Alumnus develops leadership skills at BCS, now taking Grand Canyon Airlines to new heights

Katie Meredith

Like many high school students, Alumnus Jacob Tomlin (’98) was a little hesitant to try new things. Starting school at Bellevue Christian halfway through his sophomore year, he had no idea what to expect. At BCS, he found Christian leaders and teachers who taught him critical thinking, wise decision making, and leadership skills, creating an excellent foundation for what God had in store for his future.

As a freshman at Juanita High School, Tomlin didn’t know his parents were thinking about Bellevue Christian. He remembers them sharing that he had been accepted at BCS, starting the second semester of his sophomore year. Tomlin was apprehensive; he didn’t know anything about BCS and was worried he wouldn’t have any friends his last two years of high school. Tomlin’s parents left the choice up to him, so he decided to try Bellevue Christian, just for a semester.

After getting involved in a variety of sports and friend groups, Tomlin stayed at BCS for the remainder of his sophomore year and through graduation. His younger siblings Greg Tomlin (’01) and Holly Nelson (’04) followed behind, enrolling at BCS when they were in junior high.

As a student, Tomlin was always involved in sports, playing baseball and basketball at BCS. He enjoyed a wide variety of courses and developed deep relationships with his teachers. In Ms. Gardner’s math class, he remembers her relating math to marine weather patterns, making her lessons memorable. He took Politics and Government with Mr. Hibbard, where students were challenged to engage with contemporary world issues regularly.

“We were digesting a ton of information about current events and relating it to how the government works, then being able to quickly respond to that. We wrote evaluations or essays on the current events, how it related to the political structure and share our own thoughts,”
Tomlin recalled.

Along with math, science, and government, Tomlin developed key leadership skills in Student Senate with Mr. Ulrich. He served as their Treasurer, learning how to budget and purchase supplies for student-led events. Dr. Joe Greene would often come talk to their class, sharing his wisdom on Christian leadership.

“Dr. Greene would come in to talk to our Senate class a lot of times. That was so helpful, having the visionary of the school talk to us as teens. He taught us so much on leadership – not just general leadership, but Christian leadership,” he said.

Though his time at BCS was short, Tomlin developed a close relationship with Mr. Ulrich, learning from him in Senate and choir. He met his future wife, Katie Tomlin (maiden Halvorson, ’00) on a bus to a choir retreat. Interestingly, he never wanted to take choir – his mom made him take it. Tomlin soon found himself trying a variety of new things and becoming more confident as a leader.

“One of the best things I learned at BCS was to start being comfortable with my own leadership. I had a foundation that helped me evaluate options and make good decisions, without compromising who I am. I think that came from being exposed to so many different Christian leaders and teachers – at public school, I didn’t have that exposure,” he said.

After graduating from BCS, Tomlin considered going to Pepperdine and studying hotel management. He also thought about the military, since his father served in the Marine Corps and both of his grandfathers served in the Korean War. Tomlin chose the U.S. Naval Academy, where he trained for four years before getting a commission in the Marine Corps. He applied for the Marines, went to Florida for training, and became a pilot flying F18 fighter jets. He served in the Marines for just over a decade.

In the military, Tomlin had the opportunity to apply life lessons in leadership and relationships that he learned at BCS. He developed confidence as a Christian leader, encouraging other believers, and coming alongside those who were seeking faith.

“BCS taught me what to look for in relationships and how to seek wise counsel. I learned to process large amounts of information in a short amount of time, how to respond to that and quickly move on to a new topic. It gave me a solid foundation as a leader – not just looking to military leaders of the past but looking to Christ as an example of servant leadership,” he said.

After serving in the Marines, Tomlin joined his wife’s family business, Grand Canyon Scenic Airlines, which has been flying planes over the Grand Canyon since 1927. Elling Halvorson, Katie’s grandfather, bought the company in 1967, soon adding Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters to the airplane business. Elling’s daughter Brenda Halvorson (’72) is the CEO of Papillon, and his son Kent Halvorson (’73) owns Grand Canyon Scenic Airlines.

After working his way up through the company, Tomlin now serves as the President of Grand Canyon Airlines. He works closely with Papillon Helicopters and helped launch Buck Wild Hummer Tours just three years ago.

Before COVID-19, Grand Canyon Airlines was flying about 600,000 people across the Grand Canyon each year. While decreased tourism led to a drop in business, the airline was able to pivot by signing a contract with the Fish and Game Commission, using their helicopters to fight wildfires in the late summer. Through a contract with UPS, their airplanes are currently being used to ship cargo and COVID-19 vaccines throughout the country.

Tomlin says, “I never thought we would be here, but it’s about reinventing – using what God has given us and trying to leverage those things to do good. At the heart, we’re problem solvers.”

Jacob Tomlin married his high school sweetheart, Katie Halvorson, in 2003. The couple has two children – Lydia, age 12 and Jet, age 10.

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