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Taking a leadership role in health care

Posted by on Jan 8, 2018 in Alumni, Denver, Featured Story | 0 comments

Taking a leadership role in health care

Editor’s Note: This story was included in the latest edition of Affinity Magazine. Click here to check out the magazine in its entirety!

The summer of 2017 was a season of change for Ryan Frazier.

Ryan Frazier, a 2002 Columbia College-Denver graduate
(Photo submitted)

The 2002 Columbia College-Denver graduate spent the past 20 years in the Denver area, but he and his family recently made the move to Chicago, where he now works at the headquarters of the American Hospital Association (AHA).

After career paths that included city councilman for the city of Aurora, Colorado, and senior advisor to the CEO of an air medical transport company, Frazier took on the role as the AHA’s senior vice president of member relations in June. It’s a post that allows him to interact and advise on a regular basis with “C-suite” executives — such as CEOs, CFOs, COOs and CIOs — in America’s hospitals and health systems.

He’s been rather busy lately.

“It’s been drinking from the proverbial firehose,” Frazier says. “There is so much to learn and so much to understand.”

Frazier first met AHA president and CEO Rick Pollack when Pollack was the organization’s executive vice president and Frazier was head of government relations and senior advisor to the CEO at Air Methods Corporation in Englewood, Colorado. Frazier worked with the AHA through the Coalition to Protect America’s Health Care, an advocacy group founded in 2000 that speaks for the importance of hospitals in American communities.

When Pollack sought out Frazier to join the AHA, Frazier jumped at the opportunity.

“I believe that the AHA does some of the most meaningful work in the country to advance health care in America,” Frazier says. “It was such a big opportunity to come do meaningful work in an area that I care about deeply that I decided this was a really good move for me to go help make a difference.”

It is a continuation of Frazier’s life work since graduating from Columbia College. In addition to his post at Air Methods Corporation and serving as a city councilman from 2003 to 2011, he is a former member of the Business Advisory Council of the Coalition to Protect America’s Health Care and a former Heath Research & Educational Trust senior fellow.

He has fostered a keen interest in government, public policy, health care and business.

“Ryan is a highly capable and well-respected leader with great communication skills, and his diverse background in business, community service and public service will be an asset to our association,” Pollack said in a June press release. “We are very excited to welcome Ryan to the AHA team, and look forward to his leadership in developing innovative and creative approaches for continuing to engage our membership and other key partners in working to advance health in America.”

Frazier attended a semester of college straight out of high school before deciding to follow an interest in military intelligence and withdrawing to join the Navy. He was assigned to the National Security Agency and stationed in Colorado, where he resumed his college education.

Looking around the Denver metro area, he couldn’t find a better fit for his budgetary and military needs than Columbia College.

“I think Columbia College is one of the most military- and veteran-friendly colleges I know of,” Frazier said. “The staff and the team were so customer-friendly and accommodating. I knew I had the ability, with their support and my drive, to complete my bachelor’s degree and continue to move forward with my life. They really made a military veteran like myself feel right at home.”

After taking a combination of in-seat and online classes to earn his Bachelor of Arts, with an emphasis in marketing, from Columbia College, Frazier went on to receive a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership from Regis University in Denver.

“(Columbia College) really does enable people of all backgrounds to get a good education and complete their aspirations for an undergraduate degree or even a graduate degree,” Frazier says “I was just really impressed with the fact that the team there was so focused on us and helping us to get there. I think that was what made it stand apart. You didn’t just feel like a number, another person at the school. You really felt like you were someone to the people at Columbia College.”

In his first months at the AHA, Frazier undertook a “listening tour.” He went around the country and spoke with the stakeholders — health system and hospital leaders, state hospital association executives and members of his own staff — to get a handle on what has been working and what needs to be augmented.

The goal: to help take the AHA to the next level.

“This is about making a difference in the lives of people,” Frazier says. “The American Hospital Association is doing that each and every day. I intend to take this opportunity to really just lead in the field of health.”

Dot Johnson ’13 excels as both nurse and aerialist

Posted by on Dec 21, 2017 in Alumni, Instagram | 0 comments

Dot Johnson ’13 excels as both nurse and aerialist

By Kelsey Lyman

Imagine dangling from two long strips of fabric hanging from rafters, tying yourself in beautiful knots and performing gravity-defying stunts that would make your mother’s stomach turn. That’s aerial silks, something Columbia College graduate Dot Johnson does on the regular.

Dot Johnson, a 2013 Columbia College nursing graduate, is an aerial silks performer and teacher in her free time.
(Photo by Scott Peterson)

Dot graduated from Columbia College in 2013 with a nursing degree, but she isn’t your average nurse. She is an aerial silks performer and instructor in her free time. Combining her high-flying hobby with an extremely difficult profession, her typical week is probably more action-packed than most people’s.

Aerial silks, offered locally through Wilson’s Fitness Center on Rangeline Street in Columbia, is a performance art in which aerialists climb the hanging fabrics and perform contortion and acrobatics. It is most often associated with Cirque du Soleil. Dot has been practicing aerial since 2008 in her home city of Chicago, when a friend asked her to come try it.

“And so I did and I loved it,” she said. “I was in a little student troupe, and we got to perform with the big troupe.”

After aerial came to Columbia in her last year of college, Dot joined. As the program, dubbed “CoMo Aerial Arts,” got bigger, more instructors were needed. With her nursing certifications and aerial experience, she took the training and now has two classes that she teaches twice a week.

But Dot is more than just a skilled aerial performer. She also prizes her day-to-day profession, helping patients at Surgery Center at the Forum as a nurse. The practice performs many different procedures, its specialties being LASIK and eye correction.

Dot Johnson works with patients at Surgery Center at the Forum.
(Photo submitted)

“The patient population I’m with is really neat,” Dot says. “A lot of them are older, retired, and it’s an elective surgery usually, so it’s a little bit more of a positive environment.”

She worked at the University Hospital Intensive Care Unit for six years prior — before and during nursing school, then as a graduate. Dot initially started at the University of Missouri, but working part time and taking 22 credit hours at a big school wasn’t quite her style.

So she did some research. Her grandmother just happened to share a friend with Dr. Joyce Gentry, chair of the Columbia College Nursing department. Dot spoke with her future mentor about the program, applied and got in.

“I would say I was her closest mentor during her time here. And that all started at that initial meeting,” Gentry said. “She was a good student, she had to study. And studying nursing takes longer, preparation takes longer — they’re in clinicals in the hospitals eight hours a day — and she did it.”

During her time at Columbia College, Dot headed her nursing class’ community outreach project and became class president. More than anything though, she says she still has fond memories of “Dr. Gentry always having her office door open. That was a nice thing going through.”

As an aerialist, nurse and Columbia College alumna, Dot has been successful in many facets of life, and people have noticed.

“She has just developed and blossomed into this amazing young nurse,” Gentry said.

Salt Lake alumnus’ life story hits the big screen

Posted by on Dec 7, 2017 in Alumni, Featured Story, Nationwide | 0 comments

Salt Lake alumnus’ life story hits the big screen

Ron Stallworth sat in a Brooklyn studio in October, watching a table full of actors re-enact a pivotal period of his life that happened nearly 40 years ago.

Ron Stallworth and his wife, Patsy, with Oscar-winning director Spike Lee, who will be bringing Stallworth’s autobiographical book Black Klansman to the big screen.
(Photo submitted)

John David Washington, son of Academy Award winner Denzel Washington, was there, playing the part of “Ron Stallworth.” So was Laura Harrier, whose latest credits include Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Adam Driver, who plays the main villain in the current Star Wars trilogy of movies.

Presiding over it all: Oscar-winning director Spike Lee. His next project, Black Klansman, is based on a nonfiction book by the same name that Stallworth authored. This was the first table read with the cast.

Stallworth turned to his wife, Patsy Terrazas-Stallworth.

“We looked at each other, smiled and said, ‘Can you believe this?’” Stallworth said. “That’s my name they’re mentioning. We’ll be able to see it in a dark theater with popcorn and Coke and actually watch all this take place. It’s very surreal. We periodically look at each other, pinch ourselves and say, ‘Can you believe this?’ Because it’s a rollercoaster ride that we’re on, one that we never imagined.”

The film’s distributors are targeting a release date of November or December 2018. They want to get it into theaters before Jan. 1, to make it eligible for the 2019 award-show cycle.

Stallworth, who spent more than three decades in law enforcement, earned his Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice from Columbia College-Salt Lake in 2007. He published Black Klansman in 2014, because he felt it was an important chapter of his life to share.

It tells the story of how, as a Colorado Springs Police Department detective in 1978, Stallworth ran an eight-month undercover sting operation in which he embedded himself deep within the fabric of the Colorado Springs chapter of the Ku Klux Klan hate group. Along the way, he helped thwart criminal acts the chapter had planned, gained critical intelligence about the national KKK apparatus and how it intersected with other extremist groups and rose to a leadership position within his local chapter.

Not only was Stallworth a police officer, but he was an African-American police officer.

Stallworth conducted his portion of the operation over the phone and through correspondence. When a meet-up was required, he sent a white friend who worked in narcotics to be “Ron Stallworth.”

“The insight I got is that they’re not the brightest lightbulbs in the socket,” Stallworth said. “They’re relatively ignorant people in the sense that, if they had been on their game, I never would have been able to accomplish what I did accomplish.”

While it was primarily an intelligence-gathering operation, Stallworth and the Colorado Springs Police Department were able to stop three planned cross burnings during the course of the sting. Chapter members would loop Stallworth in on the plans, he’d call police dispatch, and patrols would flood the area.

Ron Stallworth with a copy of his book, Black Klansman, and his Ku Klux Klan membership card. (Photo submitted)

“Once they would get in the area to plant their cross and see all these police cars cruising back and forth, they would panic and chicken out,” Stallworth said.

Stallworth also caught wind of a plot to bomb two gay bars in the area as well as a plan to steal automatic weapons from a nearby Army base, Fort Carson, during the life of the sting. Neither of those crimes ever happened. Through his conversations with group leaders, Stallworth was able to help connect the dots between the local Klan chapter and an American Nazi Party group out of Denver, as well as the militant Posse Comitatus organization.

He had multiple conversations with David Duke, then Grand Wizard of the KKK, in which the Anti-Defamation League would feed Stallworth questions to mine Duke for information.

All the while, Duke was certain he was speaking with a like-minded white man.

“He would answer my questions, not recognizing that he was basically snitching on himself,” Stallworth said. “Then I would pass that information back to the Anti-Defamation League for whatever purpose they had in mind, closing a few gaps in their understanding of what was happening at the time.”

A major motion picture studio bought the rights to Black Klansman soon after it was published in 2014, but it let the contract expire without moving on it. At one point, Emmy Award-winning screenwriter Christopher Cleveland expressed interest in bringing the story to the screen, but that fell through as well.

“He told me, ‘Don’t give up. This is a blockbuster in the making, if it’s done right. And the story should be told,’” Stallworth said.

QC Entertainment bought the film rights in March 2016. The next spring, the studio scored a huge hit with the thriller Get Out, written and directed by Jordan Peele. QC told Stallworth that Peele had read his book and wanted to produce and direct Black Klansman as his follow-up project.

Shortly after, Stallworth got a call from the head of QC. Peele would still be producing the film, but someone else was stepping in as director.

“I asked him, ‘Who?’ And he said, ‘Spike Lee,’” Stallworth said, referring to last year’s Academy Award recipient for lifetime achievement in directing. “I was even more tickled to death with that news. He apparently read my book, liked it and contacted Jordan to tell him he’d like to direct it. I had no goals in mind, no particular intention, other than to tell the story that I had been a part of those many years earlier. So, when Hollywood came calling, it was a pleasant surprise. Then it was a shock to the system when I get the top two black directors right now in Hollywood saying they want to take it on as a project.”

Black Klansman, the book, is also set for an updated national release, in hardcover, through Flatiron Books, a subsidiary of Macmillan Publishers, next fall. Stallworth is intent on not letting this new level of celebrity go to his head.

Ron Stallworth with actor John David Washington, who will be playing the part of Stallworth in the Black Klansman movie.
(Photo submitted)

He’s still the same man that devoted his career to law enforcement, sought out a college degree when he was through, then earned the Columbia College Alumni Relations Community Service Award in 2010 for his work coaching youth sports teams in Salt Lake City and serving as an expert on gangs at the state and local levels.

“My Columbia College experience has been wonderful,” Stallworth said. “I enjoyed the learning process. It was very pleasant, very friendly at the Salt Lake campus. And, subsequently, when I got to know people at the main campus, who were very open, warm people. I have nothing but positive things to say about Columbia.”

He and Patsy live in El Paso, Texas. They graduated from high school together in 1971. After the tragic death of Stallworth’s first wife, Micki, from cancer in 2004, Stallworth says he wandered in an “emotional wilderness” for six years before he and Patsy started talking again in 2010. Stallworth says her love, dedication and devotion to him has brought him out of that wilderness.

Their friends think they’re millionaires now, but they’re not. They’re just Ron and Patsy.

“My wife and I have made a commitment that there will be no sense of celebrity with us,” Stallworth said. “We’re not going to get caught up in the hype of what’s happening to us. It’s nice. We enjoy it. But we have a very simple, humble life. We have no intentions of becoming Hollywood celebrities or playing that scene. We just refuse to let it happen.

“I’m just enjoying this journey with my wife. We’ll ride it for as long as we can, then see what the next chapter brings.”

Joshua Muder ’99 never one to back away from a challenge

Posted by on Dec 5, 2017 in Alumni, Featured Story | 0 comments

Joshua Muder ’99 never one to back away from a challenge

Joshua Muder ’99

By Maria Haynie

From Australia to Canada, Joshua Muder ’99 has built a career out of looking for what’s new and different in the power industry. As the senior project manager currently based at the Kansas City office of the design-build firm Pullman Power, LLC, he shares what has helped him find success along the way.

“Some project managers get locked into doing the same thing over and over again in their projects,” says Muder. “I believe I’ve been successful in my career by jumping into new areas, the type of projects that have not been done before. Recently I had a $7 million project partially dismantling a couple of nuclear reactor containments. I requested that project because it was something that had never been done before, by my company or myself, and I was attracted to the idea of breaking new ground.”

Muder has a history, built over the 10 years he has spent with his current firm, of taking on massive projects because of the challenge they provide. One of his successful management techniques on these trailblazing projects is to rely on his training in fields outside of construction and engineering.

“In another environmental upgrade project, I managed a $70 million construction of two 950-foot tall concrete chimneys to connect to a new air scrubbing system,” says Muder. “This was about 10 years out from graduating from CC, and I felt that I was drawing on my business training, especially my business law knowledge and debate skills, to stay on top of it all, negotiating for change orders and additional contracts. I really felt that gave me an advantage.”

Muder’s knowledgeable outsider perspective may bolster his confidence in the face of new challenges. With bachelor’s degrees in both business administration and history/political science from Columbia College, his educational background is distinct amongst the teams he works with.

“Most of the people I work with are engineers or have construction management degrees. They have technically oriented backgrounds, I am a little unusual in this business to be a business and political science major,” says Muder. “It has made me a better project manager. One of our corporate values is that solutions are found within the team. My team has their specific areas of focus, and I reach out to them when I need additional details.”

Muder wasn’t even close to studying construction engineering when he started college. Entering Columbia College as a freshman from Kansas City on a full scholarship, he thought his future lay in politics or law because of his passion for debate in high school.

“I liked the way debate taught you how to structure and organize arguments, to frame positions,” Muder says. “It also helps you change your mindset to see how another person would take a position different than yours.”

After an internship in the Missouri House of Representatives showed him politics at the Capitol was “a lot less glamorous” than he was expecting, Muder decided not to pursue a career along those lines.

“Columbia College was the right place for me to figure out what I wanted to do with my career,” says Muder. “My roommate, Richard Moore, came from a political family. Richard and I were randomly assigned together our freshman year, and the next year we were student government president and vice president. He made my Missouri House internship possible, and I learned a great deal about politics and cattle ranching from him. To this day, I can tell you how many cows a laptop cost in 1995.”

While he enjoyed his political science and history classes (especially those with Dr. David Roebuck, with whom he stays in touch with to this day), the business classes sparked a new interest that has served him well. Columbia College had a business organization called Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE), which sent business majors to entrepreneurial competitions to pitch business and project plans to panels of area business leaders. Columbia’s team made it to the national finals every year. It was a mix of business acumen, debate and presentation skills. Muder attributes this experience with teammates and professors for sending him down the career path he has now.

After graduation, Muder started working in the power industry while completing graduate school in Sydney, Australia. He moved back to the US, working on projects throughout the US and Canada.

“One of my early career mentors, James Biggins, said that if you hire a bunch of engineers and construction managers, you get people who all think the same way,” Muder says. “Jim told me he was interested in the English or music major who applies for a position in the construction management field, what a different perspective they may have. They may see answers to challenges that we wouldn’t see.”

Before graduating from Columbia College, a former classmate and fellow Jane Froman singer, Gabrielle Orscheln, introduced Muder to her roommate, Ann. Two years later, in 2001, Muder and Ann married. They now live in Kansas City with their two children, Sydney and Jack, and their newest addition, a puppy named Pluto. Muder currently serves as the Columbia College Alumni Advisory Council president.

Walsh’s path leads from Columbia College to state house

Posted by on Nov 21, 2017 in Alumni, Featured Story, Jefferson City, Nationwide | 0 comments

Walsh’s path leads from Columbia College to state house

Sara Walsh watched as her parents made things work paycheck to paycheck when she was growing up.

They never had a lot, but they had enough. They instilled a desire to strive for more in Walsh and her sisters.

“They always encouraged us to dream big,” Walsh said. “They always wanted us to do better than they did, because they were just struggling to keep us fed. My parents always taught me to work hard, and you can achieve your dreams.”

It’s a lesson Walsh held dear, from her first job frying chicken at the Moser’s grocery store in Holts Summit, Missouri, to serving as quality control inspector at the Maytag factory in Jefferson City. From earning her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Columbia College-Jefferson City in 2005, to achieving her master’s in public affairs, with a nonprofit and public management concentration, from the University of Missouri four years later, both as a working adult.

From volunteering as secretary of the Boone County Republican Committee, to being elected a state representative from the 50th District in August.

It all hit home as she took the oath of office at the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City on Sept. 13. As a child in mid-Missouri, she had pictures of Mount Rushmore, Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan on her wall. She idealized the vision of America in which anybody could set a goal, work hard and achieve it.

She is living her dreams.

“(Taking my oath of office) was honestly the first time where it just felt like everything froze in time,” Walsh said. “Standing there where so many other people had been, seeing the beautiful murals, the history of the building and the great honor and privilege and responsibility of serving the people, it just all kind of felt like time stopped, just the gravity and the honor of the moment.”

Walsh was born in Torrance, Calif., but her family moved to mid-Missouri in the 1980s, when she was 7 years old. They lived in rented houses in Climax Springs, Lohman, Eldon and other areas in rural Callaway County, where the weeds were taller than her and the people acted a little differently than they did on the west coast.

“I remember a bunch of kids on the back of a pickup truck waving on this gravel road by Climax Springs,” Walsh said. “I had never seen anything like that before. I was like, ‘Dad, why are those people waving at me?’ He’s like, ‘They’re just friendly out here.’ It was a wonderful childhood. I’m so glad they made that decision, because Missouri is home. It really, truly is.”

While working at Maytag, Walsh started taking business classes at Columbia College’s Jefferson City location. She worked the midnight shift, and Columbia College’s flexible class schedules gave her the opportunity to fit work, college and home life into her busy days.

She started a Student Government Association chapter at the location and won the presidency. She helped spearhead efforts to raise money for the Red Cross shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks and oversaw location-wide efforts such as providing for teacher appreciation certificates and pencil sharpeners in every classroom. Walsh also worked as an administrative assistant at the Jefferson City location and utilized employee education grants to help pay her way through college, the same track she would later take while working and studying her way to her master’s degree at Missouri.

“One of the things I loved when I worked for Columbia College was helping people. It was so wonderful, the bonds that I made,” Walsh said. “I would tell them, ‘I’m an adult, too, working and going to college. You can do this.’ It made me feel so good to encourage them, inspire them and let them know that this was doable.”

Walsh’s first job in politics was as a legislative assistant for a state representative. She went on to work in the state auditor’s office, sandwiched between jobs at the National Newspaper Association and handling communications for the Missouri Pharmacy Association.

When she and her husband, Steve — and their dog, Wish — moved to Ashland in southern Boone County, she started looking into opportunities to run for office. She knew that her district’s representative, Caleb Jones, would have his term run out in 2018, so she began laying the groundwork to succeed him.

Jones left office to become new Governor Eric Greitens’ chief of staff in January. The Republicans nominated Walsh to run for his seat and, after a whirlwind seven-month campaign, Walsh was elected to represent the 50th District, which contains parts of Cole, Cooper, Moniteau and Boone counties.

“I’m someone who is 110 percent committed on everything that I’ve done,” Walsh said. “I’ve always been an overachiever. The ‘dream big’ part is good, but you’ve got to do the ‘work hard.’ So I’ve always focused on that part, so the dreams would come true. It’s just a good formula.”

The new legislative session begins in January. Until then, Walsh is crisscrossing the district to catch back up with constituents she met during the campaign and hear their concerns, so she can take them with her back to Jefferson City. Once the session starts, she’ll be on the budget and pensions committees, as well as a special committee on employment security.

She wants to focus her efforts on three main issues: public safety, agriculture and education. Walsh has firsthand experience with how valuing education can change people’s lives.

“It’s being able to let young folks make sure they’ve got those opportunities to be able to start exploring ideas, so they can then chart their course to success,” Walsh said. “That’s a passion of mine. What I tell people in the communities who don’t have scholarships or come from poverty, I’ll encourage them to get a job at Columbia College. Apply for a job at the University of Missouri. You can work there and get your degree.”

Walsh followed her passion all the way from mid-Missouri to Washington, D.C., for the presidential inauguration in January. To Cleveland last summer as a Missouri delegate to the Republican National Convention, which she calls “a Disneyland for political geeks.”

“There were just (famous) people walking by like it’s nothing. Like, ‘Wow, you don’t see them at Walmart,’” Walsh said. “It was pretty cool, a little Missouri girl going and seeing these national figures. It was quite an honor.”

She followed her passion all the way from Columbia College to the state house.

“Public service is something where it’s government of, by and for the people,” Walsh said. “I serve them. They’re my boss. I’m not the special one.”

Be true to your school: Columbia College alumni artists shine

Posted by on Oct 20, 2017 in Academics, Alumni, Day Campus | 0 comments

Be true to your school: Columbia College alumni artists shine

Dan Gemkow ’05 (courtesy of Columbia Missourian)

via the Columbia Daily Tribune – October 15, 2017

Living in a college town, it can be easy to get swept up in the latest higher education rankings. It seems like a different list is published each day: What school offers the most bang for your buck? Which have the strongest alumni networks? Which school is the safest bet for a left-handed student paying out-of-state tuition? These listings have their purposes, but it seems like two factors should loom the largest. What creative or innovative work is the school engaged in today? And how well has it prepared past students to make their way in the world? By those standards, the art department at Columbia College is sitting near the head of its class. Right now, two alums are augmenting the work of current students by displaying pieces of resonance in the school’s galleries.

 “Be true to your school: Columbia College alumni artists shine” – Columbia Daily Tribune

Chambers ’16 brings days of the week to life with animated show

Posted by on Aug 30, 2017 in Alumni | 0 comments

Chambers ’16 brings days of the week to life with animated show

August 9, 2017 – via

Monday. The beginning of the workweek. The day we all dread. What would Monday be like if she was a character? Would we dislike her because we hate Mondays? That’s the premise behind The Weeklings, a new animated series created by 2016 Columbia College alumnus Brandyn Chambers (far right in the photo) and his team. The show stars the days of the week and holidays as characters, and all those feelings you have about Monday or Sunday are personified onto those characters. And you guessed it — everyone loves Friday. Friday is the cool guy. Jabril Mack, who lived in the Gateway City for four years, and Chambers, a ‘Lou native, are two of the creators of the series. They met in a classroom at Mary Emily Bryan Middle School in Weldon Spring, Missouri, where they began creating cartoons. “They weren’t as good as The Weeklings, but it was a start,” Chambers says.

READ MORE – “This adorable TV series brings the weekdays to life” –

Ruth Hawkins ’67 earns place in Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame

Posted by on Jul 31, 2017 in Alumni, Featured Story, Instagram | 0 comments

Ruth Hawkins ’67 earns place in Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame

The two years she spent at Christian (now Columbia) College continue to hold great resonance for Dr. Ruth Wehmer Hawkins ’67, no matter where her life has taken her.

Dr. Ruth Wehmer Hawkins, a 1967 alumna of Christian College, is one of this year’s Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame inductees.
(Photo submitted)

After a stint on the Christian College Microphone newspaper staff and encouragement from instructor Linda Lusk helped kindle a flair for journalism, Hawkins earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Missouri School of Journalism and worked as a television and newspaper reporter in Virginia after graduation.

When Hawkins, a St. Louis native, and her husband moved to Jonesboro, Arkansas, to be closer to home in 1978, she became head of the advancement division at Arkansas State University, using skills she learned under Christian College development director Charles Mai and alumni relations director Jane Crow the summer after her graduation.

She fell in love with the researching and preservation of historic sites as the executive director of the Arkansas State University Heritage Sites program — a title she created — which calls back to her days helping Allean Lemmon Hale research an update to Hale’s book Petticoat Pioneer: The Story of Christian College.

All of Hawkins’ professional passions have something in common, besides the fact that she was able to cultivate them while earning her Associate in Arts degree at Christian College.

“It’s all about telling a story,” Hawkins said. “Now, I’m telling the stories of important heritage sites, but I’m telling them through doing the research on why they’re significant, then developing the exhibits and interpretive materials for people to come and visit and learn to appreciate those sites.”

Hawkins’ story has earned her a spot in the Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame class of 2017, a collection of nine women — including famed poet Maya Angelou — and one group of women who will be honored with an induction ceremony on August 24 in Little Rock.

For the record, she also happens to be the recipient of the Parker Westbrook Award for Lifetime Achievement in preservation, the Lifetime Achievement Award through the Arkansas Historical Association, the Peg Newton Smith Lifetime Achievement Award through the Arkansas Museums Association and is a member of the Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame. Just to name a few.

“This is obviously a major honor,” Hawkins said. “I feel a little guilty in receiving it, because I have such a great team that I’ve worked with over the years. They do all the work, and I get to be the front person and take all the credit.

“It certainly means a lot to me because it’s the women’s hall of fame, and I’ve been an advocate for advancing the roles of women for a long time, starting with going to Christian College.”

Ruth Wehmer Hawkins, during her time on the Christian College Microphone newspaper staff.
(Photo submitted)

Hawkins came by it naturally: her mother, Hazel Snoddy Wehmer, was a 1941 graduate.

When Hawkins was young, the family would make trips to Columbia, and Wehmer would always take them by campus.

“I would see all these young women walking by with their heels and their hose and their hats,” Hawkins said. “That was back in the day. I just always thought that’s where I should go.”

During her time at Christian College, Hawkins formed close bonds with dean of women Elizabeth Kirkman and faculty members such as Hazel Kennedy and Polly and Jack Batterson. She first met her husband, Van — a student at MU — when he served as her waiter in the dining hall.

The vice president of Missouri Hall, Hawkins and her housemates would try to think up ways to slip out for a night on the town once the security detail had finished its rounds.

“We never really did sneak out,” Hawkins said. “Or I didn’t, anyway. I never had the nerve. We used to plot and scheme, though. Like, ‘Oh, maybe we can get past the Pinkerton man.’”

Hawkins has vivid memories of the fun and camaraderie she enjoyed at Christian College. She even has a paper trail to help guide her recollections, thanks to a mandatory practice she used to loathe as a student.

You see, Christian College students had to fill out index cards including information on where they were going and who they were going with whenever they headed off campus.

“I just thought that was awful that we had to do that,” Hawkins said. “But I saved all those index cards, and now it’s really great. I occasionally look back at those, and it’s a complete two-year diary of what I did every time I left campus. That’s a great memory for me.”

Hawkins, who received the Columbia College Alumni Association’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 1989, continues working to preserve the memories of some of Arkansas’ most historically significant sites.

The first project she oversaw was the restoration of the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum in Piggott, the family home of novelist Ernest Hemingway’s second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, at which Hemingway was a frequent visitor. The project also resulted in Hawkins’ book, Unbelievable Happiness and Final Sorrow: The Hemingway-Pfeiffer Marriage. After several additional heritage site restorations, her most recent project — the Johnny Cash Boyhood Home — opened in 2014 in Dyess.

Before undertaking the project, she would drive by the country singer’s childhood home and see how it had fallen into a state of disrepair. She worried that tourists were getting the wrong idea about Cash’s upbringing, which took place in a New Deal resettlement colony for farmers.

Ruth Wehmer Hawkins (third from left) at the 1967 Ivy Chain ceremony, with Kathleen Knabb, Karen Knepper Morgan and Clare O’Connor Stuempfig.
(Photo submitted)

“He lived in that house when it was brand new. So, for Johnny Cash and his family, it was a palace,” Hawkins said. “His mother sat on the floor and cried the day they moved in because it was the first new house she’d ever lived in. She kept it spotless.”

Hawkins’ team restored the house and a nearby colont administration building to their 1930s form, along with rebuilding a 1940s theater as a visitors center. This October, they’re planning the inaugural Johnny Cash Heritage Festival, headlined by music performances from artists such as Kris Kristofferson and Cash’s eldest daughter, Rosanne, in the field by the house.

She still makes time to come back to Columbia every now and then. She still stops by the campus.

If the memories ever fade, the preservationist always has her notecards for reference.

“When I think of Christian, I think of the all-night study sessions with the group of girls in the alcove at the end of the hall,” Hawkins said. “And just doing things together, celebrating each other’s successes.”

The art of advocacy

Posted by on Jun 29, 2017 in Alumni, Featured Story, Instagram, Online Education | 0 comments

The art of advocacy

Editors Note: This story was included in the latest edition of Affinity Magazine. Click here to check out the magazine in its entirety!

A love of painting came naturally to Renee Hamilton-McNealy ’12. As a child, she would go to art galleries with her mother and discuss the works they’d see. She painted in the backyard with her father. From that passion, she branched out as a makeup artist and aesthetician, which flowed organically into an interest in body painting.

After all, body painting is just another form of fine art, using the human body as a canvas.

“What I gravitate toward is usually healing experiences for people beyond just paint to skin,” Hamilton-McNealy says. “It’s a whole beautiful world out there. Everybody I’ve worked with always felt like it was a therapeutic experience for them.”

Body painting is a mode of expression for both artist and subject. Hamilton- McNealy learned about the power of body painting while assisting world-renowned artist Trina Merry at a workshop at the San Jose Museum of Art, then brought her own works to life during the Ms. Veteran America competition last  year.

In the talent competition, she performed a spoken-word piece about women serving in the US Army since the time of the Revolutionary War while painting an American flag on a model. In the finals — she was one of 10 chosen out of about 400 competitors — she presented a video of her art that raised awareness of the plight of female veterans who become homeless after serving, while a model she pre-painted in a camouflage pattern stood on stage.

“I was showing that even the art doesn’t cover up the camo,” Hamilton-McNealy says. “It enhances it, sheds more light on it.”

It’s a cause that’s near and dear to Hamilton-McNealy’s heart. She’s a master sergeant in the Army Reserves in her 18th year of service, 10 of them on active duty. Through her work with the Final Salute foundation, which helps find safe and suitable housing for homeless female veterans and their children, and her advocacy as a Ms. Veteran America contestant, Hamilton-McNealy strives to make her art imitate life.


Getting a degree

Hamilton-McNealy was not aware that the Army could pull her out of school when she got called up for active duty shortly after Sept. 11, 2001. She had just lost her mother and wanted to keep her commitment to earn her degree, but she wasn’t sure of her next step. She visited the education center at Fort Stewart, Georgia, where she was serving in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. There, a representative from Columbia College offered her a solution.

“They explained how it could work, even though I was on active duty,” Hamilton-McNealy says. “Due to one of the reps being really helpful and showing the way, learning I could take some classes online and go to the classroom — which is what I truly wanted — it worked exceptionally well with my schedule and how I learned.”

Hamilton-McNealy earned her Associate in General Studies in 2004 and served eight more years of active duty as a financial manager/budget analyst, four in Atlanta and four in the San Francisco Bay area in California.

When she relocated to California, she knew where to turn to complete her bachelor’s degree. She took online classes through Columbia College until earning her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration in 2012. She then completed a Master of Business Administration from Golden Gate University in San Francisco.

“I feel that what is great is women who are building themselves prior to transitioning [from military to civilian life], and education is a part of that,” Hamilton-McNealy says.

She serves as a mentor for around 2,500 non-commissioned officers through a Facebook group. She has a go-to message when someone asks her for advice on how to pursue a degree along with a military career.

“All I could think about is there was a school I went to when I just got called into active duty, lost my mother and got pulled out of school that still helped me focus and move ahead,” Hamilton-McNealy says. “I didn’t go to Columbia College for my MBA, only because I wanted to go in person. But if that was an option where I worked, I would have, because it was a great support beyond education at the time.

“I think it’s a good school for anyone who’s still serving to be able to go to.”


Making a Difference

When she applied for the Army Entertainment’s traveling Soldier Show as a volunteer, Hamilton-McNealy was thinking she’d fit best in the hair and makeup department. The director had another idea.

In the production there was a Tina Turner “Proud Mary” number for which Hamilton-McNealy would be perfect. So she found herself performing and in charge of hair and makeup on a 10-month nationwide tour of Army bases and other communities. They worked 16-hour days for 75 minutes on stage, singing and dancing for servicemembers and their families, sharing the Army’s message of “ready and resilient.”

“It was just awesome serving primarily the military and veteran community, but also children, youth, the homeless, Wounded Warriors,” Hamilton-McNealy says. “You had soldiers come together like a family to perform.”

At one stop, she met a man who said he came to the show every year, but this one would be his last. He planned on taking his life. He changed his mind after hearing the messages of affirmation offered by the Soldier Show.

“Seeing the show really changed him,” Hamilton-McNealy says. “That just made the whole thing valid, if nothing else ever did. Just another way to reach out to people.”

That’s how she viewed her Ms. Veteran America candidacy. She joined a dedicated group of women from all branches and levels of the military to showcase “the women beyond the uniform” and benefit homeless female veterans and their children through Final Salute. Hamilton-McNealy raised nearly $3,000 on her own. The competition was secondary. The message was foremost.

“It made me want to cry. To see a population of other women who were just as driven, it was just phenomenal,” Hamilton-McNealy says. “It felt good to come together and say, ‘We have these solutions to provide support for other women veterans.’ It extended beyond just the sisterhood of the Army and opened up to all other branches. It just felt really infinite, and something that’s truly needed.”

Hamilton-McNealy is lending a helping hand to a friend in the Air Force who is running for Ms. Veteran America this year. She’s willing to offer advice or organize events for any other candidates that call on her. She hasn’t exactly ruled out another run, but she also feels a desire to welcome more women into the fold.

“I think the journey was so honorable I’ll make room for others, but be the support that they need for their own given journey,” Hamilton-McNealy says. “I’ll be an ambassador, always.”


Alum Christopher Cardona recognized for community service

Posted by on Jun 23, 2017 in Alumni, Featured Story | 1 comment

Alum Christopher Cardona recognized for community service

Christopher Itai Cardona, a 2013 graduate of Columbia College-Springfield.

Christopher Itai Cardona was a welcome daily presence for staff members as he pursued his degree at Columbia College-Springfield, and not only because he regularly brought in coffee to share.

They could see how dedicated Cardona was about completing his Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration, how studious he was, how important education was to him, even to the point that he would drive to the college’s Rolla and Fort Leonard Wood locations for classes that Springfield did not offer.

That persistence paid off in the spring of 2013, when Cardona graduated with a perfect 4.0 GPA. Columbia College-Springfield director Kathy Gress got to know him well during their frequent interactions and still corresponds with Cardona.

“He was kind of a champion for the underdog. He very much cared about people and their success,” Gress said. “He would work with the community, and he was very much an advocate.

“It was absolutely incredible and inspiring, especially to see someone with what we consider a disability — but he definitely didn’t — go as far as he did and have that kind of aspiration and the intelligence and the guts to do it. There just wasn’t anything he couldn’t do.”

In his 20s, Cardona underwent surgery to remove a non-cancerous tumor from the main nerve leading from his inner ear to his brain. He says he faced the normal financial and scholastic challenges every student faces, nothing more, while achieving his bachelor’s degree at Columbia College, then a Master of Arts in Applied Linguistics with a specialization in foreign language pedagogy and a Ph.D. in Religious Studies at other institutions.

“I made my education paramount to any other aspect in life,” Cardona says. “I did not study for tests. I studied to learn. Once I learned the material, the tests were not a challenge.”

Cardona with former Missouri Governor Jay Nixon. (Photo submitted)

Cardona is putting his Columbia College degree to good use as a property manager for two companies in southern California, where he lives. Already a certified home inspector and property manager, Cardona is also studying to become a licensed real-estate agent and plans to begin pursuing a Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership next spring.

He is also an active leader in his community of Desert Hot Springs, California. He volunteers for the LGBT Center as a deaf interpreter for its events and, last year, he served as the chair of the Mayoral Committee on Human Rights, which brought the community together and organized vigils to honor victims of violent crimes. Cardona has led voter registration efforts over the past two years, and he worked with the chamber of commerce to organize forums in which residents could ask questions of city council candidates.

Cardona also started a program to feed disadvantaged children in his community over the summer months when they’re not in school, and the Committee on Human Rights organized and hosted forums to facilitate a dialogue between community members and local police officers and educate at-risk youth on opportunities to get involved in their community.

Last December, Desert Hot Springs Mayor Scott Matas and California State Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia both rewarded Cardona with certificates of recognition for his efforts.

Cardona and his mother, Raquel Joyce, on the day of his graduation at the Columbia College main campus. (Photo submitted)

“I felt thankful and unworthy of such commendation, as there are those who do much more than I,” Cardona says. “I have been blessed in my life and I want to bless others by helping make the world more fair and by making our children a little less hungry. I want to inspire others to get involved and to just do what they can. I wish I could volunteer more.”

Cardona says he learned from his mother, Raquel Joyce, how to “do what we can for others with no expectation of return.” He is supported in all his efforts by his fiancé, Carlos, and the two have recently taken in Cardona’s niece and nephew, whose parents passed away.

Cardona is making them read novels over the summer to get ready for junior year of high school. He wants education to be just as important to them as it has been to him, as it was for the people who have helped him along the way.

“(The Columbia College-Springfield staff) made me want to go to school,” Cardona says. “I wanted to see them. I wanted to make them proud. They read my papers. They helped me navigate tough coursework. They allowed me to tutor fellow students. They became my friends who I wanted to see daily.”