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ESU Honors 4 Distinguished Alumni

Four Emporia State alumni have proven that even in a year of uncommon changes and challenges, some things never change: The successes of ESU graduates in unusually diverse fields.

Although the Distinguished Alumni for 2020 represent wide-ranging interests, from libraries to aerospace, all share a common thread of uncommon professional successes.

Normally, the Distinguished Alumni are honored during a gala on the Friday of Homecoming weekend. For 2020, they instead will be showcased through interviews via Zoom.

The honored alumni and the dates and times of their interviews are:

  1. Daria L. Phillips Bossman (MLS 1991-Library Science) of Pierre, South Dakota, 7 p.m. Oct. 22;
  2. Karen Kohler Clegg (BS 1970-English) of Overland Park, 7 p.m. Oct. 15;
  3. Frank S. "Steve" Coen (BSB 1976-Business Administration) of Andover, 7 p.m. Nov. 5; and
  4. Ronald L. "Ron" Frierson, Jr. (BS 1996-Social Sciences) of Los Angeles, California, 7 p.m. Oct. 29.

More information and links to register for the Zoom events are online at

Ron Frierson, director of Economic Policy for the Los Angeles Mayor's Office, leads that city's team in assisting private-sector companies and helps develop policies in real-estate development, technology, entertainment, healthcare, manufacturing, and tourism. He also oversees several departments, including the L.A. Convention Center, Department of Cannabis Regulation, and the Economic Workforce and Development Department.

Frierson, who came to Kansas from Saginaw, Michigan, had played on the Hornet basketball team and later on professional teams in Australia and France before beginning a business career that has spanned corporate, government, entertainment, and community service sectors, with emphasis on advising and securing public incentive programs domestically and internationally. As a recruiter for the Kansas Department of Commerce for 10 years, he brought numerous businesses to Kansas, including Emporia's Norfolk Iron and Metal plant.

Frierson serves on the Cremer School of Business Dean's Advisory Council, the ESU Foundation Board of Trustees, and presented the 2018 Sam E. & Jeannene Hayes Lecture, a series established to utilize the leadership qualities, skills, and accomplishments of ESU alumni to inspire current students. He founded the Inspire Youth Panel for inner-city students and co-founded Ad Hoc Staffing.

After graduating from ESU, St. John, Kansas, native Frank S. "Steve" Coen received his juris doctorate in 1980 before becoming a member of Sen. Bob Dole's staff in Washington, D.C., and Wichita. The Kansas Health Foundation (KHF) in 1987 hired Coen as program director, which culminated in 2008 with his being named KHF's vice president and chief executive officer.

His belief that education, civic leadership, and health are essential to quality of life is woven into the Foundation's work statewide, through well over $500,000,000 in grants to bring quality healthcare, education, and health activities to rural and urban areas alike.

But, Coen did not stop there. For years, he nurtured the idea of creating an organization to develop leaders. Working with experts and scholars nationwide, and garnering a $30 million commitment from KHF, Coen's dream became reality in 2007 with the opening of the Kansas Leadership Center.

Coen, who retired in July 2019, was named a Wichita Business Journal Newsmaker and as one of Ingram's "50 Kansans You Should Know." He is a member of the ESU Foundation Board of Trustees, an alumni ambassador for South-Central alumni events, and presents to leadership and health classes at ESU.

Karen Kohler Clegg, a native of White City, Kansas, earned an undergraduate degree in education/English at ESU, followed by a juris doctorate from the University of Kansas, and a master's of business administration degree from Rockhurst University. Along the way, she taught first grade in New Jersey and practiced law as a Johnson County assistant district attorney, as a Kansas assistant attorney general, and counsel for Bendix Corporation, which merged with Allied-Signal and later with Honeywell.

She moved into management, where she was the first woman to lead a business unit at Allied-Signal, and became the first woman to lead a management and operating contractor in the nuclear weapons complex. She ended her career as vice president and general manager of Defense and Space for Honeywell Aerospace, a $3.2 billion segment of the corporation, with domestic and international operations.

Through the Stephen and Karen Kohler Clegg Scholarship, which was established in 2016, Clegg and her husband have awarded $265,000 to juniors and seniors who plan to continue their educations. She has served on numerous for-profit and non-profit boards of directors and received the Kansas Council for Workforce Education Leadership Award and the Silicon Prairie Technology Association's Eye to the Future Leadership award.

Daria L. Phillips Bossman graduated from one of the first-ever distance education cohorts offered by ESU's School of Library and Information Management in Sioux City, Iowa. Years later, as South Dakota state librarian, she successfully advocated in 2016 for ESU to re-establish that distance learning for students from Siouxland's five-state area: South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska.

Bossman, joined by others in the original South Dakota cohort, in 2016 convinced SLIM Dean Wooseob Jeong that South Dakota's lack of a master's librarian program would create a pressing need for librarians as veteran librarians begin to retire. Within four months, arrangements had been approved and enrollment opened for the 2017 fall semester.

Bossman taught in public schools and moved into academic librarian positions before becoming assistant state librarian for development services and as coordinator for federal grants data. She took over as South Dakota's interim state librarian in 2012, and accepted the permanent state librarianship in 2013. She emphasizes paraprofessional training, placing state documents online for easy public access, and promoting libraries as a more-accurate and concise information source than Internet searches, among priorities.