Wayne State College

Outstanding Alumni Awards

Past Recipients

View previous recipients of the Outstanding Alumni Award.

2022 Recipients

Graduates from each of the college's four schools are honored each year during Homecoming as Outstanding Alumni in their chosen fields.

School of Arts and Humanities - Neal Schnoor '90

Neal SchnoorNeal Schnoor ’90, Ph.D., was appointed president at Northern State University in July 2021 where he also serves as a member of the board of directors of the Council for Public Liberal Arts Colleges, Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, the Aberdeen Development Corporation, United Way of Northeastern South Dakota, and the Northern State University Foundation.

Schnoor previously served as Chief of Staff to the president at California State University Long Beach and senior advisor to the chancellor at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. In both roles he collaborated with campus and community leaders on strategic and capital planning, academic and student services, institutional and program accreditation, compliance, enrollment management, intercollegiate athletics, communications, marketing, and development. At CSULB he represented the university on the boards of the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation and Long Beach Economic Partnership and at UNK he co-led institutional strategic planning and served as UNK’s first chief compliance officer.

Schnoor returned to WSC (2010-2012) and served as dean of the School of Education and Counseling. He led a comprehensive renewal of undergraduate and graduate teacher education programs, initiated an online curriculum and instruction master’s degree, led a revision of the undergraduate teacher education program, and implemented one of WSC’s first programs at the College Center in Sioux City, Iowa.

From 1997 to 2010, Schnoor was a member of the faculty at UNK where he held a joint appointment and tenure in the College of Fine Arts and Humanities and the College of Education. He taught an array of graduate and undergraduate courses in music and education. As director of bands, he conducted concert and marching bands that were selected to perform at several state conferences and were the first instrumental groups in the institution’s history to perform abroad. He pursued scholarly activities in nearly every avenue available to him – from juried performances and publications to presentations. Before earning his M.M. and Ph.D. at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, he began his career serving as director of bands at Wakefield Community Schools, Kearney High School, and Lincoln Northeast High School.

Schnoor was elected president of both the Nebraska Music Educators Association and Nebraska State Bandmasters Association. He served on several state music and education boards and committees in Nebraska, was a recipient of the national Paula Krider Outstanding Band Director Award, and was inducted into the UNK Academy for Teacher Education Excellence. He is married to Teresa (Travis ’87) Schnoor, who taught band in Coleridge, Wisner, and Elm Creek before serving as elementary principal for the last 25 years at Franklin Public Schools and Central Elementary in Kearney.

School of Business and Technology - Cheri (McDonald) Polenske ‘08

Cheri PolenskeCheri Polenske ’08 is proud to call Wayne her hometown as she was born and raised in Wayne and graduated from Wayne High School in 1990. She started her higher education at Northeast Community College where she earned an Associate of Applied Science in Computer Programming. Her professional career began at Wayne State College as a computer operator in 1992. As she continued to grow professionally and take on additional responsibilities at WSC, she was promoted to Director of Administrative Systems in 2007. Throughout her career at WSC, she took classes as a non-traditional student and earned her Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Systems in 2008.

In 2010, Polenske accepted a position with the Nebraska Student Information System (NeSIS) team at the University of Nebraska where she continued to provide services to the Nebraska state colleges. The NeSIS team manages the student information system for all the Nebraska universities and Nebraska state colleges. She worked closely with the leadership and administration at WSC to enhance and support the WildcatsOnline system, which provides WSC students the capability to manage all administrative aspects of their academic careers including enrolling in classes, accepting financial aid, and paying their bills. In 2019, Polenske was promoted to Assistant Vice President of Enterprise Services with the University of Nebraska Information Technology Services, where she managed multiple teams responsible for the student information systems, business information system, data warehouses, travel system, purchasing system, event and course scheduling systems, reporting systems, system integrations, the University of Nebraska website, and additional enterprise-level services for the Nebraska universities and state colleges.

In April 2022, Polenske joined the Nebraska State College System as the Chief Information Officer. She is responsible for providing the vision, as well as the strategic, tactical, and operational leadership necessary to ensure that the system office has the resources (infrastructure and services) and technology solutions to optimize its performance and alignment with the strategic and operational goals of the system. Polenske works closely with the state college CIOs, campus leaders, and system office staff to align IT resources and initiatives to support the NSCS strategic goals and the educational needs of Nebraska.

Polenske has a great love for IT, higher education, the state of Nebraska, and Wayne State College. She contributes much of her success to the skills she learned from her coursework at WSC, her professional experiences while a member of the WSC administrative systems team, and the opportunity to be mentored by incredible professionals during her 30 years of working in Nebraska public higher education.

Polenske also knows she would not be where she is today without her strong support system of close family members, friends, and work colleagues. Polenske and her husband, Stan, are most proud of raising three “strong, independent, and beautiful” daughters, McKayleigh, BrookLynn, and RyAnna.  

“We have always encouraged our girls to go after what they want in life and give them our utmost support,” Cheri said. “One of my favorite quotes is, ‘It doesn’t matter what’s in front of you, as long as you know who’s behind you.’ I have received so much support over the years and want to ensure I provide support to others to accomplish their goals!”

School of Education and Behavioral Sciences - Johanna Barnes ’97, MSE ‘06

Johanna BarnesJohanna Barnes, Ph.D., is grateful for every role she has had as an educator, for it has allowed her to be a continuous learner as well. She credits her WSC professors, facilitators, and mentors during her undergraduate and graduate programs for inspiring her journey in education.  She has literally followed in their footsteps, starting full time at WSC in 2009, earning her doctorate from the University of South Dakota in 2013, and now serving as a professor of education for the School of Education and Behavioral Sciences.

Barnes’s first opportunity in education was as a second grade teacher in Newman Grove, Neb. She learned much about the profession from the students and mentor teachers in her school and from WSC mentors as she served as a facilitator / adjunct instructor for the MSE in Curriculum and Instruction – Community of Learning program.  

As an elementary teacher during the week and adjunct instructor one weekend per month, living in both worlds grew her desire to help make a difference in education by assisting in the journey of pre-service and in-service teachers. One of her favorite things is having a former second grader in her undergraduate courses (elementary math methods) or in graduate courses (either online or in the Community of Learning program that she now oversees).  

Barnes additionally educates and learns through local, national, and international presentations and publications related to math education and the Community of Learning program. Overseeing the program allows her the chance to support and grow alongside teachers across Nebraska and in the country of Aruba.

Barnes’s family is Wayne State proud. Her husband, Tim ’95, MBA ’20, manages the Wayne State College bookstore. Their daughter, Claire ’20, is a social media specialist for Scheels in Omaha, Neb. Their son-in-law, Jorge Adame ’20, is a sales/leasing consultant for Woodhouse Ford. Their daughter, Elle, is a freshman at WSC majoring in business.

School of Science, Health, and Criminal Justice - DaVarryl Williamson ‘93

DaVarryl WilliamsonA poverty-stricken childhood in Washington, D.C., did not stop WSC alumnus and boxer DaVarryl “Touch of Sleep” Williamson ‘93 from compiling a long list of impressive achievements and accolades – not only for his powerful punch in the ring, but for his dedication to community service and education. The two-time national Golden Gloves champion, 10-time national amateur champ, and former professional heavyweight was recently among six 2022 inductees into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame.

“I was in tears and nearly fell out of my chair when I got the call about being selected,” said Williamson, who earned a bachelor’s degree in 1993 at Wayne State College, majoring in recreation and minoring in coaching, and a master’s degree in administrative services from Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Mich., in 1998. “The Hall of Fame is the highest honor you can get in any sport. I'm in the Colorado Golden Gloves Hall of Fame, which is only for boxers. This one is for all athletes, so I'm in there with some big names like John Elway and Peyton Manning (both former Denver Broncos quarterbacks). Only three boxers have been inducted, and I'm the first one since 1988.

“My goal is to be an ambassador for the sport and a good person people can look up to. These hands have taken me all over the world, which is priceless. But I've achieved success in large part because I failed at other things, so I am grateful for all those experiences that led me here. My life could have been a little better overall, but it could have also been a whole lot worse. I was able to rise from the gutter and accomplish things, gain others' respect, and find personal happiness as well. It is so wonderful to be in this space in life.”

Williamson closed out his career at WSC being involved in numerous sports and activities including football, basketball, school mascot Willy the Wildcat, Yell Squad, vice president of the Minority Student Association, intramurals, lip sync contest, creating socials for the entire student body, Eric and Ju Ju dances at the City Auditorium, Riley’s Night Club, and theater with lead roles such as the Generous Genie in Aladdin. During summers at WSC, he officiated summer basketball and football camps and worked maintenance, moving beds, couches, furniture – whatever it took to be a part of the school and campus!

A relative late bloomer by the sport's standards, Williamson did not compete in his first boxing match until age 25. He was invited to train at the former U.S. Olympic Education Center at Northern Michigan University, where he became an Olympic alternate earning a spot on the 1996 team, while simultaneously pursuing his graduate degree.

Williamson was honored as the nation's “Best Amateur Boxer” by Boxing USA in 1997. A year later, he was named the U.S. Olympic Committee's Athlete of the Month for October, topping the likes of former cyclist Lance Armstrong. He compiled an impressive amateur bout record of 120 wins (103 of which were knockouts), 17 losses, and one draw. His thunderous right punch and knockout record became so renowned that he earned the nickname “Touch of Sleep” from his opponents and sparring partners.

In 2000, Williamson turned pro and trained in Colorado for his professional debut at the age of 32. He had won 27 bouts (23 by knockout) and lost eight.

Thirteen years after his debut, Ring Magazine called Williamson the “Hardest Puncher in the World.” Over his pro career, he earned title shots on four separate occasions, claiming the WBC NABF/WBO Latino Heavyweight Title and the WBC Continental Americas/WBO NABO Heavyweight Title along the way. His final fight as a professional took place in 2014 at the age of 46.

In the years leading up to his retirement as a fighter, Williamson quietly built one of the most successful boxing gyms in Colorado: TOS Boxing, an acronym nod to Touch of Sleep. He still operates the gym in Englewood and has devoted his life to teaching athletes of all types and ages the “sweet science of boxing” while growing the sport he loved in his adopted home state. In 2021, he sent nine boxers to the Colorado Golden Gloves Championships, six of whom won their respective weight classes.

Williamson has also become an integral part of the community, forming Touchstone Youth Program, a non-profit that teaches kids boxing and life skills. Englewood Public Schools partnered with TYP, busing in hundreds of kids to participate in Williamson's program. The effort earned him the honor of Englewood School District Volunteer of the Year in 2017 and 2018. TOS Boxing also became an official partner gym with the National Cancer Charity Haymakers for Hope.

“DaVarryl understands the innate obvious truth that if the community raises up the individual, the individual will lift the community,” said Doug Ottewill, Chairman of the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame Selection Committee. “He knows this despite having largely created himself. DaVarryl prides himself on working with people from all walks of life and meeting them on their level. He has truly become a pillar of the community, an impressive role model for its youth, and an inspiration for all of those lucky enough to make his acquaintance.”

Williamson and his wife, Jennifer, have five children: Dantel, the oldest, has a career in computer technology and photography; Alayana is a practicing medical esthetician; Donald is a senior at the University of Richmond studying finance; Gabriel is a sophomore at the University of Dallas studying business and has already begun a business that he plans to take public in the next year; and Nina, the youngest of the five, is a senior at Cherry Creek High School and, with any luck after touring the campus here in Wayne, could be the first to follow Williamson to his alma mater.

Other honors Williamson has received include the Martin Luther Legacy Award and a nomination for Englewood's Citizen of the Year. He repaid the latter by representing Englewood as a panelist for the National Civic League's 2021 All American Cities Award, helping it to become a top 20 finalist. He was recognized by the Englewood City Council for his efforts.

Currently Williamson is collaborating with ghost writer Oliver Stokeld on a book about his journey titled “Split Decisions: What It Takes to Become a Champion in Life,” which is scheduled to be published soon. Williamson is also entertaining the idea of becoming an adjunct professor to teach the history of boxing.

2020-2021 Recipients

School of Arts and Humanities - Mary E. Haas '92, MSE '01

Mary Haas

Mary Haas graduated from Norfolk High School in Norfolk, Neb., attended Northeast Community College, and continued her college education at Wayne State, receiving a bachelor’s degree in art education in 1992 and a Master of Science in education in 2001.

Haas currently teaches Visual Arts Experience as an adjunct professor at Wayne State College.

Haas is a certified senior art clay instructor and loves to make jewelry, knit, and garden in her free time.

School of Business and Technology - Larry R. Guenther '91 and Joseph C. Guenther '88

Larry GuentherLarry Guenther is the Nebraska market executive for JPMorgan Chase. He is responsible for delivering global resources of JPMorgan Chase to Nebraska, and he established the firm’s first commercial banking office in Nebraska in 2017. During his 30 years in banking, Guenther has been involved with a variety of financings and mergers and acquisitions (M&A) transactions across a broad array of industries throughout the Midwest. 

Guenther’s career began in Nebraska after graduating in 1991 from Wayne State College with a Bachelor of Science in business administration (management and finance). During his time at WSC, he completed the John G. Neihardt Scholars Program and graduated magna cum laude. He also began his lifetime membership in Delta Sigma Pi.

After graduation, he began his commercial banking career in Blair, Neb. His affection for the M&A world started by completing his best merger to date – marrying his college sweetheart, Traci Van Meter ‘92, a computer science graduate and Delta Sig. He completed his MBA in finance at the University of Nebraska-Omaha and headed east with career stops in Iowa and Illinois over the next 10 years. In Illinois, he worked for Bank One, which would one day merge into JPMorgan Chase.

In 2003, the Guenthers returned to Nebraska to raise their two daughters among family and friends. His career advanced to the field of regional commercial banking, managing clients in multiple states throughout the Midwest. In 2008, he was named the Omaha business banking manager for Great Western Bank to oversee three banking teams and help GWB successfully complete the acquisition and integration of the largest failed bank in Nebraska history.

Throughout his career in commercial banking, Guenther has always placed a high priority on community service. He currently sits on the State Board of Community Health Agencies Drive (CHAD) and the State Board for the Alzheimer’s Association, where he has served as chair for both the Omaha and Central Illinois chapters. Guenther also sits on the Board of the Nebraska Chapter of Financial Executives International and is a member of ACG-Nebraska. He is a longtime member of Rotary International and remains on the finance committee for St. Charles Borromeo Church.

Two fun WSC facts about Guenther: The Guenthers’ oldest daughter, Halsie, was named after Dr. Ken Halsey, a professor and Delta Sigma Pi advisor. All seven members of Guenther’s immediate family have graduated from WSC: Joe, Lynn, Lori, Connie, Dennis, and Terri.

Joseph GuentherJoseph Guenther’s career has spanned more than 30 years in the financial services industry in Nebraska and Iowa.  Currently, he works as a recovery representative in the First Bankcard Division of First National Bank of Omaha and serves as the company’s liaison with various legal teams working on behalf of the bank. FNBO is the largest privately held bank in the US.  

After completing a Bachelor of Science in business administration (finance) in 1988, he began his banking career as a management trainee for the Lauritzen Corporation at their bank in Sibley, Iowa. Over the next five years, his career took him to Niobrara and Fremont, Neb., before finally landing in Omaha in 1992. During this time, he held various positions including loan officer, ag loan officer, and farm inspector/manager.  

In 1997, Guenther moved to the First Bankcard Division, which at the time was the largest division within First National of Nebraska. Also during this time, he successfully completed an Executive MBA from the University of Nebraska in 2002. He has held multiple roles over the last 20-plus years within the Bankcard Division including:  financial analyst, associate manager, and legal administrator. He’s been in his current role for 10 years and currently travels throughout the Midwest for the bank.  

Guenther and his wife, Jody, were married in 2002 and have a son, John (JJ), who is currently attending Creighton Prep High School. His strong sense for investing in the communities he has lived in is evidenced by his 2018 Good Neighbor Award from the Aksarben/Elmwood Park Neighborhood Association. He has worked with a variety of non-profits over the years and currently is focused on educational events with Holy Cross and Creighton Prep. He is also a Deputy Grand Knight for the Knights of Columbus Council No. 11364. In a true testament to his love for speaking, he recently rejoined the Speakfirst Toastmasters Group to mentor young business professionals, a group that he helped found at First National in 1998.

School of Education and Behavioral Sciences - Barry E. Thomas '02

Barry ThomasBarry Thomas is the Director of Equity and Diversity for Omaha Public Schools in Nebraska. Since he obtained his social science education degree from Wayne State College in 2002, he has also served OPS as a social studies teacher in the middle and high school levels as well as Supervisor of Social Studies. Additionally, Thomas has two master’s degrees in educational leadership and curriculum and instruction from Doane College. 

Thomas has been extremely active during his time in the social studies community. Thomas has testified at the Unicameral in opposition to bills that would create barriers for Omaha Public Schools students to graduate. His insights and counsel were regularly sought after by state senators and Nebraska School Board members for issues related to social studies. He has twice been a lead member of a select group of educators that worked on revising and updating the Nebraska state standards for social studies. He served as president for the Nebraska State Council for Social Studies, a member of the Nebraska Advisory Council for National Geographic Society, and board member of the National Social Studies Supervisor Association (NSSSA). 

Thomas has presented at the National Council for Economic Education Conference and the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) Conference. Thomas served as co-chair for the African-American Educators Community and the Government/Public Relations Committee for NCSS. As a result of his commitment to social studies he was awarded the Distinguished Support for Geography Education award by the National Council for Geographic Education, the 2018 Leadership Award from Geographic Educators of Nebraska, the Nebraska Council on Economic Education 2019 Mary Lynn Reiser Award, the NSCSS Paul Beck Outstanding Social Studies Educator Award, and the Urban League of Nebraska Outstanding Educator Award.

Though new to his role as Director of Equity and Diversity, Thomas has wasted no time asserting policies, practices, and staff development to raise awareness of biases and discriminatory conduct in his school district. He has led community conversations about the legacy of racism in Omaha. Thomas served on the Great Plains Black History Museum Board and is also a member of the Empowerment Network’s Redefine the Game Institute and the Inclusive Community’s Lead Diversity inaugural cohorts. Thomas serves on multiple advisory boards such as UNMC Nursing Community Advisory Council for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, the Omaha Chamber of Commerce CODE Conference Planning Committee, NDE’s Equity Leaders, and Nebraska’s Diverse and Learner Ready Teacher initiative. 

Thomas says he is grateful to have been able to represent Wayne State College along the way.

School of Science, Health, and Criminal Justice - Brandon L. Grimm '02

Brandon GrimmDr. Brandon Grimm is a native Nebraskan and is committed to creating the conditions so that all communities can be healthy and thrive. Grimm received a bachelor’s degree in exercise science from Wayne State College in 2002, a master of public health degree from the University of Nebraska Omaha in 2005, and a Ph.D. in health promotion social and behavioral health in 2013 from the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Grimm is currently the Associate Dean for Public Health Practice and an associate professor in the Department of Health Promotion at the UNMC College of Public Health. 

Grimm has been working in public health for more than 15 years and has been instrumental in enhancing the capacity of the current public health workforce, translating data into action, building mutually beneficial academe practice partnerships, and training the next generation of practitioners. In 2004, Grimm co-created the Great Plains Leadership Institute, which has graduated more than 300 public health professionals from Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, and South Dakota. In 2012, Grimm established the Office of Public Health Practice at the UNMC College of Public Health. Faculty and staff of the office have provided resources for technical assistance, evidence-based programing, assessment and evaluation, practice-based research opportunities, and student field placements that support and impact the public’s health in Nebraska, the region, and the globe. 

Grimm’s research focuses on implementation sciences and the most effective models and approaches to build the capacity of communities to solve their most relevant and wicked public health issues. Additionally, Grimm is an expert in competency development, assessment, and evaluation. His relationships, critical thinking, and respect have led to Grimm becoming a recognized resource locally, regionally, and nationally. He sits on numerous boards and committees, is the past president of the Public Health Association of Nebraska, a current board member of the Sarpy Cass Health Department, and is the past recipient of the Balderson Award from the National Public Health Leadership Development Network and the Academic Public Health Practice Excellence Award from the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health.

2019 Recipients

School of Arts and Humanities - Corinne E. Morris '84, MAE '93

Corinne MorrisCorinne (George) Morris graduated from Wayne State College in 1984 with a bachelor’s degree in theatre and home economics. She earned her Master of Arts in Education degree from WSC in 1993 with an emphasis in communication. She earned a post-graduate certificate in community college leadership from UNL in 2012. While studying at WSC as an undergrad, Morris was very active in theatre and played several major roles in WSC productions. She also competed in intercollegiate forensics, winning awards at state and national tournaments. As a graduate, she traveled frequently with the WSC forensics team as a tournament judge. Morris served as an adjunct communication instructor and forensics coach at WSC from 1993 to 1996. 

On the side, Morris started her own business, Corinne’s Costumes and Custom Sewing, and has kept it going since 1989. She has costumed many plays for area high schools and community theatre productions. She has also directed plays for community theatre groups in both Wayne and Norfolk.

Morris has worked for Northeast Community College since 1996. She started as a speech instructor/forensics coach, moving into an assessment coordinator role and then into an associate dean position. She currently serves as the Dean of Agriculture, Math, and Science for the college.

Morris credits her success to her support system, starting with her mother, Mary Lou George, who inspired her to go to college in the first place and has been there for her at every turn.

“At 18, you just don’t know all the ways your education will serve you, but Mom knew, and she’s encouraged me all along the way,” Morris said. “I’m so thankful for the wonderful education I received at Wayne State College. It has made all the difference in my life. I’ve had the privilege to work with so many wonderful people through the years. I feel very honored to receive this award. I’ve been so blessed to have the support of my husband, my family, and my friends. That’s what makes it all possible.”

School of Business and Technology - JR Rother '06

JR RotherJR (Roland) Rother graduated from Wayne State College with a bachelor’s degree in computer information systems and minors in business administration and computer science in 2006. He was also a member of the football team and the Student Athlete Advisory Council. 

While studying at WSC, Rother held internships with First National Bank of Omaha. After graduation, he moved to Omaha and continued his professional career with the same company, holding several positions. 

Rother has worked for Bosselman Enterprises for the past eight years and is currently the director of information systems. He also serves on the WSC CTIS Advisory Board and as the board chairman for the Central and Western Nebraska chapter of the American Red Cross. He and his wife Jenny, also a graduate of WSC, live in Grand Island, Neb., with their three children.

School of Education and Counseling - Lisa Allen Fricke '73

Lisa FrickeLisa Fricke has dedicated 36 years to teaching in Nebraska public schools. Currently, she is serving her second year of her four-year term on the State Board of Education, District 2, which includes most of Sarpy County and a large portion of Douglas County.  

Fricke graduated from Bellevue East High School, student-taught in Bellevue, and graduated from Wayne State College in 1973. During her career, she served as a master teacher mentor for the Intergenerational Mentoring Program and helped develop state assessments for reading, writing, and special education math. She was also a gubernatorial appointee to the Special Education Accountability Commission for three years, and a mentor for Coach Tom and Nancy Osborne’s Teammates Program. Fricke has also served on several School Improvement External Visitation Teams.

Fricke grew up in a military family where her father served in the U.S. Air Force for 30 years. Because of her father’s dedicated service and her mother’s support of her military family, Fricke is a strong advocate for veterans and their families.

Fricke and her husband, David, have three children, Jason, Ryan, and Erica. Erica is married to Captain Stephen Velasquez, and they have blessed Fricke with three precious grandchildren, Xander, Ari, and Cohen.

The best advice Lisa was given at the beginning of her teaching career was, “Teach your students the way you would want your own children to be taught.” She kept this advice at the heart of her teaching for 36 years. David and Lisa are both retired and live in Millard.

School of Natural and Social Sciences - Dr. Ron Holt '89

Ron HoltDr. Ron Holt ’89 is a board-certified psychiatrist, author, and international speaker.

Holt’s annual Wayne State College community service began in 2000 when he began returning to campus during Homecoming week as a volunteer speaker to educate students and staff on LGBT issues and civil rights.

In 2008, Holt expanded his presentations nationally to include LGBTQ+ health care, the consequences of bullying, and suicide risk reduction. He has presented to more than 10,000 students and more than 1,200 physicians across more than 300 audiences throughout the United States and beyond.

In 2014, Holt created the annual Civic Engagement Award on campus, which recognizes a graduating WSC senior who has served as an exemplary role model and contributed to the service ethos of the college campus and community at large.

In December 2016, Holt released his first book on Amazon entitled “PRIDE: You Can’t Heal if You’re Hiding From Yourself.” In 2017, he and his husband, Dr. William Huggett ’86, released their first LGBTQ-themed coloring book. Since then they have published several coloring books supporting both LGBTQ people as well as helping physicians with stress reduction through meditation and coloring.

In March 2017, Holt left his corporate medicine job to further his community service and devote more time to writing.

He has received several awards across the country for his community service and commitment to diversity, including being a recipient of Wayne State College’s 2004 Alumni Service Award, the 2012 Alumni Achievement Award, and the 2017 Diversity Award. In the late 2000s, Holt received his employer’s two highest awards for community service and diversity achievement, making him the first physician within this national health care organization to receive both awards in the individual category.

In May 2019, he was elected to Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, which is the highest honor the APA can bestow upon a member.

In addition to being a trustee of the Wayne State Foundation, Holt currently practices as a student health physician at San Francisco State University. He has created numerous endowed scholarships at Wayne State College and began his first annual scholarship while a WSC senior.

2018 Recipients

School of Arts and Humanities - Odell Santos '99, MSE '02, MSE '05

Odell SantosOdell Santos has taken his passion for education and sports to assist in empowering and motivating the next generation of Nebraska citizens. After completion of his bachelor’s degree in education at Wayne State in 1999, he began his career in education as the interim director of multicultural affairs and the distance learning Spanish instructor at Wayne State College. He continued to pursue his double master’s degrees in sports administration and secondary administration with Wayne State during this time. 

Upon completion of his master’s programs, Santos and his wife, Sarah (Wuebben) ‘03, moved to California where he worked with the Tulare County Office of Education and Lindsay Unified School District as a prevention coordinator and outreach consultant. 

After several years in California, they decided Nebraska was where they wanted to raise their children. Santos embraced his passion of sports as assistant athletic director at North Star High School in Lincoln and easily moved into the role of athletic director a couple of years later after one of his mentors, Craig Jacobson, retired. 

When the opportunity to step into the principal position at South Sioux City High School was presented, Santos welcomed the move as a way to continue to develop as a leader in education. After three years, his love and passion to inspire student-athletes has come full circle as he is currently serving as the athletic director at SSC. The Santoses currently reside in the community of South Sioux City with their two children, Jonah, 10, and Jocelyn, 9.

School of Business and Technology - Shawn D. Strong '96, MBA '97

Shawn StrongShawn D. Strong, Ph.D., graduated from Wayne State in both 1996 and 1997, first with his bachelor’s degree in industrial management and a year later with his MBA. While attending Wayne State, he worked at Heritage Homes and Industries in maintenance, utilizing his technical degree from Northwest Iowa Community College. 

While Strong was working on his Ph.D. at Iowa State, his wife, Amy (a WSC alumna), worked for Norfolk Public Schools. Strong worked at Missouri State University from 1999-2012, eventually becoming a tenured full professor and department head of Technology and Construction Management. In 2013, he accepted the position of dean of business at Bemidji State University/Northwest Technical College, a position he held until accepting his current positon. He is beginning his third year as president of the State Technical College of Missouri (State Tech) in Linn, Mo.  

“WSC had and still has some of the very faculty who were instrumental in helping me successfully get through my undergraduate education,” Strong said. “Dr. Don Cattle, who I remember well, recruited both Amy and me. Greg VanderWeil served as my advisor even after I decided I wasn’t going to be a secondary educator. Don Buryanek, who I still consider a mentor as an outstanding technical educator. Dr. John Renzelman, who I suspect pulled some strings to get me into my Ph.D. program. Without their influence, I am confident I would not be a college president today.” 

School of Education and Counseling - Jay Bellar '83

Jay BellarJay Bellar is a native of Walthill, Neb., and a graduate of Walthill High School, located on the Omaha Indian Reservation in Northeast Nebraska. He is the middle son of John and Delores Bellar. His father was employed as a minister and his mother a paraprofessional for the school. 

As a student, Bellar was surrounded by a diverse group of peers, which later in life would benefit him as an educator. He earned his bachelor of education degree in 1983 from Wayne State College while playing both football and basketball. His advanced degrees, a master’s and a specialist degree in administration, are from the University of Nebraska-Kearney.   

Bellar started his teaching career at Trenton, Neb., where he was the physical education and driver’s education teacher and a coach. He then moved to Johnson-Brock Public Schools in Johnson, Neb., where he taught, coached, and later became principal and athletic director. After Johnson-Brock, he crossed into Iowa for seven years, where he was middle school principal, head football coach, and athletic director for Tri-Center Schools in Neola, Iowa. For the past 20 years, Bellar has served as the superintendent of schools for Battle Creek Public Schools in Battle Creek, Neb.  

Bellar will now go on to serve the State of Nebraska as the executive director of the Nebraska Schools Activities Association (NSAA) in Lincoln. Bellar has served 11 years on the board of directors for the NSAA.   

Bellar has had a successful career in education with some major accomplishments. He was named Iowa Middle School Principal of the Year and appointed by the governor of Nebraska to serve six years on the Professional Practice Commission for the state. He was the 2010 recipient of the UNK Education in Leadership Award, also known as the UNKLES Award. He served two one-year terms as chairman of the board for the NSAA. He was instrumental along with other community members in passing a bond issue to build a new junior and senior high school for Battle Creek. Bellar was the recipient of the Region III Nebraska Association of School Administrators Honor Award. He was named the 2015 AASA Superintendent of the Year for Nebraska and was also a finalist for the national superintendent of the year. In 2016 he was voted as superintendent of the year by the superintendent association and in 2018 was named superintendent of the year by the Nebraska Rural Community Schools Association.    

Bellar is married with twin boys, Jared and Zachary, who are currently attending Wayne State College. His wife, Lori, earned her master’s degree in counseling from Wayne State College in 2001.  

School of Natural and Social Sciences - Miles D. Brey '85

Miles BreyMiles Brey retired from the United States Secret Service in 2016 after serving for 26 years. Following the completion of two federal law enforcement training academies in 1990, Brey was assigned to the White House. In 1993, he began an assignment in the Special Operations Section. The SOS office specializes in coordinating and securing all of the social and political events associated with the president’s White House schedule. In 1997, he was promoted to a front line supervisory position and remained at the White House. In the late 1990’s, Brey also began conducting protective advances. These security advances required travel and detailed logistical planning several days ahead of a presidential visit. Throughout his career, Brey has conducted protective missions on six continents and nearly every state in America. He has also served as a protective motorcade driver in both the U.S. and abroad. Brey was transferred to the Service’s training academy for five years before finishing his final eight years as a White House West Wing and Executive Mansion supervisor.

Brey graduated from Wayne State in 1985 with a bachelor’s degree in geographic studies and a minor in history. He regards his college years as some of the most meaningful of his life. More specifically, he credits his lasting friendships as his greatest memories of his four years at Wayne State. While at Wayne, Brey served as a resident assistant in Morey Hall under the loving oversight and direction of dorm director Roberta “Mom” Welte. He also credits social science professors Robert Foote and Dr. Don Hickey for instilling in him a greater understanding of United States history and geographic ideas and considerations. Numerous courses in writing and public speaking have helped him throughout his career and life.

Brey’s retirement didn’t last long. In 2016, he joined the Lionheart International Services Group consulting team and was rehired as a Secret Service law enforcement training instructor in 2017.

Brey and his wife, Beth, are in their 30th year of marriage and have raised three sons and one daughter. They reside in New Windsor, Md., and are active members in their local church. Brey serves as a board member for the Carroll County Fellowship of Christian Athletes, a ministry he participated in at Wayne State throughout his college years.

2017 Recipients

School of Arts and Humanities - Merle Larson '59

Merle LarsonMerle Larson grew up in Wausa, Neb., and graduated high school in 1955. He received his bachelor’s degree in music education from Wayne State College in 1959 and his master’s in music education from the University of Northern Colorado in 1963. He began his career in 1959 teaching grades 4 through 12 music in Moorhead, Iowa. He also taught junior high band in Mitchell, S.D., and band and vocal music in Neligh, Neb. The final chapter of his career brought him to Yankton Public Schools in Yankton, S.D., where he taught high school band from 1966 to 1992 and middle school band from 1992 to 1999. He also served as the school’s department chairman from 1979 to 1999.

Larson was inducted into the Yankton High School Fine Arts Hall of Fame in 2004 and was named South Dakota Teacher of the Year in 1978. That same year, he was also named Yankton Teacher of the Year. Larson was named Music Educator of the Year by the National Federation of Interscholastic Music Association in 1991 and received the organization’s Regional Outstanding Music Educator Award in 1992, which is presented to one teacher in a six-state area. He received Phi Beta Mu’s Distinguished Service Award in 1994 and was named South Dakota Outstanding Band Director of the Year by Phi Beta Mu in 1989. Larson was also given the Outstanding Music Educator Award at the 1986 World of Music Festival in Dallas.

Larson served as president of the South Dakota Music Educators Association (SDMEA) from 1985 to 1987 and the South Dakota Band Director’s Association from 1983 to 1985 after serving as a board member and vice president. He was also president of the Phi Beta Mu Music Fraternity from 1978 to 1979 and president of the Yankton Education Association from 1977 to 1978. He was the state band chairman for SDMEA from 1974 to 1976. 

Larson has been active in the music community directing bands and choirs, representing South Dakota at regional and national music conferences, and serving as an adjudicator for concert band, marching band, solos, and small group contests. He has also been a leader in his community through Shrine Club, United Methodist Church, Yankton Public Forum, Yankton Area Community Concert Association, and other organizations.

Larson and his wife, Virginia Larson ’60, live in Yankton and are both retired. They have three children: a son, Brad Larson, of Boston; a daughter, Julie Mudry, of Fort Worth, Texas; and another daughter, Jill Larson, of Yankton. 

School of Business and Technology - Danelle Smith '98

Danelle SmithDanelle Smith is a partner with the law firm of Fredericks Peebles & Morgan LLP. She practices primarily in the area of tribal and federal Indian law, with an emphasis in governmental affairs and economic development. She currently serves as general counsel to the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska and its subdivisions, including Ho-Chunk, Inc., the tribe’s economic development corporation. Smith has extensive experience in a broad range of tribal governance and tribal economic development matters, including financing, gaming, real estate, employment, and intergovernmental relations. She also works with tribal constitution and enrollment issues, tribal court administration, and ordinance and code drafting. Additionally, Smith is experienced in advising non-profit organizations, schools, and community colleges.  

Smith has been active in her community and currently serves on the board of directors for the Ho-Chunk Community Development Corporation. She has also served on the boards of directors for the Nebraska Justice Center, Legal Aid of Nebraska, and the Ho-Chunk Community Development Fund. She teaches business and legal classes at Little Priest Tribal College, has served as a member of the Nebraska State Bar Association’s Volunteer Lawyers Project Committee, and was elected to a four-year term on the Thurston County board of supervisors. Smith was previously named as one of the “Native American 40 Under 40” award recipients by the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development (NCAIED) and is an alumna of the Americans for Indian Opportunity (AIO) Ambassadors Program. 

Smith is admitted to practice in the State of Nebraska, the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska, the Winnebago Tribal Court, and the Ponca Tribal Court. Smith obtained her Juris Doctorate from the University of Iowa and a bachelor of science degree in business administration with an emphasis in human resource management from Wayne State College in 1998. She is a member of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska.

School of Education and Counseling - Dr. Bob Uhing, MSE '86, MSE '88, Ed.S. '91

Bob UhingBob Uhing earned a master of science in education in 1986, a master in special education in 1988, and an education specialist degree in 1991 from Wayne State College. He received his doctorate in educational administration from the University of South Dakota. Uhing was hired in 1997 by Educational Service Unit No. 1 (ESU 1) as the special education director and three years later was named assistant administrator. For the past 13 years, he has been the head administrator of ESU 1. Prior educational experience includes 13 years of working as a teacher, coach, and administrator at Wayne Public Schools. He served as president of the Nebraska Association of Special Education Supervisors in 2003. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Award in 2011 by the Nebraska Council of School Administrators and in 2016 was named Region III Superintendent of the Year. Uhing and his wife, Marlene, a graduate from Wayne State College, have a son, Brad, daughter-in-law, Molly, and four grandchildren.

School of Natural and Social Sciences - Diane Sabatka-Rine '84

Diane Sabatka-RineDiane (Bonow) Sabatka-Rine is the deputy director of the operations division for the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services (NDCS). She started her career as a corrections officer with NDCS more than three decades ago and has held a variety of positions within the agency. She was appointed to serve as warden at the Diagnostic and Evaluation Center in 2003 and later at the Lincoln Correctional Center. 

Sabatka-Rine was the first female appointed as warden of the Nebraska State Penitentiary in 2011, which opened in 1870. She enjoys working with “some of the most incredible corrections professionals in the business” and the day-to-day challenges overseeing the operations and management of five prisons incarcerating more than 4,000 individuals.

“Success in this business is a team effort; it’s not an individual accomplishment,” Sabatka-Rine said. “Our employees do extraordinary things every day, and it is truly an honor to work with people of that caliber.”

Sabatka-Rine grew up in rural Nebraska and graduated from Wahoo Public High School. She earned a bachelor of science in criminal justice with a minor in sociology from Wayne State College in 1984. She and her husband are actively involved in their church. Her greatest accomplishment is found in the man her son has grown to be. Her love for her work is secondary to the gratification she receives as a wife, mother, mother-in-law, daughter, sister, and aunt.

2016 Recipients

School of Arts and Humanities - Herb Mignery, Industrial Arts Major from 1955 to 1959

Herb MigneryHerb Mignery attended Wayne State College from 1955 to 1959 as an industrial arts major after growing up on a ranch in Wheeler County near Bartlett, Neb.

Mignery is a well-known sculptor whose subject matter often depicts the difficult lives of people of the West, since he believes our attitudes and views of the future can only be determined by examining our ancestors. Details and accouterments in his sculptures tell viewers about the subjects, their professions, and their lives, so that each piece reflects the story of life in the West. One of Mignery’s bronze sculptures, a female and male student and park bench, can be found on WSC’s campus east of Conn Library.

Mignery has won numerous awards, including Best of Show and the Western Art Associates Kieckhefer Award, as well as gold and silver medals in sculpture at the Cowboy Artists of America Show in Phoenix, the Norris Foundation Award at the Autry Museum in Los Angeles, and the Leonard J. Meiselman Memorial Award for sculpture at the National Sculpture Society in New York. 

Other honors include the installation of The Hungry Loop Monument at Brookgreen Gardens in Pawleys Island, S.C., and commissions to sculpt Prince Albert of Monaco and Buffalo Bill for Monaco, the Pioneer Award for the Academy of Country Music (Dick Clark Productions) in Los Angeles, and a life-size bust of President Gerald Ford for Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater in Vail, Colo. 

Mignery and his wife, Sherry, maintain his sculpture studio in Loveland, Colo., which he opened in 1975. They have two children, Chantal Mignery Watkins and her husband Lonnie, and Sky Mignery and her friend Dave Zader. They also have two grandchildren, Jackson and Jake Watkins.

School of Business and Technology - Brian W. Elliott, BA '77, MSE '79

Brian ElliottBrian W. Elliott graduated cum laude from Wayne State College in 1977 with a Bachelor of Arts in Industrial Technology Education. He received his Master of Science in Education from WSC in 1979.

Elliott retired in 2011 and had a distinguished career as an automotive instructor at the high school and college levels. He prepared his students for competitions at the regional, state, and national levels, winning 50 state and regional championships as well as high rankings at the national level. 

The competitions include the following:

  • State and National Skills/USA Competition
  • Trouble-Shooting Contests in Plymouth/AAA, Chrysler/AAA and Ford/AAA
  • Joe Gibbs/Universal Technical Institute 
  • Engine Teardown Pit Crew Competitions

Throughout his teaching career, Elliott also received major awards, including:

  • Illinois Automotive Teacher of the Year, sponsored by Valvoline Oil Company (1989)
  • Most Inspirational Teacher Award from Western Illinois University (1999)
  • Lake Park Illinois High School Distinguished Alumni Award (2004)

Elliott is a member of American Legion Post 1084 in Roselle, Ill., and a member of Sons of the American Legion. This membership is in recognition of his father, who served as part of a B-24 Bomber Squadron in the Philippines and was a WWII Army/Air Corp Veteran. 

School of Education and Counseling - Matthew Blomenkamp, MSE '02, Ed.S. '09

Matthew BlomenkampMatthew Blomenkamp earned a Master of Science in Education in 2002 and an Education Specialist degree in 2009 from Wayne State College. He also has an assessment endorsement from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and a doctorate in Educational Administration from University of Nebraska at Omaha. He received his undergraduate degree from Midland Lutheran College in 1999.

Blomenkamp is the junior and senior high school principal at Bennington Public Schools in Bennington, Neb., a position he has held for the past three years. Blomenkamp has also spent time as an assistant principal at Millard North High School, an activities director at Bellevue East High School and McCool Junction High School, and a behavior disorders director at ESU No. 1 in Wayne. During the past 15 years, Blomenkamp has taught physical education, business, and special education, as well as coached both junior high and high school athletics. 

Blomenkamp is married with two children: Isaac, 8, and Allison, 6. His wife, Sarah, attended Creighton University and earned a doctorate in Physical Therapy from UNMC. She works in Bellevue as a physical therapist at Hillcrest Rehabilitation. 

School of Natural and Social Sciences - Keith M. Olsen, BS '77

Keith M. OlsenDr. Keith M. Olsen, Pharm.D., is a native of Laurel, Neb., and graduate of Laurel High School. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry, graduating cum laude in 1977 from Wayne State College, and a Doctor of Pharmacy and residency certificate at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. He is the dean and professor of pharmacy in the College of Pharmacy, as well as a critical care specialist at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock, Ark.

Olsen is recognized as a fellow of both the American College of Clinical Pharmacy and American College of Critical Care Medicine. Graduating doctor of pharmacy classes have recognized him as Teacher of the Year three times. He has published more than 300 peer-reviewed publications, abstracts and book chapters in the areas of critical care pharmacotherapy and infectious diseases. 

Olsen and his wife, Theresa, have five children and seven grandchildren.

2015 Recipients

School of Arts and Humanities - Christa (Habrock) Dutcher, BA ’04, MBA ’05 and BS ’07

Christa DutcherChrista graduated from WSC in 2004 with a degree in Spanish and business management. She then continued her studies at WSC as a graduate assistant while attaining an MBA. Later, while working as an adjunct at WSC, she decided to pursue a degree in education. Christa currently lives in Wayne and has been teaching Spanish at Wayne High School for eight years. While at Wayne High, she has taught dual credit courses through WSC, started a chapter of Sociedad Honoraria Hispánica (Spanish Honor Society), served as Spanish Club sponsor and has been an assistant track coach.

School of Business and Technology - Kent Riesberg, BA ’80

Kent RiesbergKent Riesberg graduated from WSC with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration and was hired at Mutual of Omaha in the Internal Audit Division. He later transferred to the Information Technology division and has worked on major projects for over 30 years. Riesberg has been heavily involved in community work including Boy Scouts of America, working at a local food pantry, volunteering at a dementia unit, and working with his church’s teen program. Riesberg and his wife Karen (Dec 80) have three children, two of whom are graduates of WSC.

School of Education and Counseling - Julia (Lorenz) Cook, MSE ’04

Julia CookJulia Cook was born and raised in Salt Lake City Utah. While living in Utah, she became actively involved in teaching children how to ski. That experience led to a love of teaching in general. She completed her bachelor’s degree in education at the University of Utah, moved to Fremont Nebraska, and earned the master’s degree in Elementary School Counseling at Wayne State College. While serving as a guidance counselor, Julia often used children’s books to enhance her classroom lessons. She is now nationally recognized as an award-winning children’s book author and parenting expert. Julia has presented in more than 800 schools across the country, regularly delivers keynote addresses at education and counseling conferences, and has published more than three dozen children’s books. The goal behind all of Julia’s books and efforts is to actively involve young people into her fun and creative stories and teach them to become life-long problem solvers.

School of Natural and Social Sciences - Connie (Depperman) Petersen, BA ’99

Connie PetersenDr. Petersen began her 20-year history of working in the mental health and addiction fields at R-Way in Wayne, NE. While pursuing her undergraduate degree through Wayne State College, she both worked at and later managed the Kirkwood House facility before later becoming a Community Support Provider for R-Way. She went on to pursue her doctoral degree through Wichita State University in Wichita, Kansas in 2001. While pursuing her degree, Dr. Petersen worked as a Case Manager and later a master’s level therapist at South Central Mental Health Counseling Center in El Dorado & Andover, Kansas. She moved to Jackson, Mississippi in 2005 to complete her pre-doctoral internship at the Mississippi State Hospital in Whitfield, MS. After completing her internship at the state hospital, she pursued a career with COPAC (a long-term drug and alcohol treatment center) in Brandon, MS. Dr. Petersen completed her doctoral degree in Community-Clinical Psychology in 2007.

Dr. Petersen and her family then made the decision to move back to the area. In 2007, Dr. Petersen began her career with Behavioral Health Specialists, Inc., in Norfolk, Neb., as the Director of Outpatient Clinical Services. Since that time, she has secured additional training as Mental Health First Aid instructor and has found great pleasure in providing the knowledge and skills from this training with the hope that others will pass on the message to our communities. Currently, in addition to maintaining her Director position in the Outpatient Department of Behavioral Health Specialists, Inc., she also serves as the Interim Director at Sunrise Place (a short-term residential drug and alcohol treatment center) in Norfolk, NE. Dr. Petersen has an amazing husband, Jeff, who has supported her throughout her career and four wonderful children, Lucas (7), Riley (5), Tate (3), and Dagney (4 months).