Three graduating seniors and one alumnus were recognized with special awards during Catawba College’s May 17th Graduation Exercises.
The graduating seniors, two from the traditional day program and one from the School of Evening and Graduate Studies, were recognized, through a vote of the faculty, for embodying the words on the college seal: scholarship, character, culture and service. Olivia Jordan Myers of Lexington and Frank Villa Hernandez of Kannapolis, both graduates in the day program, were the recipients of the Whitener Awards. Christine Knapp Mowery of Salisbury, a graduate of the evening program, was the recipient of the Barbara Andrews Award.
Tom Childress, a 1964 alumnus of Catawba who retired last year as Senior Vice President at the College responsible for Development and Athletics, was the recipient of the annual O.B. Michael Distinguished Alumnus Award. This award has been presented annually since 1938 by the Catawba College Board of Directors of the Alumni Association to a graduate of the college who has made an outstanding contribution to the College and/or the larger society.
2014 Whitener Award Recipients
The Whitener Awards have been presented each year at Catawba’s graduation ceremony since 1927 in memory of Dr. Edgar Whitener of High Point, who served as a trustee of Catawba College from 1921 to 1966 and as chairman of the Board of Trustees from 1925 to 1944. The awards honor the man and woman in the graduating class who embody, to a high degree, the qualities of good character, leadership, and scholarship. Recipients are nominated, with final selections made by the faculty.
Olivia Myers was the female recipient for 2014. A member of the First Family Scholars program, she majored in Biology, with minors in Chemistry and Environmental Science. A student-athlete, she was a member of the tennis and cross country teams, serving as cross-country team captain this past year. She was active in Alpha Chi National honor society, serving as its treasurer, and she was one of only 20 of its members nationwide to be awarded a H.Y. Benedict Fellowship for graduate school in the 2014-2015 academic year. Myers has been accepted and intends to use that fellowship toward her graduation work at the School of Veterinary Medicine at N.C. State University this fall.
Myers was also active in several other honor societies, including Beta Beta Beta, Phi Epsilon, and Gamma Sigma Epsilon. She has been involved with the Student Government Association, serving as freshman class senator, sophomore class president, junior class president and senior class senator. Her peers voted her Miss Catawba for 2013-2014. She was a Leadership Corps member and served as co-president of that corps.
She has also been involved in the broader community, volunteering at Faithful Friends and the Rowan County Civitans Club. She also helped with Operation Christmas Child.
Frank Villa Hernandez was the male recipient for 2014. This Chemistry major and Biology minor participated in the College Honors Program and is one of only three students to present a thesis in that program and graduate with College Honors in the Class of 2014. He is a member of Alpha Chi national honor society and several other honor society chapters on campus, including Gamma Sigma Epsilon, Beta Beta Beta and Kappa Mu Epsilon. He served as co-president of the American Chemical Society and as senior Class vice-president of the SGA. He was a member of the Order of the Blue and White, the Dead Athenian Society or DAS, and served as a Catawba Guide.
A First Family scholar and recipient of a full tuition scholarship at Catawba, Villa was the first Catawba College student to apply and be accepted into several National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates, or REUs, at universities across the country last summer. He chose to participate in the program offered at the University of South Alabama’s Mitchell Cancer Institute. Although medical school is his ultimate goal, Villa will be getting some real world experience next year, working for a local physician who specializes in Hospice and Palliative Medicine while he applies to various medical schools.
2014 Barbara Andrews Award Recipient
Christine Knapp Mowery of Salisbury was the recipient of the award established and named in honor of Barbara Andrews, the first director of Adult Education Program at Catawba College. The selection is made by the Catawba faculty from the six graduating seniors in the program with the highest grade point averages. Students eligible are those who have attended Catawba for at least two years and have earned a cumulative grade point average of at least a 3.5.
Mowery saw one of her dreams realized when she walked across the stage and received her diploma. Like many evening students, this soon-to-be graduate deferred her own educational goals to raise her children and secure their educational futures. Returning to college after a 30-year hiatus, she has distinguished herself in her studies and has a 3.991 GPA to go along with her Business Administration major. At Catawba, she has served as a Junior Marshal and was inducted into the Catawba chapter of Alpha Sigma Lambda, the national honor society for adult learners. She served as co-president of that Catawba chapter this year.
She is employed as Office Administrator of First Presbyterian Church in Salisbury where she is known for keeping things running smoothly in support of the staff and supporting the many outreach missions of the church with her organizational skills. Dr. Jim Dunkin, Senior Pastor at the church, said that her "behind the scenes work has been the characteristic most fitting of her time with the church, a true sign of her confident humility."
A member of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Salisbury, this proud mother of three sons was actively engaged with her church’s Boy Scout troop when her sons were scouts. Her son, Alex, holds a master’s degree. Her son, Will, graduated last Saturday from NC State. And her son, Josh, is a student at Rowan Cabarrus Community College.
2014 O.B. Michael Distinguished Alumnus Award Recipient
Tom Childress of Salisbury came to Catawba, an athlete from Mt. Airy recruited by his former high school coach, Sam Moir, with a basketball scholarship to play for the Indians. He played starting point guard for Coach Moir during his junior and senior years before graduating with a degree in Physical Education and Biology. He met his wife Judy, a ’65 alumna, while both were students at Catawba. Today, they have four adult children and a dozen grandchildren.
After graduating from Catawba, Tom taught and served as Head Basketball Coach for three years at East Surry High School, and enjoyed it, although he "wanted to get to the college level." He went to Appalachian and served as a Graduate Assistant while earning his master’s degree. He stayed there a second year, teaching physical education fulltime and serving as Assistant Basketball Coach.
Childress’ dream was to be a Head Coach, and at age 27, married with two children, he landed the head coaching job at Pfeiffer. He coached basketball there for 14 years before becoming Pfeiffer’s Athletic Director while continuing as its Basketball Coach. In 1982, Childress stepped down as Head Basketball Coach at Pfeiffer and remained Director of Athletics. He later served Pfeiffer as Dean of Admissions and Director of Athletics. In 1990, he returned to Catawba as Vice President of External Relations responsible for Admissions and Athletics.
He remained at Catawba only two years, before Pfeiffer wooed him back as Senior Vice President directing Development, Admissions and Athletics. He made a final move to return to Catawba in 1995 as Senior Vice President responsible for Development and Athletics, a position he held until his retirement last year. Although he retired last year, he continued working for Catawba this year in a part-time capacity as Special Assistant to the President.
Childress is a member of the Sports Hall of Fame at both Pfeiffer and Catawba. He was also honored back home – inducted into the Mt. Airy Hall of Fame in 2006 and into the Surry County Hall of Fame in 2007.
During his 17 years of leading Development at Catawba, Childress oversaw three successful fund-raising campaigns which raised over $100 million for the college. He has a record of 48 years of continuous annual giving to his alma mater.
Childress accepted the O.B. Michael Award on the 50th anniversary of his own graduation from Catawba. He acknowledged in his brief acceptance remarks the joy and relief of the parents and family members in the audience and joked that with their son’s or daughter’s graduations over, the parents were in for "a pay raise."
Childress recalled the words that Catawba College President Dr. Robert Keppel shared with his graduating class in 1964, and repeating these words to members of the Class of 2014. "You are Catawba," he said, reminding them that they were joining more than 12,000 Catawba alumni around the world.