CULLOWHEE – Western Carolina University spanned the state to pay tribute to illustrious alumni Saturday, Oct. 23, honoring a Charlotte business executive whose generosity is helping Burke County students go to college, an award-winning and innovative educator from Carteret County, and a Marshall magistrate judge whose fast action saved lives during a deadly shooting.
The university presented its Distinguished Service Award posthumously to the late Curtis Lee Wellmon, owner and chief executive officer of the Charlotte-based General Bonded Warehouses Inc. Wanda Nelson Fowler, principal of White Oak Elementary School in Carteret County, received the Alumni Association’s Professional Achievement Award. Tracy Keith Bridges, chief magistrate judge for North Carolina ‘s 24th judicial district, received the association’s Young Alumnus Award.
The awards were presented during a ceremony in the Ramsey Regional Activity Center as part of 2004 Homecoming activities.
Wellmon, a 1958 graduate of Western with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, in 1996 established the Curtis and Brenda Wellmon Scholarship Fund to help deserving students from Burke County be able to attend Western. A founding member of Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity and a member of the Western Carolina University Foundation Board since 1990, Wellmon died in July 2004. His family – wife Brenda, daughter Michelle and son Scott – were on hand to receive the award.
“During a distinguished career, Curtis Wellmon earned a reputation as true Southern gentlemen of good character, dignity and kindness, and as a business executive who showed by example the importance of giving something back to his community and his alma mater,” Western Chancellor John Bardo said in announcing the award.
Fowler, recipient of the Professional Achievement Award, earned three degrees at Western – a bachelor’s degree in education in 1980, master’s degree in public affairs in 1991, and master’s degree in school administration in 1998. Under her principalship, which began in 2000, White Oak Elementary School has moved from 79 percent proficiency on state end-of-grade testing to 95.2 percent in 2004, earning recognition as an Honor School of Excellence.
“Wanda is known as an innovator in the field of education and a tireless community leader,” said Billy Cooper, president-elect of the Alumni Association. “She is Carteret County Principal of the Year for 2004, and will represent the district in regional competition for the Wachovia Principal of the Year award in 2005.”
Bridges, recipient of the Young Alumnus Award, graduated from Western in 1998 with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. Before being named chief magistrate judge for Avery, Madison, Mitchell, Yancey and Watauga counties in January 2003, he earned his law degree from the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Va. That’s where he found himself in the national spotlight after helping subdue a fellow student who went on a shooting rampage that left three people dead.
“Tracy has received numerous awards for valor for his role in leading students to safety and for helping capture the suspect,” Cooper said. “He put his criminal justice and law enforcement training to work. If not for his quick thinking and fast action, there could easily have been more victims.”