Clarion University Distinguished Awards
The true measure of a university's greatness can be found in the achievements of its alumni. Many Clarion University graduates have made exceptional contributions to their profession, community and/or the university. The Clarion University Alumni Association Distinguished Awards were established by the Clarion University Alumni Association in 1966 to recognize exceptional alumni and university friends. The Clarion University Alumni Association and Clarion University are proud to honor outstanding alumni, friends and faculty.
submit a nomination
Distinguished Alumni: Established in 1966, this award recognizes alumni who over an extended period of time and/or through a singular achievement have achieved exemplary success in their own field, extraordinary service to Clarion, their community, state, nation, or all of humanity. Through their citizenship, service, and caring & generous spirit, they have personified qualities and character for all Clarion students and graduates to emulate. Please provide as much of the following as is known: resume (or Linked-In Profile), professional affiliations, outstanding achievements or honors, published works, volunteer or community service, and their impact on their community. Two awards may be given each year.
DISTINGUISHED YOUNG ALUMNI
Distinguished Young Alumni: Established in 2019, this award recognizes alumni who are under the age of 40, have established themselves as leaders in their professional field, and have demonstrated a willingness and commitment to giving back to their community through volunteerism, time and expertise. They have also demonstrated a level of integrity and capability in their professional achievements, personal accomplishments, and/or their loyal service to their alma mater that instills pride in faculty, staff, students and fellow alumni. Please provide as much of the following as is known: resume (or Linked-In Profile), professional affiliations, outstanding achievements or honors, published works, volunteer or community service, and their impact on their community.
DISTINGUISHED VENANGO ALUMNI
Distinguished Venango Alumni: Established in 1990, this award is presented by the Venango College Distinguished Alumni Award Committee to former campus students with a minimum of 30 credits. They may have been supportive of and brought favorable attention to Venango College through their professional accomplishments and extraordinary service to community and/or humanity. Please provide as much of the following as is known: resume (or Linked-In Profile), professional affiliations, outstanding achievements or honors, published works, volunteer or community service, and their impact on their community.
Distinguished Faculty: Established in 1966, this award recognizes Clarion University faculty members for their excellence in teaching, scholarship, and leadership. Recipients have a dedication and commitment to their profession, a record of professional development and growth, and demonstrate care for and are an inspiration to their students. They may be well known in and out of the classroom and are supportive of Clarion University. Please provide support for the nominee’s dedication and commitment to: 1) their profession; 2) their students; and 3) Clarion University and its community.
Distinguished Service: Established in 1995, this award is presented to any individual (who may or may not qualify as alumni and faculty) who has given time, talent, and/or resources to the university. They will have made contributions to the university that have a significant influence on the university community and/or or have a record of extraordinary volunteer service and be actively involved with Clarion University. Please provide the following information about the nominee: time, talent or resources given to Clarion University and the impact of their involvement and/or contributions on Clarion University and its community.
2022 DISTINGUISHED AWARDS RECIPIENTS
thomas K. bowman '77
In 1987, armed only with a self-designed marketing brochure, his past experience and a bit of confidence, Thomas Bowman left the comfort of a large CPA firm and set out to build his own accounting business.
He was denied the loan to start the business. At the time, his wife, Linda (Clarion University '77), was staying home to raise their two small children. With a growing family to feed, bills to pay and his ingenuity, he did, however, hatch another plan. "How about if I take a month or so to gather up all the pre-approved credit card offers I get, fill them out and drop them in the mailbox all on the same day!" That plan worked and Tom had over $100,000 in credit from 15 different credit card companies. He used that money to feed his growing family and fund his business.
Despite adversities along the way, Bowman built a successful accounting business eventually employing more than a dozen people with revenues in the top 2 percent of accounting firms nationwide. He built the business in a manner that he was able to work "on" but not "in" the business for the majority of his career. Tom is a sought-after speaker for the Professional Association of Small Business Accountants having presented at National Conferences nearly 60 times.
By example, Bowman's parents set a high bar for nonprofit and community involvement. Tom's nonprofit work includes over two decades each with American Heart Association, PASBA, and Maryland Small Business Awards.
His work with the American Heart Association includes board service, walk co-chair, fundraising, and numerous public speaking events. Bowman has raised more than $140,000 for heart research and recently became a member of the Cor Vitae Society.
His work with PASBA includes years of service on committees, two terms on the board of directors and a term as president. He founded and created the curriculum for Blueprint University, which teaches and exposes incoming members to PASBA principles. Bowman is a major contributing author to the Organization's Blueprint for Success Series, an eight binder reference manual for building a successful accounting practice.
He has been an active board member for Maryland Small Business Awards since 2001 and has served as Treasurer since 2005. Tom provides pro-bono accounting services, is a top fundraiser, nominator and has been on the Executive Committee since 2005.
Bowman received numerous awards over his career including Volunteer of the Year for the Greater Maryland Heart Walk, Distinguished Alumni in Business Award from North Allegheny High School, Lifetime Achievement Award from the Professional Association of Small Business Accountants, SBA's Mid Atlantic Accountant Advocate of the Year and Maryland SBA's Maryland Accountant Advocate of the Year.
In 2021, he successfully transitioned his business and became a minority partner in the acquiring firm. He and his wife reside in Columbia, Maryland, and have three grown children and five grandchildren. Bowman enjoys spending time with family, running, biking, working out and attending live music events.
Bowman said that Clarion is and always has been a special place for him and he is humbled and honored to be recognized by his alma mater, Clarion University.
Rina M. (Culp) Irwin '88
Rina Irwin, chief executive officer of Child Development Centers, Inc., grew up in Erie, with dreams to improve her community's neighborhoods beginning at an early age. She graduated from Strong Vincent High School, and spent ample time throughout her childhood visiting her grandmother's home in Knox. When she was 13, Irwin worked a summer job in the dining hall on Clarion University's campus. Irwin grew fond of the area and quickly set her sights on attending Clarion University with an interest in its accounting program. At Clarion, she worked for the Dean of the Business School, and in May 1988, Rina graduated with a bachelor's degree in accounting.
Upon her graduation, Irwin relocated to Venango County, where she served as an internal auditor for eight years with Quaker State Oil Corporation. During that time, she obtained her certified public accountant and certified internal auditor certifications and traveled across the country auditing the company's various businesses. She eventually began serving on Child Development Centers Inc.'s board of directors while her three daughters were enrolled in its centers, immediately becoming inspired by and dedicated to the nonprofit's mission of educating children to succeed.
As Rina has long understood the importance of education, she has always been very passionate about providing children with excellent early learning experiences beginning in infancy. She firmly believes that education is a key factor in ending poverty, and she has made it her life's mission to ensure each child's access to vital resources, education, and experiences that will foster confidence in the classroom and a lifelong love of learning.
Irwin's compassion, drive, and genuine commitment to helping children and families inspired her acceptance of the executive director position at Child Development Centers, Inc. after Quaker State Oil relocated to Dallas, Texas, in 1997. She was dedicated to getting the organization out of debt and eligible for vital grant funding, and the fruits of her labor are evident in the smiling faces of over 2,000 children that the nonprofit currently educates, feeds, and nurtures across the region. In her 25 years of service, the nonprofit's budget grew from $900,000 to $28 million and is now recognized across the commonwealth as an organization of excellence and quality for children and families. More than $100 million in grant funding has been awarded to the organization.
Under Rina's leadership, CDC now operates 14 centers across Northwestern Pennsylvania in Erie, Crawford and Venango counties, a giant leap from the five small centers that were initially in operation when she came on board. The nonprofit's newest center opened in early June of this year in downtown Erie, now offering CDC's impactful services to another 130 young learners. The Roosevelt Child Development Center also will open Spring 2023, welcoming another 150 Erie infants, toddlers, and preschool-aged children in Irwin's native community. Her goal to provide exceptional child care and early learning experience that families can trust while they work, attend school, or complete trainings directly impacts each community's economy while preparing its children for a successful transition to kindergarten, elementary school, and beyond.
In addition to her service at Child Development Centers, Inc., Irwin has served on the Pennsylvania Child Care Association Board, the Bridgebuilder's Community Foundation Board, the Venango County Human Services Board, the Governor's Early Learning Council in 2018, and the Pennsylvania Head Start Association Board of Directors. She also served as vice chair on the UPMC Northwest Board of Directors for six years. Irwin was recently named the 2022 Best CEO of the Year by the Nonprofit Partnership during the Nonprofit Excellence Awards this year.
Irwin and her husband, Joe, live in Erie. Her eldest daughter, Haley, lives in Houston, Texas, Amber lives in Pittsburgh, and her youngest, Kellianne, is currently enrolled in the Physician Assistant Program at Thiel College. Irwin also has a stepdaughter, Madison, who resides in South Carolina, and a stepson, Andrew, who also lives in Erie. Rina and Joe are also proud parents of their boxer puppy named Lucy.
Irwin's entire family is tremendously proud and inspired by her accomplishments, including this incredible honor from her alma mater.
DISTINGUISHED YOUNG ALUMNUS
Rich G. Eckert '10
Rich Eckert graduated from Clarion University in 2010 with a degree in business management with a focus on sports management. During his time at Clarion, he worked in the athletic department and served as the president of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee for two years. Those experiences allowed Eckert to be nominated and selected to represent that entire PSAC on the NCAA Division II SAAC for three years. His involvement while at Clarion lead him to work in college athletics for five years in various roles at two institutions.
After a brief career in college athletics, Eckert found his way into community banking in Beardstown, Illinois, at Beardstown Savings. Hired as a loan officer, he quickly learned the ins and outs of lending while using his past experiences in relationship building and marketing to help with growth initiative. In 2016, Eckert was promoted to assistant vice president then again in 2017, he was elevated to vice president of lending. In those roles, he managed the entire lending department while implementing new products and collection methods.
In October 2018, Eckert was promoted to president and CEO of the bank at the age of 31. Over the next three years the bank would grow from $48 million in assets to $70 million through marketing and relationship building. In addition to the growth, profitability and asset quality improved tremendously through efficient processes and procedures. While the improvements in the financial metrics is nice, Eckert's work in the community is more impressive.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the bank strived to give back to the community in every way possible. When school was cancelled for the remaining part of 2020, Eckert organized an initiative called 'Snack Pack Saturdays' aimed to provide food to the students throughout the weekend when school was not in session. Through donations from the board of directors and other local individuals, Beardstown Savings was able give away more than 250 snack packs for eight consecutive Saturdays to students and families in need.
Additionally, the bank was able to donate over $50,000 to local non-profits and small business owners who struggled during the pandemic. Eckert's work with the small business community was highlighted during all the rounds of stimulus, specifically PPP. He worked tirelessly to navigate the system in order to reach money for the local business owners. Only 24 hours after the program opened, Beardstown Savings was able to award the first round of PPP checks to business owners in desperate need of help. The bank, under Eckert's leadership, was able to help more than 100 small businesses receive more than $2.5 million in PPP assistance which was significant for a small community like Beardstown, Illinois.
All of his hard work, dedication, and commitment was recognized by the Illinois Bankers Association in 2021 as they awarded Beardstown Savings the annual Community Service Award. Additionally, he was one of eight bankers in the Midwest to be selected as a Rising Star in Banking by BankBeat Magazine. These awards are special but helping an individual buy their first home or car is much more fulfilling for Eckert.
Eckert is married Ashley Eckert and they have three children, Reese (6), Emilia (2), and Rex (1). He earned is Master's Degree from Illinois State and was a Top 10 graduate from Graduate School of Banking in Madison, Wisconsin. He is active on local non-profit boards, at his church, and is an avid golfer.
DISTINGUISHED VENANGO ALUMNus
Steven L. Brezzo '71
Steven Brezzo is a curator, author, museum director, producer and arts administrator with credentials in many aspects of the arts and entertainment business.
His extensive museum career as a curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, and 20-year tenure as director at the San Diego Museum of Art included a term as President of the California Association of Museums. While in San Diego, he collaborated and presented touring exhibits with, among others, Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss from Then to Now), the Forbes Collection (Faberge: The Imperial Eggs), the Russian State Collections (Jewels of the Romanovs), the Portuguese National Collections (The Age of the Baroque in Portugal), the William Paley Collection, the Baldwin Collection (Toulouse Lautrec), and the National Maritime Museum of the UK (The Great Age of Sail).
Subsequently, Brezzo went on to direct the iconic Pageant of the Masters in Laguna Beach, California, and then departed for Denmark where he joined a large international touring exhibits company engaged in productions such as Star Trek, Treasures of Iraq, and the Royal Centennial of Hans Christian Andersen.
Brezzo returned to New York as Director of Sotheby's Institute of Art where he developed a curriculum focused on art business and management and extended graduate degree accreditation for the school with the University of Manchester, UK. to the State of New York.
In 2009, Brezzo formed Opar Inc., a touring exhibition company for popular culture content, with exhibits that included a Maurice Sendak retrospective, "50 years, 50 Reasons"; "The Art of the Pulps; Tattered Covers and Midnight Reads – the Books Our Parents Loved"; "Actors Acting"; "The Art of the Fights, and Courtroom Illustrators." He is currently in production on an immersive experience celebrating the 90th Anniversary of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys– a national project in collaboration with Simon and Schuster publishers and Warner Brothers. In addition to the exhibition, the celebration will include a feature-length documentary film and a Broadway musical.
Brezzo also has served as director of business development for Europe's largest streaming on-line auction house, Auctionata, and as a specialist for popular culture materials including memorabilia, rare books, animation, illustrations and luxury men's content.
Brezzo has written on topics ranging from popular culture to fine arts, including articles and essays on the art of the Muppets to Star Wars, sports and the arts, and Toulouse Lautrec for various publications including "Ring Magazine." In addition to serving as president of the California Association of Museums and vice president of the Museum of Comics and Cartoon Art, he is a holder of the title of commander in the Order of in Prince Henry the Navigator in Portugal, and lectures frequently on his relationships with Dr. Seuss, Maurice Sendak and Jim Henson.
During his tenure at Clarion, Brezzo worked on television in Pittsburgh and New York as a children's program host and puppeteer and spent time with Mr. Rogers who shared his interest in puppetry and the early work of the Muppets.
At the University of Connecticut he was awarded the nation's first graduate degree in puppetry and combined with his credentials in education from Clarion, was subsequently awarded a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to work with museums in developing engaging content that was family friendly and accessible to all audiences. It was from this that he launched his career in both the arts and entertainment worlds and in which he has been engaged now for over 50 years.
Brezzo lives in Manhattan and Roxbury, Connecticut, with his wife, Dagmar Grimm, Ph.D., an art historian, writer and translator, and their Westie, Edelweiss.
William E. Fulmer '77G
Dr. William Fulmer began his career as an educator at the age of 14 when he began teaching swimming and lifesaving at the YMCA and the public swimming pool in his hometown of Franklin. He continued this work until he graduated from Westminster College in 1964. He also taught these skills for a time at the Youngstown YMCA. He still encounters people who are delighted to remind him that he taught them how to swim.
After graduation, Fulmer taught math at Neshannock High School in New Castle, where he also coached basketball. By then, he had added a wife, Elisabeth, and daughter, Jennifer, to his life and decided to leave teaching for a higher income as an Industrial Engineer at Talon, Inc. in Meadville, and York, SC, where a son, Edward, joined the family. The Fulmer family then moved on to Fresno, California, with the R. T. French Co. where he served as Systems Manager and Production Manager. He also provided consulting services to several small businesses in the area.
In 1975, Fulmer left French's and enrolled in the MBA program at Clarion State College. This brought him back into education where he taught a variety of management courses. His students benefited greatly from his years of experience in real-world business management. As an educator, Fulmer's main focus was his students. He was never too busy to provide guidance as an advisor, helping many students focus on their interests and reassuring them in their decision making. He worked to make his courses interesting and relevant. He held evening office hours on his front porch during summer school sessions.
Fulmer is proud of the courses and programs he developed, including the industrial relations major and study abroad in international business. His textbook "Managing Production: The Adventure" was published in 1984. He served as department chair for several years and became involved in local APSCUF governance. During these years he also completed his Ph.D. in Public Policy Research and Analysis. Pitt University awarded him honors for his dissertation on "Organizational Culture and Glass Ceilings for Women."
Fulmer's experience and concern for students and faculty led him to statewide leadership as a three-term president of APSCUF. During this time he guided negotiations for faculty contracts and the first system wide coaches contract. After his final term, he returned for a final year of teaching. He now enjoys greeting former students who visit the family business Fulmer House Books and Collectibles.
Clarion University has been important in Ann Jamison's life for many years and as she has grown from a young woman beginning her career at age 18 to a wife and mother throughout the next 33 years. She began working brief temporary positions at Clarion University in the Department of Speech Pathology & Audiology followed by the Office of Student Accounts. At the conclusion of her last temporary appointment, the then-Director of Human Resources asked if she would consider working in the Office of the President to train under the current secretary for a period of five years.
Ann was hired during the Thomas Bond era although she never worked for him. Her arrival in the Office of the President coincided with Dr. Charles Leach, who was hired as an interim president following the departure of Dr. Bond. She subsequently worked for presidents Reinhard, Grunenwald, Whitney, Fackler (Interim) and Pehrsson.
Her duties within the Office of the President had grown and changed over the years. Among a long list of responsibilities, the major ones included presidential calendaring, appointments, correspondence, phone calls, travel arrangements, university-wide events, monthly and quarterly reports for the PASSHE Offices, catering, divisional budgeting, holiday activities and events, retired staff events, and being a presidential confidante.
Jamison has been awarded with various recognitions including:
- 2013 University Staff/Faculty Neighborhood Star Award in recognition of valuable contributions to the Clarion Community.
- 1997 Clarion University Outstanding Volunteer.
- 1997 Awarded one of the Clarion Community's "People Who Care" citations for volunteerism.
- 1995-1996 & 1996-1997 Clarion Area Jaycee of the Year.
- Sapphire Award of Excellence for continuous support to the Jaycee Movement - Pennsylvania State Jaycee Award, 1996.
She has served on the United Way Board of Directors, the Clarion-Limestone School District Business Advisory Council and the Clarion-Forest Visiting Nurses Association Board of Directors. Her family was selected as the United Way Campaign Family in 2010 and she continues to serve her church in various ways.
The main priority for Jamison has become serving as a strong role model for her daughters, Lauren (20) and Emily (18), currently both students at PennWest Clarion. She enjoys spending her time with them and teaching them to have a solid moral and ethical compass. Along with her husband of 25 years, Larry, they like to expose the girls to our beautiful world through travel. The family has enjoyed activities such as camping, kayaking and, most loved, cruising. They are looking forward to their upcoming cruises in 2023 to the Bahamas and Mexico.
After retiring in April of 2021, Jamison has very much enjoyed living the retired life. With hobbies of gardening, landscaping, cooking, baking, reading, planning and hosting parties and gatherings, spending time with family and friends and walking her dog, Piper, she has remained busy and active. As she likes to say, she is now "living the good life!"
2021 Distinguished Awards Recipients
RUTH BERMUDEZ MONTENEGRO ’89
Judge Ruth Bermudez Montenegro was appointed as U.S. Magistrate Judge for the United States District Court for the Southern District of California on Aug. 14, 2018. She is the sole magistrate judge in Imperial County and the first female to hold the position in Imperial County. She maintains chambers in El Centro, California.
Prior to her appointment to the federal bench, Judge Montenegro served as a Superior Court Judge in Imperial County, the first Latina judge in the history of Imperial County. Her prior service included serving as a Family Support Commissioner for the Imperial County Superior Court where she was the first female to serve in that capacity and Assistant County Counsel for the Imperial County Counsel's Office. Judge Montenegro also worked as an associate attorney with Horton, Knox, Carter & Foote representing numerous public agencies, school districts, businesses, corporations and nonprofits. During law school, she served as an extern with the U.S. Attorney's Office, Civil Division, in Los Angeles.
Judge Montenegro graduated Summa Cum Laude in 1989 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from Clarion University of Pennsylvania. The academic scholarships and awards she received at Clarion University, included the Pennsylvania Board of Governors Scholarship, Political Science Departmental Award, and the Dean James D. Moore Leadership Scholarship. She was actively involved in student activities serving as President of the Pre-Law Club, Student Senator, Student Conduct Board member, Presidential Advisory Board member, and Clarion Students Association Appropriations Committee Chairperson. She was a member of the Women's Cross-Country Team and was one of two students selected to represent Clarion University at the National Conference for Women College Student Leaders in Washington, D.C.
Judge Montenegro graduated from UCLA School of Law in 1992 where she had the distinction of serving as the UCLA Graduate Student Association President – the first Latina to be elected to the position. There, she was awarded a University Fellowship and was a member of the Law Standards Committee and Chancellor's Community Advisory Committee. Additionally, she was Co-Chairperson of the Associated Students UCLA Board of Directors.
Upon graduation from law school, Judge Montenegro returned home and is widely recognized for her community service working with youth. She is the Past President and Co-founder of the El Centro Education Foundation and a member of the California Civic Learning Partnerships Committee. She previously served as President of the Imperial County Bar Association, President of MANA de Imperial Valley, Board member of the California Bar Foundation as well as on the boards of numerous nonprofit organizations.
Judge Montenegro is a member of the Federal Magistrate Judges Association, the National Association of Women Judges, and the California Latino Judges Association. She is the co-founder of the Imperial County Superior Court Summer Extern Program. She is a member of the Federal Magistrate Judges Association Diversity Committee and Co-Chair of the Diversity Award Committee. She serves as a guest speaker at educational programs sponsored by the Federal Bar Association and actively participates in Court-sponsored outreach programs, the Imperial County Mock Trial Competition and the Imperial County Migrant Education Student Speech and Debate Competition. In 2019, Judge Montenegro oversaw the chartering of the Imperial County Lawyers' Association. She also mentors high school students and prospective law students from Imperial County.
She has received numerous honors including one of the 2020 "Women of the Year" for the 40th Senate District, 2012 "Woman of the Year" for the 56th Assembly District, Imperial County Community Foundation Distinguished Philanthropist, Inspirational Community Leader – Iron Woman Award, MANA de Imperial Valley Las Primeras Award and Legacy Award, two-time recipient of the Soroptimist International of El Centro Ruby Award, and City of El Centro Mardi Gras Queen. In 2019, Judge Montenegro served as the commencement speaker at San Diego State University-Imperial Valley.
Judge Montenegro and her husband Joe Montenegro reside in El Centro, California with their daughter Miranda, a recent UCLA graduate.
JOHN M. BRION ’89
Dr. John Brion, PhD, PMHNP, FNAP first attended Clarion State College in 1980 after graduating from High School in Columbus, Ohio. As a descendant of several of the first families in the county, he set his sights on Clarion at a very young age.
Although he was not a resident, frequent trips to Clarion were a special part of his childhood when he would visit grandparents and other family in the area. Watching the blinking light atop the water tower at “The College” was a comforting bedtime ritual when he spent nights at his great-grandmothers house on Fifth Ave. He didn’t know at the time how very important “The College” would become in his life. He only attended Clarion for two semesters before realizing that he was not quite ready for the rigors of academic life, a realization made easier by his low GPA.
When he returned to Clarion in 1982, he was better prepared to be a student and found support from a number of special faculty members. While pursuing a B.A. in history at Clarion, he participated in a number of extracurricular activities including acting in several theatre productions and serving as a co-captain for the football cheerleaders. He was also active in early efforts supporting and organizing the LGBT community.
During his time at Clarion, Dr. Brion was encouraged by a number of faculty to realize his full academic potential. One special faculty member, Dr. Eldon Somers, remained his mentor for many decades.
After graduating from Clarion University, John pursued a B.S., M.S. and a Ph.D. in nursing from The Ohio State University, B.A. degrees in psychology and sociology and certification as a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner. His work has included a focus on caring for people living with HIV, emergency/trauma nursing and treating substance abuse and addiction.
He served as an administrator for Ohio’s AIDS Drug Assistance Program at the Ohio Department of Health and as executive director of the Ohio Board of Nursing. He has held several faculty positions, including as associate professor at Ohio State and (currently) at Duke University. He has served in a number of national leadership roles, conducted research, published numerous articles and presented at national and international conferences. His work and contributions have been honored in many ways including an award for leadership and service from the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care and as induction as a distinguished fellow in the National Academies of Practice.
Dr. Brion lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with his husband, Dave, and their four sons. He is on the faculty at Duke University School of Nursing, where he teaches in the psychiatric nurse practitioner program, and maintains a clinical practice focused on substance abuse and addiction. John indicates that having his work and contributions recognized by Clarion University, his alma mater, is a very special honor and a huge milestone of his career.
DISTINGUISHED YOUNG ALUMNus
MARK H. TRUMBO '07
Mark graduated from Clarion University in 2007 with a degree in finance and real estate. After a brief stint in the corporate word, Mark decided he had a calling for leadership and decided to return to school. Mark attended Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana and completed his master's degree in 2010 for Sports Administration.
He spent five years serving in Student-Athlete Support Services at Ball State University. During his time at BSU, Mark created the Take Flight student-athlete development program that focused on leadership and career development. In 2013, Mark was recruited to join the staff at Syracuse University working closely with student-athletes and their academic performance. Shortly after beginning his tenure, Mark created the nationally recognized, S-Project, a student-athlete development program that equips student-athletes with the skills and knowledge to be successful at Syracuse University and beyond. The program serves over 2,000 students and staff annually and continues to grow.
Over the past three years, Mark has traveled to many universities, colleges, and has spent time with local high school and middle school students where he presents "Purpose Design" which is a visual means for helping others discover their skill, identity and purpose. Thousands of participants have participated in the program and been presented at the local and national stages.
Mark is also the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee advisor and coordinator of all athletics community outreach at Syracuse University. SAAC has earned the top student organization at Syracuse three out of the past four years. More importantly, the student-athletes at Syracuse have adopted his love of service. The student-athletes were serving less than 200 hours of volunteer service prior to his arrival. Last year, over 4,000 were accumulated across 600 student-athletes, which in turn won the Chancellor's award for Public Service. Since 2013, Mark has volunteered nearly 400 hours of service to the CNY area.
In 2017, Mark received the high honor being named to the Top 100 John Maxwell Transformational Leader award. This national recognition was the validation Mark was looking for when he decided to make his career change in 2007. He was also chosen Central New York's 40 under Forty based on business accomplishments, community involvement and leadership role in central New York.
At the national level, Mark serves on the board of directors for the National Association of Academic Advisors and Student-Athlete Development Professionals. Mark serves as Division Director of Student-Athlete Enhancement. In 2020, Mark was awarded the Professional Excellence award for his contributions to the industry.
Mark is married to Kristy (Clarke) Trumbo who graduated from Clarion University in 2007 and was captain of the swimming and diving team. They have three children, Avery (7), Grant (3) and Payton (11 months).
DISTINGUISHED VENANGO ALUMNa
KAREN (SUSIE) BEEBE KEEFER ’77
From the time Susie was quite young, she knew in her heart that she wanted to help people in need. So choosing to teach handicapped children seemed to fit that desire.
Susie graduated with a degree in special education from Clarion University in 1977. At the invitation of her professors, she was asked to come back as a graduate assistant supervising undergraduate classes off-site. It was the perfect opportunity to embark on her master’s degree. She completed her degree in 1980.
She spent 8 years teaching in the field of special education retiring to spend time at home with her firstborn. During her time away from education, she worked with her husband in building a piano factory with government stimulus money to bring jobs into depressed Venango county. They spent the next 21 years in the music industry traveling around the globe teaching and training people about the world of player pianos.
During this time, Susie also led summer week-long youth work trips into the Appalachian Mountains. Continuing her efforts for 17 years, over 100 young people experienced life-changing service while inspiring hope for the families they worked with.
Susie returned to teaching in 2006 first in Pennsylvania and then with a move to Delaware, she continues teaching there today working with severely handicapped children.
Traveling with a mission team in 2010 to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa, proved to be the beginning of a new chapter in Susie’s life. Spending several days with a children’s nutrition program, working with the staff in feeding hundreds of children their one meal a day, Susie’s heart swelled with love for the children. One little girl, in particular, stole her heart. Her name was Miriam. When circumstances in Miriam’s life changed, she became an orphan, so Susie and her husband chose to adopt her. This connection with Congo, the cry from mothers of starving children, and the need for better nutrition, encouraged the Keefers to seek a way to open another nutrition center.
With the idea in mind to feed about 150 children each day, they opened the doors of Miriam’s Table on Oct. 13, 2014. Sixty-five children came that day to be fed. Within two weeks, 250 children were coming to be fed. Today, they feed 350 children five days a week and provide eleven full-time jobs to Congolese men and women. Because water-borne diseases cause death and sickness, Miriam’s Table teamed up with Rotarians to drill a fresh water well for the community surrounding Miriam’s Table. Now the threat of typhoid fever and other water-borne diseases no longer plagues them. Miriam’s Table children no longer show the outward signs of starvation; they are now filled with smiles and laughter.
JOHN R. MCCULLOUGH ’84, ’86G
Dr. John McCullough grew up in rural Venango County living the life of a teaching family. His father was a secondary social studies teacher and his mother was an elementary teacher.
Throughout his pre-college years, John always enjoyed working with kids, but was reminded by his parents that being a teacher was not the path to financial success. Focusing on biology, John enrolled at Grove City College in 1980, but changed his major twice before transferring to Clarion in 1982. He finished his final two years of undergraduate education as a mathematics major and graduated with his B.S. degree from Clarion in spring 1984. Math-related job hunting was unsuccessful, but teaching was in John's blood.
After graduating from Clarion and realizing his interest in education, John enrolled in the M.Ed. in Science Education program at Clarion in 1984. As part of his master's degree coursework, John designed lessons, delivered programs, and conducted scores of planetarium shows for hundreds of elementary and high school students. His love for teaching was reinforced during this time. John began to explore teaching opportunities and was offered a part-time job teaching secondary mathematics at Cranberry Area School District in Venango County, the district in which he attended. As part of the contract, John needed to earn a secondary mathematics certification. While working on his M.Ed. Science Education degree at Clarion and teaching part-time at Cranberry Area School District, John enrolled in a graduate-level Math and Science certification program at Slippery Rock University, earning both his M.Ed. and a teacher certification in 1986.
John taught secondary mathematics and computer science part time in 1985-86 and full time from 1986-1989 at Cranberry Area School District, while also coaching basketball and golf. In 1989, he left Cranberry to work for two Science and Computer Education grants at Clarion University. From 1989-1993 John served as an important part of the Pennsylvania Science Teacher Education Program and the Information Technology Education for the Commonwealth program, both housed at Clarion University.
While designing and teaching graduate-level coursework for teachers at PA STEP and ITEC, John was given the opportunity to teach part-time in the Education Department at Clarion University. He taught Elementary Mathematics Methods part-time for a year and then full-time the next year. John was hired as a tenure-track instructor in August of 1993. The contract came with the stipulation that he begin teaching at the Instructor level and also earn his terminal degree as a requirement of tenure. So, during his first six years of full-time tenure-track service at Clarion, John also completed his D.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
Beginning as an Instructor at Clarion, John rose through the ranks and become a full professor in 2008. He spent his career at Clarion teaching mathematics methods and educational technology. As one of the Education Department's first instructional technology adopters, John pioneered the design of educational computer labs, the use of Internet applications, whiteboards, and online instruction within the Education Department. He wrote and participated in a number of grants that assisted in the training of teachers, students and faculty in the use of technology in the classroom throughout his career. John served as the Education Department Chairperson and Graduate Program Coordinator from 2016 until his retirement in August 2020.
On Oct. 6, 1984, as he was beginning his M.Ed. program, John married Leeann Hart. They have been happily married, living in Venango County all their lives. Leeann is also retiring in August from her position as Secretary at Grace United Methodist Church in Oil City. John and Leeann have three sons; Corey (Anthropology BA-2010), Shawn and Kyle. Corey is married to Vanessa Wheatley (Speech Pathology BS-2009, MS-2010), and they have John and Leeann's two granddaughters, Lily and Nora.
In retirement, John plans to spend more time with his family, children, and grandchildren. He and his wife Leeann will continue to pursue their love of the outdoors by traveling, visiting places where they can enjoy their passions of photography, camping, and hiking.
L. KENT KRETZLER '73
What you do for others
Kent Kretzler started visiting Clarion University around the same time he could walk. His earliest memory of campus is attending homecoming at the age of 3 or 4.
"The football field was where the old Peirce Science Center stood," Kretzler said. "The Clarion players dressed in Harvey Hall and walked down the bleacher steps, through the seated crowd, waiting for the game to begin. We sat on the end, because my dad knew I liked to watch the big guys walking by."
His mom, Lorraine Miller Kretzler, was the reason for the trips to campus. She graduated from Clarion in 1942 with an elementary education degree.
"My mother loved Clarion: the college, the staff, the teachers, the activities, the students, and the entire life she enjoyed as a student and, later, as an alumna," Kretzler said. "I remember meeting so many of the professors in the 50s and 60s – ones whom many of the buildings were named after: Tippin, Marwick-Boyd, Campbell, Peirce and Moore. I recall, as a child, playing in their living rooms."
The Kretzler family – Mom, Dad, Kent and sister Karen – was a fixture at homecoming.
"Whether it was raining, snowing – it didn't matter. We were there. It drove my father crazy, because he hated the cold," Kretzler said. "We always joked that although my dad did not attend Clarion, he should have an honorary degree, based on the number of miles he drove between our home in Pittsburgh and Clarion, and the number of football games that he sat frozen to those bleachers.
During those visits, the Kretzler kids fell in love with Clarion. Choosing a college was easy.
Everyone needs a start
Kretzler's dream was to follow in his mother's footsteps and become a teacher. He earned bachelor's and master's degrees in education from Clarion, and he taught for five years. When enrollment started to drop at the school where he taught and knew he would be laid off, he thought about what to do next. The answer was travel.
"I started a small travel agency that grew pretty well. I developed a niche in the market for student travel, marketing to high school bands, choirs, sports teams and senior classes," he said.
He segued into fundraising, requiring that students had "skin in the game," whether they were traveling to Disney or Paris.
Another of Kretzler's prominent childhood memories is being in church and his mother pointing out various members of the Shriners organization. He didn't think much more about it until he joined the Syria Highlanders Pipe & Drum Band.
"That got me started," Kretzler said. He became involved with other organizations,
clubs and caravans and eventually found himself as president. If the group was involved
in a charitable aspect, he was in charge.
Eventually he was recognized on "the line," a seven-year progression to the organization's crowning glory – serving as potentate, an equivalent to a CEO. Kretzler became the third youngest potentate in history at age 46.
In his leadership role with the Shriners, Kretzler developed various ideas for fundraising, all geared toward supporting the Shriners Hospital for Children.
"There are 22 of them across America. It costs $1.5 million a day to run them," he said.
"I read a quote years ago: 'What you do for yourself dies with you when you leave this world, what you do for others lives on forever.' I've always followed that idea of doing something for someone who can't," Kretzler said.
"It's giving them a start – everybody needs that. A lot of parents just can't afford the health care their children require. Our hospitals, our organizations make it happen."
For his work with the Shriners, Kretzler received the key to the city of Pittsburgh and was recognized with a proclamation by Allegheny County. KDKA's Stacy Smith – a product of the Shriners Hospitals and an honorary member of the Syria Shrine – introduced him both times.
"It recognized not just me, but Shriners members. We make miracles happen every day."
A penchant for giving
When Kretzler's business became successful, he began adding to a college fund his parents had started when the daughters of his sister Karen ('79) and her husband, Chuck Dinsmore ('81), whom she met at Clarion, were born. He wanted to make it easier for the family to educate the girls, and he wanted them to graduate college without debt. Ultimately, the fund paid for both nieces' bachelor's and master's degrees, with money left over. They weren't the only ones to benefit from his success, though.
"I've done well in life, and I wanted to make sure it's paid forward. My idea was that quote – to give to others for it to last forever," Kretzler said. He decided to create scholarships for students at Clarion University and at the military academy he attended in Woodstock, Va. Recipients are required to have skin in the game.
At Clarion, the Kretzler Family Athletic Endowment benefits football, men's and women's basketball and women's volleyball team members who maintain a certain level GPA, are involved on the team and contribute to the community.
"Kids will benefit from being involved, being a good student, being a good citizen. That's the type of person I want to help – someone who could say 'I was bigger than myself,'" he said.
Kretzler remains active with the Shriners, helping out with the annual East/West Shrine Football Game and the Shriners Open in Las Vegas each fall. Now a resident of Florida, he is involved with the Conquistadors, a small fraternal group that awards three college scholarships each year and is involved with various community enhancement initiatives.
"When I was potentate, I made a lot of speeches. I talked a lot about membership and being involved," Kretzler said.
Among his key messages was, "If you join this organization and get a card but never get involved, take the card and throw it in the trash on the way out. You're wasting your time. Get involved, and you'll get out of it tenfold what you put in."
"I try to motivate people to do something. Everyone has the same 24 hours in a day. You make of it what you will."