ever Mary Hill award. Based on the personality of Mary Hill herself, this award was created for a faithful, courageous and big-hearted individual, and the award decisions committee believes she is just that.

Before the award was to be presented to anyone, there were a series of luncheons held on campus for women’s empowerment. According to Elaine Richardson, Director of the Office of Woman’s Development, the luncheons were planned with the intention of awarding an outstanding individual with the Mary Hill Award.

“There are so many amazing men and women who exhibit the characteristics of Mary Hill,” Richardson said. “It was really evident to me [that Denu was the correct choice]. It’s just, yes, yes, yes.”

Richardson explained that Denu spends her time working hard with grace and a positive attitude. According to Richardson, Denu has set “the bar very high” for this award.

As an active member in the planning of the events and luncheons, Denu never expected to be the recipient of the award.

“Although I was part of the Women’s History Month planning commitee,” Denu said, “I never found out who the awardee was.”

When Denu’s name was called, she was shocked.

Madeline Ho, program coordinator at the Office of Woman’s Development, had the opportunity to witness Denu’s acceptance of the award.

“During the award ceremony, Jon Wallace gave a history on Mary Hill [as] someone that really lived her life for Christ and was constantly trying to introduce Christ to more and more people,” Ho said. “I believe that this award represents a woman at APU that is doing the same and it is beneficial for women to see their peers working hard and hopefully use it as inspiration to live their life like Mary Hill, too.”

As a specialist in racial and family sociology, Denu has spent the majority of her life standing up for the marginalized, especially African American women like herself.

Denu recalled growing up in a home where her parents taught her to drive a stick-shift car.

“I was terrified because I thought I would stall when I drove on a hill,” Denu said.

Young Denu pleaded for permission to learn on an automatic car, but her mother refused.

After Denu expressed her fears, her mother said, “You can be afraid, but do it anyway.”

Since then, Denu has turned her mother’s simple driving advice into a larger motto in life. Through every moment of doubtfulness or failure, Denu reminds herself that even if she is afraid, to do what she needs to do anyways.

This courageous outlook is one that Denu believes the first president of APU displayed. As a woman in 1899, Mary Hill had aspirations to open three of the first Bible colleges made to empower individuals for ministry, one of them being APU.

This dream, while important, was declared improbable on the basis of Hill’s femininity. Denu explained that women of that time were barely even going to schools, let alone opening them.

“Mary Hill was maybe afraid,” Denu said.

Through her bravery, however, Hill stood up for her calling by founding APU to be what is it today. Even though Hill faced adversity, she, like Denu, believed in following God and persevered. This is the foundation of the Mary Hill award.

Richardson, one of the award’s creators, further reflected on the bravery of Mary Hill.

“Mary Hill gave up so much to do this improbable thing at that time,” she said. “Think about what we could do now to change the world with the sphere of Jesus.”

Richardson’s intention for the Mary Hill award is to recognize those men and women who are willing to lean into their fear and do the improbable through Jesus. As the first recipient, Denu is seen as the representation of bravery and empowerment around the APU campus, especially in regards to African American and minority women.

With this title, Denu wants to continue stepping into what may be unheard of and doing it anyway.

“Women and people in general who are blessed with a platform, when given that power, should use it to help and bless others,” Denu said. “I want to use my platform to engage and empower those who are most marginalized.”

Next year, the Office of Women’s Development will partner with other students, faculty and staff to select the next recipient of the Mary Hill award. This award will continue to be given throughout the years as a way to honor and propel brave individuals into empowering others through Jesus, despite the improbable.