Westmont Magazine It's My Westmont Now
Three Generations Find Their Way To Westmont
AL ’54 AND MARLISS LOCKWOOD ’54 WITT
Al Witt ’54 planned to study medicine at Stanford and be a physician. Then he became a Christian and enrolled at Westmont instead, intending to enter the ministry. He found a home there and a spot in the acclaimed Westmont Quartet, which traveled and performed extensively to recruit students and represent the college.
Al appreciated his classes and experience, but he kept thinking about medicine. When Charles Ryrie, dean of men, heard about Al’s quandary, Ryrie encouraged him to go to medical school. “You can be both a doctor and a Christian,” he said. Westmont had not yet been accredited, and Al transferred to Reed College as a junior so he could gain admission to Oregon Health and Science University. After earning his medical degree, he practiced with his father-in-law in Portland, Oregon, and then served most of his career in the emergency room. He died in 1998.
The two years at Westmont profoundly shaped Al. Most importantly, he met his wife, Marliss Lockwood Witt ’54, there. She lived in the original Emerson Hall on Ashley Road, riding the bus back and forth or walking with friends. “I was so impressed with the faculty,” she says. “We had great teachers.” Marliss majored in literature and recalls Al saying, “I’ll study to make a living, and you’ll study to know how to live.” “Westmont was a wonderful choice for us,” she says.
“When we left home to go to college, we were gone. Our parents maybe called us on our birthdays, and we wrote letters. There was no such thing as helicopter parents. You saw them at Christmas. Today, everyone is in constant contact all the time.”
In May, she returned to campus when her granddaughter and namesake, Marliss Neal ’22, graduated. “It’s so easy for a college to become successful and yet lose their foundation in Christ,” the elder Marliss says. “I was so impressed with the graduation ceremony, which still mentioned Christ preeminent. The college has grown but hasn’t changed its commitment to Christ.”
Al and Marliss raised six children in Portland and shared countless stories about their time at Westmont. Marliss’s three brothers, Larry Lockwood ’61, Darrell Lockwood ’64 and Dan Lockwood ’70, also attended the college (a story for another issue), as did many of the couple’s close friends. These connections led four Witts from the second generation to Westmont.
MELISSA WITT PHILLIPS ’80 AND STEVE PHILLIPS ’80
“When we thought of college, we thought of Westmont,” Melissa says. “Our parents’ memories and stories communicated so much joy and love for their college experience. Westmont was engrained in us.”
When Melissa arrived on campus with her twin brother, Michael, she expected to meet lifelong friends the first week. But that turned out to be harder than envisioned; Westmont had grown beyond the small community her parents knew. She adapted as best she could and got connected to a church. Through Trinity Baptist, she and Michael met a group of Westmont students who became their closest friends. “We made incredible, deep connections that endure, and we grew spiritually,” Melissa says.
A religious studies major with an emphasis in Christian education, Melissa learned her first semester how little she knew. “Our professors did an incredible job,” she says. “They pushed us and helped us develop a different perspective centered in a biblical worldview. I had never experienced deep learning and critical thinking, and I appreciated it.
I met Steve my senior year. Between his pre-med studies and working, he played intramural sports, interned at a local church and did research at Cottage Hospital.
Steve and Melissa, the principal of Central Christian School in Redmond, Oregon, live in Bend, Oregon. She taught at Christian schools and reluctantly left the classroom to serve as a principal in 2005. “It’s been incredible,” she says. “I’ve worked with an amazing team for 18 years, and we’ve learned and grown together. We’ve built a great partnership with parents as we develop virtue, values and strong moral character.”
Steve earned his medical degree at Loma Linda Medical School and serves as a pediatric neurologist at Mary Bridge Hospital in Tacoma, Washington, commuting from their home in Bend. Two of their children, Alaina Phillips Vidmar ’08 and Aaron Phillips, became doctors with pediatric specialties. Alyssa Phillips, a lawyer, works for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, helping undocumented students get into a school. Melissa and Steve were thankful Alaina went to Westmont. “The minute she stepped foot on campus, she looked at me and said, ‘This is my school,’” Melissa says. “She worked hard, developed grit and learned how to do difficult things. Westmont felt like an extension of what we had given her. God orchestrated that.”
ALAINA PHILLIPS VIDMAR ’08
A pediatric endocrinologist, Alaina works at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles, where she directs the healthy weight program for children. A clinical scientist and faculty member, she sees patients from 6 months to 21 years. She also studies time-based intermittent fasting in children living with obesity. Her research suggests that limiting eating to an eighthour window can improve both metabolic health and overall health unconnected to weight loss.
"We do whatever we can do to help kids living in larger bodies stay healthy and live longer,” she says.
The fourth generation in her family to practice medicine, Alaina was exposed to the field at a young age. “Since I was 5, I’ve loved the idea of using science to help people live longer,” she says. “I saw that as my calling and purpose. I was also exposed to Westmont and became intrigued by the way a liberal arts education prepares people for professional careers. The college’s mission aligned with my own, and I saw that modeled in my family.”
Alaina majored in neuroscience at Westmont and graduated from the Medical College of Wisconsin, completing her pediatric residency there and her pediatric endocrinology fellowship at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles.
“My grandparents talked about a purpose-filled education, lifelong friendships and Christian fellowship, and those themes persist at Westmont,” she says. “Compared to my grandparents’ generation, women today have greater opportunities in medicine, which start in college. I met one of my dear friends, Iris Adipue Radler ’08, our first day at Westmont, and we used to sit in the Montecito Starbucks and dream about being physicians. She now practices obstetrics and gynecology in Sacramento. Creating lifelong friendships and journeying together has been such a gift in my life.”
Will there be a fourth generation of Westmont alums? Alaina has two children, Riley, 3, and Mia, 8, and Mia wants to go to Westmont and be a doctor. Alaina’s husband, Ryan, works in finance and stays home with the kids. “Westmont leaves such an imprint on people,” Alaina says. “It combines your God-given purpose with your profession and has played a huge role in my life and trajectory.”
MICHAEL WITT ’80
“The only college I knew about was Westmont,” Michael says. “My parents talked about it so much. I wanted a Christian college, and Westmont had a good pre-med program with a history of getting people into medical school. My twin sister, Melissa, and I went there together.
“I really benefited from the liberal arts. Studying psychology, taking a Shakespeare class with Paul Delaney, and learning to appreciate music all had a bigger impact on me than my science classes and biology major. The liberal arts helped me develop character, appreciate beauty and build interpersonal skills.
“When I was a junior at Westmont, my dad took me to Oregon Health and Science University to talk with the registrar about applying. The first question he asked was about the last book I’d read, and I had a whole list I’d read at Westmont. I got in and graduated from the same medical school my father, grandfather and uncle attended.”
Michael did his surgical residency at Boston University in urology and completed a fellowship at Baylor University in infertility. In 1995, he accepted a clinical faculty appointment at Emory. Today he serves as director of male infertility at Reproductive Biology Associates in Atlanta.
“The college was much smaller when my parents went there, and I never knew as many people on campus as they did. But Westmont was not much different at its core than it had been for my parents.”
Michael and his wife, Kirsten, have four children: Josh works for a grocery store, Rachel is a counselor and Hannah is a program manager for 7-11. Their youngest, Emma, a junior in high school, is looking at Westmont. “When we visited, we were so pleased to see that a focus on Jesus is still a core value,” Michael says. “Chapel was powerful and inspiring.”
MICHELLE WITT NEAL ’82
“Westmont is where we went to college,” Michelle says. “I didn’t apply anywhere else.” An economics and business major, Michelle participated in Potter’s Clay and enjoyed classes such as philosophy with Robert Wennberg and literature with Paul Delaney. She explored France one summer with French professor John Jantzen and 10 other students. Through the International Business Institute, she visited European capitals with economics and business professor Robert Bartels. After graduating, she earned a law degree from American University Washington College of Law, and she practices labor and employment law in Sacramento.
“I’m still in touch with people from Westmont,” Michelle says. “A group of us who rarely dated formed FOMA: Future Old Maids of America. Now we’re all married, so we’re the Found Our Man Associates.”
Michelle and her husband, Walter Neal, a software project manager, have three sons — the oldest works for a retirement benefits company, the second is studying for the Catholic priesthood, and the youngest is a senior in high school — and two daughters, Marliss Neal ’22 and Clare Neal ’23.
“It’s really different being the parent of Westmont students,” Michelle says. “I’m forever indebted to the college after watching them grow and branch out. I value my own Westmont experience even more. It says a lot about the college to get three generations.
MARLISS NEAL ’22
“I applied to Westmont solely for the grandma points,” Marliss says. “I filled out the forms online and immediately told grandma, and then I forgot about it. I had my sights set on the STEM program at the University of Michigan — I wanted to go to a football school in a cold climate.”
When she didn’t get accepted at Michigan, she remembered Westmont, which offered her significant financial aid. “I decided to go there without visiting or doing any research,” she says. “Now I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
A chemistry major who loves organic chemistry, Marliss conducted research with her professor Amanda Silberstein each year, working on the same project but with different student teams. “I enjoyed the interaction with people more than the project,” she says.
She remembers studying at all hours in the library and engaging in long, quasi-philosophical talks in the Dining Commons about theology, religion and life. “Then COVID happened and took all that away,” she says. “I couldn’t study abroad. At least research continued.”
For her last spring break, she joined an Urban Initiative team in Chicago and helped paint First Presbyterian Church in Woodlawn through BridgeBuilders.
Marliss finds similarities between her experience and her mother’s: for example, both took classes from mathematics professor Russ Howell. But the college was much smaller in her grandmother’s time, and all the traditions she talked about had passed away. “The dating culture was kind of the same for all three of us, but only grandma married someone from Westmont,” she says. “The college is the same in lots of ways — the culture has been consistent. I’ve talked to my mom and my grandma, and students were less involved in political issues than they are today. I’m thankful the college gave me space to experience God on my terms and not my parents’.”
After three years of research in organic chemistry, Marliss works as a nanny, taking a break before deciding her next step. But she has ruled out one family staple: medicine.
CLARE NEAL ’23
“Westmont was always in the back of my mind,” Clare says. “But it was never pushed on me. Initially, I wanted to be a nurse and looked at colleges with nursing programs. Then I shadowed a physician at Kaiser and decided to be a doctor. I knew Westmont had a great pre-med program, and I found two answers: be a doctor and go to Westmont. I’d seen my family do that.”
After she graduates in May with a degree in biochemistry, Clare will work before starting medical school. She’ll take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) next fall and apply to schools the following year. “I’m interested in pediatrics, but I’m also thinking about primary care, where the work-life balance seems more manageable,” she says.
“I like the smaller classes at Westmont and learning about my faith even in science courses. The community is amazing. When I visited my sister, her friends helped me visualize what I wanted. Westmont turned out even better than I’d hoped. I’ve learned so much from my friends — they’ve shaped and formed me.”
Clare marvels at the ways her experience resembles her mother’s and grandmother’s. “The rhythm is the same, with regular chapel and classes,” she says. “I walk the same route they walked. My mom lived in Ocean View, and now I do. Professor Delaney taught my mom, and he’s teaching me. It’s weird to imagine her at this age. It’s fun to go to a school so many family members have attended.”
She surprised herself by getting involved in Emmaus Road and traveling to Montenegro one summer to engage in relational ministry with college students. Clare also served as an intern at Sansum Diabetes Research Clinic. “The community here encouraged me to participate in things,” she says. “Westmont makes it easier to say yes to new and growing experiences.”
MORGAN WITT ’86
“We were steeped in Westmont,” Morgan says. “Even my parents’ friends — we grew up calling them aunts and uncles — were Westmont graduates. I went to campus all the time with my older brother and sisters there. The professors were incredible. I learned so much and grew emotionally and spiritually. I got a well-rounded education.”
Morgan decided against medicine and majored in both history and economics and business with a minor in political science. He served as student body president his senior year. “Outside of the academic rigor, I remember my freshman year in Page Hall and forming relationships that continue today,” he says.
After graduating from Willamette University College of Law, Morgan opened a private practice in Mount Vernon, Washington. As an attorney in a small town, he advises clients on a variety of legal issues. Morgan and his ex-wife, Kay Quall Witt ’86, have three children. Miriam is a nurse, Mary teaches high school chemistry and physics, and their youngest, Miles ’20, graduated from Westmont with a degree in kinesiology. He’s taking some time off and plans to become an RN.
“Miles went to Westmont for his own reasons and made the college experience uniquely his own,” Morgan says. “Of course, he had heard all my mother’s stories about Westmont.”