The Distinguished Alumni award is the highest honor that can be granted to an alumnus or alumna of Emporia State University by the ESU Alumni Association. Awarded each fall during Homecoming, it recognizes the outstanding professional accomplishments of ESU's finest graduates. Since the inception of the award program in 1960, more than 200 alumni have received the award. See the links at right to read about past recipients.
Candidates are nominated for the Distinguished Alumni award by alumni and current and retired ESU faculty. As much information as possible is gathered on each candidate. The information is evaluated and an initial selection is made by a committee representing alumni and faculty. The Alumni Association Board of Directors approves or makes final selection of those who will receive the award. A maximum of five alumni can receive the award in a given year.
Past Distinguished Alumni have included teachers, research scholars, humanitarians, administrators, public servants, doctors, lawyers, and leaders in business, industry, and the military. All are respected in their professions and community. Most important, they are Emporia State University graduates who have given ESU a rich heritage.
Click here to fill out the nomination form online or call your ESU Alumni Office at 620-341-5440 to request the most current nomination form. (please note: for consideration during the upcoming calendar year, nominations are due by October 1; nominations received after this date will be considered for the following year)
Click here to see the video from the 2013 Distinguished Alumni and Outstanding Recent Graduate recipients.
Linda Bluth has 47 years of experience as a special educator, including 32 years in special needs transportation. Retiring in 2009 as director of the Office of Quality Assurance and Monitoring at the Maryland State Department of Education, she currently works part-time for that same agency as a quality assurance monitoring specialist in special education and early intervention services.
An expert in the field of special needs transportation policies, she joined the School Bus Safety company as a consultant and product trainer in 2011. Bluth is past president of the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT), and received the organization’s Distinguished Service Award in 2000.
A physical education teacher and Title VII Indian education director at Royal Valley USD 337, Mayetta, Anita Evans develops and implements programs emphasizing Native American culture, language, art and academic assistance for students in the district, along with coaching the high school’s softball and volleyball teams.
Evans was named 1997 Kansas Native American Educator of the Year, and earned National Indian Teacher of the Year honors in 2002 from the National Indian Education Association. She is also a 2010 Port Jervis (N.Y.) High School Hall of Fame inductee. In 1998, she implemented a summer youth work program for Prairie Band Potawatomie Nation and served as its director until 2005. She also sponsors the Royal Valley Native American Singers and Dancers, the only school-sponsored Native American dance group in Kansas.
J.D. Schramm serves on the faculty of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, where he teaches a variety of communication courses to MBA students.
A sought out speaker, educator and trainer, Schramm uses his expertise in communication to help individuals and organizations become more effective. He speaks regularly on topics of suicide prevention, LGBT inclusiveness in schools and churches, and mentoring young people. Schramm earned a BFA in theatre from Emporia State University in 1985.
An original member of the ESU Ambassadors, he took that model to his high school alma mater, Thomas More Prep-Marian in Hays when he served there as director of admissions. He went on to complete his MBA at New York University in 2002 and his doctorate in education (Ed.D.) from the University of Pennsylvania in 2012.
Tom Thornbrugh is Presiding Judge of Division IV of the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals. In a distinguished career in both private practice and on the bench, Thornbrugh has been committed to ensuring citizens receive fair treatment under the law. Before his district court appointment, Thornbrugh spent more than 20 years in private law practice in Tulsa, also serving as a legislative advisor for U.S. Sen. Dewey Bartlett (R-Okla).
During his career with the U.S. Army, Thornbrugh was awarded the Bronze Star Medal, Army Commendation Award, and Vietnamese Signal Corps Citation. He serves as adjunct professor at St. Gregory’s University and University of Tulsa.
Dale Cushinberry retired as principal of Topeka’s Highland Park in 2010, capping off a career of nearly 40 years in education. He worked as a K-12 grade teacher, counselor, and administrator in the Topeka school system and served seven years at Washburn University as a professor and administrator. Cushinberry earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, a master’s degree in school counseling, and school administration certification from ESU. During his undergraduate days, Cushinberry played on the Hornets basketball team; he was named an All-American in 1968 and 1969. He has served on the ESU Foundation board of trustees and the ESU Alumni Association board of directors and is also a member of the Athletic Hall of Fame. Former Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius appointed Cushinberry to the Kansas Supreme Court Nominating Commission, an eleven-person panel that assists in filling vacant Supreme and Appellant court judge positions.
Norma Hafenstein is a faculty member of the Morgridge College of Education at the University of Denver. She is the founder and director of the DU’s Ricks Center for Gifted Children, a private school serving 250 gifted students preschool through eighth grade. Hafenstein is also the founder and director of the university’s Institute for the Development of Gifted Education, which provides graduate education, research, curriculum development, and outreach in gifted education. The Institute has hosted three national conferences of gifted education and published twelve integrated curriculum units and six monographs. A native of Alma, Kan., Hafenstein was active in A Cappella Choir and Chi Omega sorority while earning her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from The Teachers College at ESU. During her professional career, Hafenstein has been recognized with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Colorado Association for Gifted and Talented.
Floyd Hoelting has more than 40 years of experience in higher education in higher education administration. He is the Executive Director of the Division of Housing and Food Service at the University of Texas at Austin, where he manages $1.7 billion in assets, an $84 million annual budget, 1,200 staff providing housing, food services, and student development for 8,000 students in 14 residence halls and seven dining venues, and 750 apartments for graduates and students with dependents. A sought-after speaker and mentor, Hoelting has conducted workshops and consulted for university staff and administrators on over 400 campuses across the country. Hoelting earned a bachelor’s degree in social sciences and a master’s degree in educational administration from ESU. He has served as an ESU Alumni Association board member. A native of Olpe, Kan., Hoelting’s family was recognized as a Hornet Heritage family in 2008.
Dianne H.B. Welsh is a recognized scholar in international entrepreneurship, franchising, and family business. She earned a master’s degree in psychology from ESU. Welsh has owned four successful businesses, and is president of Family Business First International, Inc., a worldwide strategic planning firm focusing on succession planning in the public and private sectors, entrepreneurial leadership, and employee reward systems. Welsh is the Charles A. Hayes Distinguished Professor of Entrepreneurship at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro’s Bryan School of Business and Economics. At UNCG, she designed a cross-disciplinary entrepreneurship program that encompasses 40 courses in 20 departments, which won the U.S. Association for Small Business, and Entrepreneurship Best Emerging Program Award in 2012, and the Global Consortium of Entrepreneurship Centers Excellence across the Curriculum Award in 2011. She is also co-editor of the first comprehensive volumes on global franchising in emerging and industrialized markets.
Maj. Gen. Kevin A. Leonard, a two-star general, has served with distinction as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army since graduating from Emporia State University. He currently commands the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command located at Scott Air Force Base, Ill. Among Leonard’s awards is the Distinguished Service Medal, the third highest U.S. Army award. He is a native of Kansas City, Kan.
Ronald Loewen is president of Loewen Consulting, assisting companies with strategic planning, business development, marketing, capital acquisition and personnel development. Prior to forming his company in 2006, Loewen worked for The Liberty Corporation’s life insurance and broadcasting divisions for 20 years. His broadcasting career also included management positions with Chronicle Broadcasting Corporation’s KAKE-TV, Wichita. He was awarded South Carolina’s Order of the Palmetto in 1997, in recognition of achievement and service to the state. Loewen is a native of Hillsboro, Kan.
Teresa Ann Markowitz is Chief of Staff for the president of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the country’s largest foundation dedicated to enhancing the lives of disadvantaged children and families. Before joining the Casey Foundation in 2002, Markowitz worked in other human services capacities including the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, which she served as commissioner for children and family services. In that capacity, Markowitz orchestrated and led a reform of the child welfare system in Kansas. She is a native of Olpe, Kan.
Don Reichardt retired in 1996 after a 35-year career in telecommunications. He was the executive director of advertising and brand management for BellSouth Corp., Atlanta, Ga. In that capacity, Reichardt was responsible for BellSouth’s 1996 Olympic Games sponsorship in Atlanta. After retirement, he formed ProComm Strategic Communications, providing planning and marketing counsel for clients in several cities. Active in the Public Relations Society of America, Reichardt was named to the organization’s College of Fellows. Reichardt is a native of Emporia, Kan.
An outstanding career in teaching, public service, and federal, state and local politics made H. Edward Flentje an easy choice for Distinguished Alumnus honors. Currently a professor of public administration in the Hugo Wall School of Urban and Public Affairs at Wichita State University, Dr. Flentje served in the Cabinets of two Kansas governors, Robert F. Bennett and Mike Hayden. He has been recognized for outstanding service to Kansas by Governors Bennett, Hayden and Joan Finney, chaired the Kansas Development Finance Authority and was a member and president of the Wichita Airport Authority. Flentje also served as interim city manager for the City of Wichita in 2008.
Robert J. “Bob” Gress (BA 1974, MA 1976)
For 31 years, Robert J. “Bob” Gress has educated Kansans and visitors from beyond its borders about the natural wonders of the Sunflower State. As director of the Great Plains Nature Center in Wichita since 1996, Gress oversees an attraction visited by over 150,000 people each year who learn the story of wildlife, plants and habitats of the Great Plains. An accomplished photographer, Gress has contributed images to a long list of books on prairie natural history, beginning with “Natural Kansas” in 1985. Gress co-authored “The Guide to Kansas Birds and Birding Hot Spots,” which was named a 2009 Kansas Notable Book. The Kansas Ornithological Society named Gress its Avian Conservationist of the Year in 2008.
From the time he began his first teaching position in Atchison in 1969, Omar G. Rogers, Sr. has been working to help people improve their chances for success in life. Most recently the director of adult education for Bowling Green (Ky.) Technical College, Rogers has devoted his career to transforming lives through increased educational opportunities. An innovator in providing adult education programs in a challenging economic climate, Rogers’ expertise is sought by other Kentucky institutions facing similar demands. He received Bowling Green Technical College’s staff administrative award of excellence in 2009 and serves leadership roles in organizations including Lions Club, Salvation Army and Bowling Green Housing Authority.
Becky is the program officer at the Maine Health Access Foundation. She won first place in the state organization category of the International NIE Program Excellence competition and has been awarded the U.S. Department of HUD Local & Regional Practices Award. Becky has a list of publications and articles to her credit, plus a number of grants and workshops. She has twice led teams of student researchers to Nicaragua, and traveled to Cambodia to work with survivors of land mines. She is involved in several professional memberships, including the Maine State Policy Academy to End Homelessness and co-authored a $3 million grant for Keeping Children Safe Downeast with the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
Randy is the co-founder and CEO/executive chairman of Genomic Health, Inc., a business created to improve the quality of cancer treatment decisions through the research, development and commercialization of genomic-based clinical laboratory services. Randy also co-founded Incyte, the worlds’ first genomic information content business. An inventor on 25 issued patents, he has authored numerous scientific publications in the fields of protein biology, gene discovery, and cancer. He has been recognized by NASDAQ and Ernst &Young as Silicon Valley Entrepreneur of the Year. He has been listed as one of Biotech’s Top 25 influential insiders by Forbes magazine, and was honored as one of the Top 100 private technology companies in North America by Red Herring Magazine.
Harold retired from the Alabama Supreme Court in January 2009, after serving since 1996. Before his election to the court, he was a faculty member for 20 years at the University of Alabama School of Law. He has published over 30 articles and given numerous presentations. He is a contributing editor of the Federal Circuit Bar Journal, and served in many professional organizations, including being vice chairman of the Task Force of Alternative Dispute Resolution for the Alabama State Bar Association, chairman of the International Subcommittee of the American Intellectual Property Law Association, and chapter president of the American Association of University Professors. He is also a Sunday school teacher and was president of the local volunteer fire department.
Sue is the executive director emeritus of the National Middle School Association. She has held several teaching and principal positions at various schools across Kansas and Colorado. She was honored with the John H. Lounsbury Award, the Jim Garvin Distinguished Service Award, the Donald Eichhorn Distinguished Service Award, and was an honorary co-recipient of the Teams that Make a Difference Award. She was a developer of the international celebration and program, Month of the Young Adolescent, a national-recognized critical activity sponsored by NMSA. Sue has published over 70 articles in national and state journals and was co-developer of the Prentice-Hall National Teaching Teams Award. She also increased the number of state and provincial affiliate organizations including nearly every state, all the provinces in Canada, as well as several other countries.
Louis Burns has been the editor of Ciga Press, an instructor at Kansas State Teachers College of Emporia and Santa Ana Community College in California, as well as a teacher at Shawnee Mission High School, in Shawnee Mission, Valley Sr. High and Saddleback Sr. High in California. Mr. Burns is a member of the 1st Osage Delegation in a cultural exchange with the Occatain people of Tarn et Garoone, France, and was appointed by President Chief Tillman as Osage Tribal Representative. He was nominated to the Kansas Academy of Arts & Sciences and was named to Oklahoma’s Historians Hall of Fame.
Mr. Burns is an Osage Nation Delegate and was featured as Marquis Who’s Who in the West, America and the World. He founded Shawnee Mission Gem and Mineral Society, serves as a member of the first Cub Pack in the United States and is president of the Santa Ana Teachers Association. He is editor of the local and county Teachers Association newspaper as well as being involved in many organizations associated with Osage Indians. In addition, he has donated more than 5,000 books, documents, photos, and maps of and pertaining to the Osage to the White Hair Memorial in Oklahoma. He has also authored many of his own books and has led seminars at state parks, Oklahoma schools, the University of Kansas and historical societies. Sculptures of his Osage drawings have been displayed in France. Mr. Burns has committed his life to preserving the history and heritage of the Osage Indians and sharing valuable information with others.
Lonnie Clark held many positions for HEALTHSOUTH Corp, including the vice president of operations. He has also served as director of Iowa Methodist Medical Center Sports Medicine, was a teacher at Lawrence High School, and has been an associate professor and head athletic trainer at Drake University. After serving with the Marine Corps in Vietnam, Mr. Clark started his career as a student athletic trainer for Kansas State Teachers College in 1968, then went on to work at the Kansas City Chiefs training camp from 1970-1971. He has coordinated many conferences and workshops pertaining to his expertise in athletic training and knowledge of the care and prevention of sports injuries.
He has been a staff member at conventions in Missouri, Iowa and Minnesota and at the NCAA Regional tournament. Mr. Clark has been appointed to many medical and athletic training positions for international sporting events, such as the World Swimming Championships in Australia, the World University Games in Great Britain, and the “Arena Festival” swimming competition in Germany. In 1992, Mr. Clark served as head athletic trainer for the U.S. swimming team at the games of the XXV Olympiad in Barcelona, Spain. He also serves as a member of the Resistol Relief Fund Board of Directors. He earned a master’s degree from Drake University in 1975.
Tom Fincken is one of Colorado’s top officials, and has refereed three different sports nationally and in Colorado for almost thirty years. He has officiated basketball for 27 years, track for 24 years, and football for 16 years. Mr. Fincken officiated the 1986 Final Four tournament and the Super Bowl in 1995, 1997 and 2000, being one of only two people to ever officiate both. He has also officiated eight NCAA playoffs, the Western Athletic Conference and the Big West Conference. He is a member of the ESU Athletics Hall of Honor.
He was president of the Colorado Basketball Officials, where he instituted a valued evaluation program reiterating the rules, mechanics, and importance of professionalism and ethics. In 2006, Mr. Fincken was inducted into the Colorado High School Activities Association Hall of Fame, one of only eight referees ever to receive the honor. Mr. Fincken received the IAABO Board #4 Al Schalge Award in 2004 and was the 2004 recipient of the Art McNally Award for his service, leadership, dedication and professionalism. In addition, he was also a teacher and administrator in Jefferson County for 31 years.
Ben Leedle is the president and CEO of American Healthways, a Fortune Small Business Top 100 Company. American Healthways helps health insurers manage patients who suffer from chronic illnesses, such as osteoporosis, fibromyalgia and Hepatitis C. It is currently the country’s fastest-growing small public company. Mr. Leedle led the design, development, sales and operations of Healthways, with many promotions along the way. He started his career as an exercise physiologist and certified diabetes educator, and was then promoted to program manager for the Diabetes Center of Excellence.
He then became a member of the corporate management team before becoming chief operating officer, then president, and finally chief executive officer. He was previously senior vice president of Diabetes Treatment Centers. Mr. Leedle is active in the American Diabetes Association. He is a member of the Health Care Management Education Advisory Board and was elected to the Board of Directors in 2003. Mr. Leedle also served as Peer Reviewer for the ADA National Recognition process. He earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Central College, and completed the Harvard Business School’s Executive Education Advancement Management program in 2002.