Alumni honored with achievement, service awards

Western Carolina University recognized four outstanding alumni during an Oct. 6 ceremony in the A.K. Hinds University Center. Pictured, from left, are Bob Buckner, recipient of the Distinguished Service Award; Gaither Keener, recipient of the Professional Achievement Award; WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher; Ron Morrow, recipient of the Academic Achievement Award; and Wade Livingston, recipient of the Young Alumnus Award.

Western Carolina University recently honored three alumni who are excelling in areas of the legal profession, academics and health and physical education, as well as an alumnus who developed the university’s marching band into a competitive, world-class marching ensemble.

“These awards recognize and honor four of WCU’s most distinguished and successful alumni, and they have all made us so very proud,” said Marty Ramsey, director of alumni affairs.

During an award ceremony held Saturday, Oct. 6, in the A.K. Hinds University Center as part of Homecoming activities, the Distinguished Service Award was presented to Bob Buckner, who retired as director of athletic bands at WCU in 2011 after 20 years, during which he brought the Pride of the Mountains Marching Band into the national spotlight. In addition, Gaither M. Keener, chief legal officer of Lowe’s Companies Inc., received the Professional Achievement Award; Ronald G. Morrow, chief executive officer of the nonprofit North Carolina In-School Prevention of Obesity and Disease Inc., received the Academic Achievement Award; and Wade G. Livingston, an assistant professor in the department of leadership, counselor education, and human and organizational development at Clemson University, received the Young Alumnus Award.

Buckner, a member of the class of 1967, arrived at WCU in 1991 and helped grow marching band membership from fewer than 90 to nearly 400 students, turning the ensemble into a “funk-rock band” known for dynamic performances that incorporate nontraditional elements such as guitars, vocalists and dancers. Nearly 15 percent of the university’s freshman class participates in marching band, and the annual Tournament of Champions invitational started by Buckner is the single-largest recurring recruitment event on campus. In 2009, the Pride of the Mountains received the Sudler Trophy from the John Philip Sousa Foundation, the nation’s highest and most coveted award for college and university marching bands. Capping Buckner’s career was the marching band’s 2011 New Year’s Day appearance in the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, Calif. Buckner, of Waynesville, remains active with the WCU marching band program and continues to design its shows.

The Professional Achievement Award honored Keener, a 1972 graduate of WCU with a degree in history. Since joining Lowe’s in 1985, Keener has grown the legal department from 18 employees to 145 while significantly reducing the corporation’s legal costs. He has earned a superior rating from legal information services company Martindale-Hubbell and in 2011 was recognized by his peers, as published in Business North Carolina, as the state’s best business lawyer and deserving of “elite lawyer status.” Keener, a veteran of the U.S. Marines and active on a national level in veterans affairs, received his law degree in 1977 from Wake Forest University. A native of Newton, Keener lives in Lake Norman in Iredell County.

The Academic Achievement Award honored Morrow, of Raleigh, a 1978 graduate with a degree in health and physical education. From 2001-11, Morrow served as executive director of the N.C. Alliance for Athletics, Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance. In 2008, with grant funding of $4.5 million, he launched a program to address the state’s rate of childhood obesity by providing fitness testing to 1.4 million schoolchildren in kindergarten through eighth grade and corresponding training to physical education teachers. When funding for the program ran out earlier this year, Morrow launched IsPOD, which tracks student data and delivers “fitness report cards” to parents and PE teachers; nearly 500 schools across the state have registered to participate. Morrow earned a doctoral degree in exercise and sports science from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro focusing on diversity in physical education and a safe, inclusive climate for all participants, specifically those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. In 2011, he established the Ronald G. Morrow Scholarship at WCU for health and physical education majors who intend to research in the area of diversity. The fund also supports an annual lecture on diversity.

The Young Alumnus Award honored Livingston, a 2004 graduate majoring in history and political science who returned for his graduate degree in education, graduating from the college student personnel program in 2006. Livingston went on to earn his doctorate in educational leadership in 2009 from Clemson University while working full time as associate director of Clemson’s Office of Community and Ethical Standards. Appointed a faculty member at Clemson in 2010 – one of that university’s youngest – Livingston is in the counselor education/student affairs preparation program and works with approximately 70 students seeking master’s degrees in student affairs who plan to go on to careers in higher education administration. Livingston has developed a passion for helping student veterans and is becoming a national expert on the student veteran college experience. Livingston, who grew up in Cullowhee – his father is WCU political science professor Don Livingston – makes his home in Due West, S.C.