In good company
Since 1965, Distinguished Alumni have included astronauts, athletes and actors
At first glance, you wouldn’t think retired Gen. Tommy Franks, TV and movie star Morgan Woodward, Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle, Country Music Hall of Fame member Ray Price and Movin’ Mavs coach Jim Hayes have much in common.
But look closer and you’ll see they are all UT Arlington Distinguished Alumni.
The award, the highest honor given by the University and the Alumni Association, was created in 1965. The first recipient, Lee Smith, graduated in 1942 when the school was North Texas Agricultural College. The list grew to include Academy Award-nominated animator Keith Alcorn in 2001, NFL linebacker Cliff Odom in 1999, astronaut Robert Stewart in 1987 and Hayes in 1982.
“I accepted the award on behalf of all the disabled students at UT Arlington at the time,” said Hayes, who began the University’s physical education program for persons with disabilities, “and for all the disabled students who have yet to attend.”
In 1995, the year of the University’s Centennial observance, the Alumni Association began recognizing one individual per college and school along with a representative from the Military Science Department and the Athletics Department. The College of Liberal Arts honoree that year was Ann Jobe Wynia, who served seven terms in the Minnesota House of Representatives.
In 1970 the Alumni Association presented its first Honorary Distinguished Alumni Awards to then-Mayor Tom Vandergriff and longtime Texas legislator Don Kennard. The honorary award goes to individuals who have made significant contributions but did not attend or graduate from the University. Other Honorary Distinguished Alumni include state Sen. Chris Harris, state Rep. Toby Goodman and UT Arlington Presidents Emeritus Jack Woolf and Wendell Nedderman.
A third honor, the Distinguished Alumni Service Award, was first presented in 1983. Recipients include Gen. Franks, state Sen. Royce West and KTVT Channel 11 news anchor Karen Borta.
“The service award is given to alumni who support the University as a whole, as opposed to an individual college or school,” said Kerri Ressl, the association’s assistant director for membership and marketing. “It goes to someone who, over the years, may have established a scholarship or become involved with a university board or program, as well as had a tremendous career—someone who’s a true supporter of UT Arlington.”
Jack Davis, the honorary award recipient in 2005, has been a supporter of the University and its athletic teams since 1957. He serves in various capacities in the Athletics Department and assists with membership campaigns and other Maverick Club events.
“The University plays a big part in adding to the quality of life in this community,” he said. “The award, which I was extremely honored to receive, is a fine example of that.”
Prior to 1995, the number of awards handed out each year varied.
“The Distinguished Alumni Award was given to the individuals the committee felt were worthy in that particular year,” said Christina Cobb, executive director of the Alumni Association. “There was not a set number, but most years more than one award was given.”
The selection process usually begins in March with the call for nominations from departments, faculty, staff and alumni. Under the direction of the Alumni Association, a committee reviews the nominations and makes the selections.
Recipients are recognized at the Distinguished Alumni Gala—an event that generates significant scholarship funds. From modest beginnings, the gala has grown into the University’s largest annual alumni event, typically drawing more than 500 guests.
In 1999 the Alumni Association established the Gala Wall in the University Center to display the recipients’ photographs and biographies.
For a list of all Distinguished Alumni Award recipients, visit www.uta.edu/alumni/honorees.
— Susan M. Slupecki