A veteran state legislator who earned his bachelor’s degree at Western Carolina University and later served five years as a university trustee has been named recipient of one of the institution’s highest honors.
N.C. Sen. Tom Apodaca (R-Henderson) was presented with WCU’s Trustees’ Award on Friday (Sept. 12) as members of the University of North Carolina Board of Governors, the policy-making body for the entire UNC system, convened in Cullowhee for their regular monthly meeting.
Shortly after the start of the Board of Governors’ meeting, held at WCU’s A.K. Hinds University Center, the award was presented to Apodaca in front of an audience consisting of board members, UNC President Tom Ross and his staff, chancellors and staff from sister UNC institutions, and members of the WCU community.
Teresa Williams, chair of the WCU Board of Trustees, read from the award presentation document about Apodaca’s days as a WCU student, the degree in business administration he received in 1980, and his “highly successful career as an entrepreneur involved in bond insurance, real estate investment and a travel agency.”
Apodaca returned to the WCU campus to serve on the Board of Trustees in 1997. He stepped down from the board, as required by state law, after his election to the state Senate representing District 48 in 2002. Williams said Apodaca’s departure from the Board of Trustees “was lamented by all who knew of the quality of his service.”
“But, the record shows that Western Carolina’s loss was a tremendous gain for Western North Carolina and the entire state,” Williams said. “Sen. Apodaca, who has been re-elected to five additional terms of office, has earned a reputation as a highly effective legislator who is unwavering in his determination to stand up for the interests of his constituents and all of Western North Carolina.”
Apodaca, who is chair of the Senate’s Ways and Means Committee and Rules Committee, was instrumental in WCU receiving $1.4 million last year to expand its engineering program to the Asheville-Hendersonville area, and he also sponsored or supported legislation that aided all levels of the state’s educational system, Williams said.
“Western Carolina University’s Trustees’ Award recognizes those who have provided exemplary service or support to the university,” she said. “Sen. Thomas M. Apodaca has delivered far beyond the award criteria and his positive influence extends well beyond the boundaries of the WCU campus and across all areas of the state.”
After accepting the award from Williams and receiving a standing ovation from the audience, Apodaca related how he was inspired to run for the state Senate by “two Lou’s.” Apodaca said his friend W. Louis Bissette Jr., a former mayor of Asheville and former WCU trustee who is currently vice chair of the Board of Governors, was the first person to encourage him to seek the office. Apodaca said he became even more inspired to run for the Senate seat after attending a presentation by college football coaching legend Lou Holtz and hearing him deliver one of his classic lines: “In life, you can either be successful, or significant.”
“I’m truly honored by this (award),” Apodaca said. “I will continue to fight for the university system and all education in North Carolina because that is my passion.”
Apodaca becomes only the 11th person in WCU history selected to receive the Trustees’ Award. Past recipients are Wallace Hyde, E.J. Whitmire, Barbara B. Coulter, Ruth C. Shuler, Burton B. Fox, Judy H. Dowell, Rich Kucharski, George “Chuck” Wooten, Clifton B. Metcalf and Dianne Lynch.