Area residents, others honored at annual event; funds raised for scholarships
The donors and guests in attendance at Eastern Oklahoma State College’s ninth annual Sapphire Ball on April 7 were treated to a night of surprises during the annual scholarship fundraiser that honors supporters of the college.
Eastern President Dr. Stephen E. Smith said this year’s Sapphire Ball raised a record $35,673.22 that will benefit generations of students.
“This year’s Sapphire Ball was everything we had hoped it would be, a wonderful evening of delicious food, fun surprises, generous supporters and heartfelt speeches from our honorees. The real excitement will come in the fall when we can distribute scholarship funds to deserving students as a result of the event,” Smith said. “We hope everyone who attended the Sapphire Ball or supported it through a sponsorship or donation understands the importance of what they are doing. While we are thankful for their generous donations, the ultimate beneficiaries will be the Eastern students who will receive much-deserved scholarship assistance to pursue their dreams.”
Eastern President Dr. Stephen E. Smith (far left) gathers with honorees at the 2018 Sapphire Ball. Honorees include (from left to right) Gary Reasnor, Distinguished Alumnus Award; Lea Anne Dickson, J.C. Hunt Award; Brenda Bohanon Kennedy, President’s Excellence in Teaching Award; Major General James Chambers, Distinguished Alumnus Award; and David Keith representing McAlester Regional Health Center, President’s Community Spirit Award.
A surprise performance by “American Idol” top 24 finalist Trevor McBane had attendees on their feet and singing along to “Broken Halos” and “Wayfaring Stranger.” McBane is a 2017 Eastern graduate and was active in Eastern’s Concert Choir and Eastern Expressions band.
The black-tie event, which includes dinner, student entertainment, and silent and live auctions, also features an awards presentation honoring alumni, outstanding employees and community supporters. Eastern honored four individuals and one organization that have made a significant impact on the college or in their community.
Gary Reasnor of McCurtain and Major General James Chambers (Ret., USA) of Belton, Texas received the Distinguished Alumnus Award, presented annually to alumni who have distinguished themselves professionally and through service to the college.
A product of a two-room schoolhouse, Reasnor understands the importance of education beyond academic knowledge. He credits his time at Eastern (1976-1978) as exposure to a larger world with new experiences, diverse faculty members and greater career opportunities. Following his time at Eastern, Reasnor transferred to the University of Oklahoma to complete his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in 1980. He received his professional engineer certification in 1989 and is also a graduate of the Depot and Arsenal Executive Leadership Program administered by the Institute for Defense and Business and taught in partnership with the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School. Reasnor began his professional career with Haliburton, one of the world's largest providers of products and services to the energy industry. Facing a transfer in 1985, Reasnor sought a new opportunity to remain in his home of southeast Oklahoma and accepted a position as a supervisory civil engineer at the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant (MCAAP). During his 33-year career at MCAAP, Reasnor has served in several leadership roles and as chief of multiple divisions. Prior to his current position, he served as the plant’s chief engineer where he directed and coordinated plant engineering and public work’s activities, including ammunition production and demilitarization, facility engineering, family housing, land management, real property and utilities construction, operations, maintenance and repair. In 2004, he became the civilian deputy, the highest ranking civilian at MCAAP. He is currently responsible for managing the mission programs, the safety, security, quality and reliability of the munitions stockpile, maintenance of the infrastructure and formulating long-range strategic plans and policies to efficiently and effectively accomplish MCAAP’s mission.
Upon graduating high school in the small town of Marietta, Oklahoma, Chambers never imagined where his professional career would take hm. More than 40 years of military, teaching, coaching and corporate experience led him to a successful career that has spanned the globe. Following his 1973 graduation from Eastern, Chambers earned his bachelor’s degree in physical education from Southeastern Oklahoma State University and his master’s degree in logistics management from the Florida Institute of Technology. He also attended the U.S. Army Command/General Staff College and the U.S. Army War College. Chambers began his professional career teaching school in Marietta, Oklahoma for three years. In 1978, he enlisted in the Army and rose from the rank of private to major general during his 33-year distinguished military career. Chambers served two combat tours in Desert Storm/Desert Shield in Saudi Arabia, and Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom in Iraq. He also conducted multiple missions to Afghanistan and the Middle East, as well as served as the commanding general of Fort Lee, Virginia, and Fort Eustis, Virginia. In addition, Chambers served two tours in the Pentagon in Washington D.C., and an assignment in the U.S. Army Space Institute as the combat developer for GPS military receivers. After retiring from the U.S. Army in 2012, Chambers worked in the defense industry for four years as president and chief executive officer of two major defense industry companies before retiring in 2016. He recently began a three-year defense consulting position for the United Arab Emirates in Dubai.
The President’s Community Spirit Award was presented to McAlester Regional Health Center (MRHC) for outstanding support and service to Eastern and the local community. At the event, MRHC President and Chief Executive Officer David Keith surprised nursing student Katelyn Beams of McAlester with a $1,000 scholarship from the MRHC Foundation to assist with the cost of her education. Eastern and MRHC have a long-standing partnership for students and faculty in the college’s registered nursing program. MRHC serves as a primary clinical site, allowing students to receive hands-on guidance and training from employees who act in the capacity of clinical adjunct faculty. Numerous Eastern students are employed by MRHC as nurse externs, providing them opportunities to earn full-time positions upon graduation.
Brenda Bohanon Kennedy of Buffalo Valley received the President’s Excellence in Teaching Award. Like her parents before her, Kennedy knew she had a calling to teach. But upon her graduation from Eastern in 1982, she did not anticipate returning so quickly to her alma mater, teaching in the same building where she learned and attended class. She has served as a professor of computer science at Eastern since 1986 and was named as the dean of the Business Division this year. She has served as a Faculty Council representative for 12 years during her tenure at Eastern. Kennedy has also served as adviser to Eastern’s Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) honor society for 26 years. Under her leadership, PTK recently earned its eighth consecutive victory in Oklahoma Campus Compact’s statewide voter registration competition. Kennedy also created PTK’s annual Toys for Tots drive for the children and families of Eastern students. For the past 12 years, PTK members collected, wrapped and delivered toy donations to help make the holidays joyous for Eastern students’ families. Prior to joining Eastern, Kennedy taught math and computer science at Clayton Public Schools and Valliant Public Schools. A 1982 Eastern graduate, Kennedy also earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in education from Southeastern Oklahoma State University.
The J.C. Hunt Award for staff excellence was presented to Lea Anne Dickson of Stigler. Dickson has worked at Eastern since 2006. Content to comfortably work behind the scenes, Dickson makes sure everything runs smoothly for everyone else and is always willing to help students, faculty and staff as needed, above and beyond her normal duties. She currently serves as the instructional design and institutional research assistant at Eastern, assisting with state and federal reports, tracking enrollment numbers, managing classroom reservations, maintaining faculty credentials, calculating adjunct and overload pay for faculty and maintaining course syllabi. She also assists six academic division deans and three teaching site coordinators. Dickson previously served as the executive assistant to the vice president of Academic Affairs for nine years. In 2016, Dickson received the Creative Staff Innovation Award from the Oklahoma Association for Community Colleges for her work in developing a creative approach to making day-long assessment forum meetings more fun for faculty and staff. Prior to her work at Eastern, Dickson spent 13 years in the healthcare field as a registered medical assistant, office manager, payroll/data processing clerk, and administrative assistant. She is a graduate of the Southern Technical College.
A total of 30 corporate, organization and individual donors contributed to the success of the event as event sponsors and fund donors, while another 78 businesses and individuals donated items for the silent and live auctions.