Mel Gibson MA ’67 won a gold medal in the 75–79 age group in the state finals of the North Carolina Senior Games held Sept. 28 in Durham. Gibson received top honors for completing a running long jump of 11 feet 4 inches. He also placed fourth in the standing long jump competition.


After a career of 42 years with some of the top agencies in the Southeast, Russ Dymond of Charlotte had plenty of material for the plot and characters of his novel, “Luke’s Way,” published by Moonshine Cove Publishing. Dymond, who retired from the advertising industry in 2008, has won multiple awards in advertising creative competitions. He was named “Best TV Copywriter in the Southeast” by Adweek Magazine. “Luke’s Way” is his first novel.


The Rev. John F. Helgeson is the author of “Freedom and Interim Ministry: 12 Freedoms of the Interim,” published by Tate Publishing and Enterprises. Helgeson, interim minister at First Presbyterian Church of Lawton, Oklahoma, also has served churches in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Illinois in the same role while they were in the process of finding a pastor. Helgeson previously was the pastor of churches in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio.


North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory has awarded the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, one of the state’s most prestigious awards, to Terry Snyder of Winston-Salem. Snyder was honored for his work as founder and chief operating officer of Operation North State, a charitable volunteer service. Operation North State supports military and veterans organizations in North Carolina, including the American Legion of North Carolina, Camp Lejeune’s Wounded Warrior Regiment, Fort Bragg Warrior Transition Battalion, North Carolina National Guard, the USO of North Carolina, Veterans Helping Veterans Heal and several veterans’ homes.


Rhonda Speich Rogers Furr MME ’82 helped design the custom pipe organ that was one of the featured instruments at the national convention of the American Guild of Organists held in Houston in July. Furr was primarily responsible for the pipe specification and console design of the custom organ for the Belin chapel of Houston Baptist University, made possible by a $1.5 million gift to the university. Furr is a professor of music at HBU and teaches organ and music history and literature classes. She joined the faculty in 1989.


Author Floyd “Ski” Chilton, professor of physiology and pharmacology at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, has co-authored a new book, “The ReWired Brain.” Chair of WCU’s Board of Visitors, Chilton wrote the book with Margaret Rukstalis, an addiction psychiatrist, and author A.K. Gregory. Chilton’s other books are “The Gene Smart Diet,” “Inflammation Nation,” “Win the War Within” and “Made to Crave Action Plan.” His work has been featured in WebMD, Men’s Journal, Men’s Health, Prevention and The Wall Street Journal and on ABC News.

Pam DeGraffenreid, supervisor of the WCU Bookstore and former chair of the WCU Staff Senate, has a new statewide role. DeGraffenreid serves as an at-large delegate to the Staff Assembly of the University of North Carolina system. She chairs the assembly’s human resource committee and leads discussions on human resource issues affecting the 17 UNC institutions across the state.

Marshall Ellis is in his 24th year of a career devoted to North Carolina state parks. Ellis’ first job after completing graduate school at Idaho State University brought him back to North Carolina as a natural resource management biologist in 1992. He currently is mountain region biologist for the North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation, based in Troutman.

Fred R. Kopp, a trial attorney in Alma, Georgia, has opened a second law office, located in Brunswick, Georgia. Kopp and his wife of 35 years have three daughters and seven grandchildren.

Peggy McQuade has retired after a career of 34 years as a school library media specialist. McQuade had served the sixth district of Spartanburg, South Carolina, since 1989. She previously was the children’s librarian at Lexington (South Carolina) County Public Library and a media specialist at the South Carolina Department of Corrections and at D.W. Daniel High School.


Vickie Sutton has been named the 2017 Support Person of the Year for Macon County Schools. Sutton serves
as a lead teacher at Franklin High School and is a member of the school’s administrative team.


Peter Freer MAEd ’93 of Asheville returned to WCU in October for a presentation about human cognition and thought training technology. Freer is co-author of an International Atomic Energy Agency white paper on human performance management. A longtime public school teacher, he is the developer of BodyWave, a biofeedback device to help sharpen brain function that received attention in The Globe and Mail of Canada, Huffington Post Canada, Time and Popular Science. Freer has given presentations for NASA and the United Nations.

Hurschell Frederick Mathews Jr. is director of emergency transport services of the Greenville (South Carolina) Health System. Mathews has been employed with the health system for the past 18 years. He also served as a paramedic for Greenville County Emergency Medical Services for 11 years.


The Bracketts of McDowell County have made WCU a college tradition in their family for three generations. Shannon Stroud Brackett, a teacher at Pleasant Gardens Elementary, and husband Neil Brackett ’88, McDowell High School’s athletic director, are the parents of current WCU students Kassie and Tuccoa. Neil’s father, Bob Brackett ’66, who started the family’s tradition of WCU attendance, retired in 1996 from his longtime career as an industrial cooperative training teacher in McDowell County.

The firm of Dixon Hughes Goodman has promoted Mike Crawford to the position of chief operating officer. Crawford previously served as regional managing partner of the Carolinas region, including all of North and South Carolina. Dixon Hughes Goodman is a public accounting and advisory firm with offices in 12 states.


Phil McManus MBA ’91 of Cloverdale, Virginia, has achieved certification as a taster and evaluator (level two) from Seventy% of London, one of the world’s leading authorities on fine chocolate. McManus traveled to London in June with wife Julia Durham McManus ’90 to attend seminars on the chemistry and tasting profiles of chocolate and cacao beans. “For me, chocolate started as a fun food, then evolved into a chemistry experiment, a construction medium, dessert base and now a passion and appreciated luxury, he said. McManus is head of the hospitality management program at Lancaster Community College in Clifton Forge, Virginia.

Audrey Arrington Sanders of Waynesville has been promoted to account executive for Low & Bonar, a company with locations in 10 countries that designs and manufactures high-performance fabrics. Sanders has sales and marketing responsibilities in the building and industrial unit and the agriculture business unit, which produces energy-saving screens, darkening screens and groundcovers for high-tech greenhouses. She is based in the Asheville office.

Former WCU pitcher Tim Sinicki has been named Baseball Coach of the Year for the America East Conference for the fifth time. Sinicki, coach of the Binghamton (New York) University Bearcats for the past 23 years, was the unanimous pick by other coaches for the honor. The spring campaign of his Bearcats was highlighted by regular season and tournament titles, nine all-conference selections and two professional signings. Sinicki and his wife, Tina Whisnant Sinicki ’89, have been married for 23 years and have three children.


Rick Laws is a member of the faculty at the Ashe campus of Wilkes Community College, where he teaches history, humanities and religion. Laws earned his doctor of ministry degree in May from the Carolina Graduate School of Divinity in Greensboro. He and his wife Belinda live in Purlear.

Bryan Queen MPA ’94 is the news director of CBS 21 of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a television station serving central Pennsylvania and owned by Sinclair Broadcasting. Queen has more than 20 years of experience in broadcast news as a photographer, reporter, assignment editor, producer and news director. He most recently served as news director at WIS-TV in Columbia, South Carolina.

Shannan Triplette is serving as vice president of the Americas’ customer center for the Auto Inergy Division of Plastic Omnium, located in Troy, Michigan. Triplette is responsible for sales, marketing and program management for North and South America.


Franlyna Barrett Charles has been elected to a two-year term on the national council of Zeta Tau Alpha international women’s fraternity. Charles serves as secretary-treasurer of the nine-member council.


Nicki Parton Vogel, a nurse practitioner at Spindale Family Practice, received her doctorate in nursing practice from the University of Alabama in May. Vogel also won the Donna R. Packa Excellence in Writing award from the university’s Capstone College of Nursing. She lives in Rutherfordton with her husband and children.


The North Carolina School Superintendents Association named Robert “Rob” Jackson MSA ’00 as the recipient of the inaugural Dr. Brad Sneeden Leadership Award. Jackson is the superintendent of Edenton-Chowan Schools. The award is named for the former director of the North Carolina Principals’ Executive Program.


Michael S. Francisco has been appointed to a one-year term on the board of education of the Community Unit School District 116 of Round Lake (Illinois) Schools. Francisco, who is employed by Allstate Insurance, has lived in Round Lake since 2011.

Elizabeth McRae MA, an associate professor of history at WCU, has been chosen to hold the university’s Creighton Sossomon Professorship in History for the next three years. McRae’s teaching and research interests center on the intersection of race, gender and politics in America and in the modern South. McRae is co-director of “Mountain Lives, Mountain People,” an oral history training program involving students at Smoky Mountain High School. The Sossomon Professorship was established in honor of late history professor emeritus D. Creighton Sossomon.


Claudia Beach-Summers is the owner of Renu Massage and Bodywork Therapy Inc. of Morganton. Beach-Summers also serves as an injury prevention specialist for the Office of the State Fire Marshal of the North Carolina Department of Insurance.


Los Angeles music artist David Boyles has released a new music video, “Paradise.” Boyles toured with the electro-hop duo LMFAO for three years. He is the guitarist in the single “Party Rock Anthem,” which was No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 2011. Boyles played in bands in Western North Carolina before attending WCU. He moved to Los Angeles after graduating to pursue a career in music and produced original songs that helped him get established as a writer, singer, guitarist, musical director and producer.


Stephen R. Everson MBA of Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, is a senior project engineer and manager for L3 Communications Electron Division in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.


Heather Cornelison Pitts was named Outstanding Dietician of the Year for North Carolina in September. The award is the highest state honor given by the National Dietetic Association. Pitts is the lead clinical dietician at Moses Cone Hospital in Greensboro.


Natalie Sipe Campbell MS ’04 of Newton and husband Tate have a new daughter, Joanna Blaire, born May 28. Blaire joins big sisters Neeley, Elizabeth and Madison.


Pauletta Clark, third-grade teacher at Iotla Valley Elementary School of Franklin, has been selected as Macon County’s 2017 Teacher of the Year. Clark won both the Outstanding Education Student and the Outstanding Prospective Teacher awards when she was a WCU student.

Cyclist Terri Latimer rides every year for Bike MS, the major fundraiser for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, on behalf of her close friend and WCU alumnus Nick Lemons ’05, who has MS. Latimer rode in the Cox Atlanta Peach Ride held in October in LaGrange, Georgia, raising $1,315 for the society.

Katie Spear, former intern in the WCU Office of Communications and Public Relations and a former staff member in the Office of Admission, has a new baby girl, Sydney, born Aug. 29. Spear lives in New York City, where she is executive assistant to Arianna Huffington.

Evans Munyuki MPM has been named as the chief digital and information officer of GetBucks, a financial services company that serves under-banked consumers in emerging markets in African and European countries. Munyuki is based at the firm’s South African office in Pretoria. He previously served as head of alternative business models at Barclays Africa Group Limited in Johannesburg, South Africa.


The Carolinas Associated General Contractors organization has selected Derrick Morgan, project manager at State Utility Contractors Inc. of Monroe, as a recipient of the inaugural Top Young Leader awards. The awards honor members 40 years of age or younger who are making an impact on the construction industry in the Carolinas and the communities they serve.

Patrick Whelan, a New Jersey rap artist known as ShoreShot, has released his third album, “Return of the Tide.” Two additional independent albums, “Extra Credit” and “The Current,” will be released in 2017. Whelan worked at the campus radio station WWCU and produced original music in his residence hall room as a student. He grew up near the New Jersey coast and gained attention in 2013 for his efforts to help local families devastated by hurricane Sandy. Whelan collaborated with local school children in the community to produce a song that raised funds for the areas most affected by the storm. Since then, the schools’ principals and faculty have requested more collaborative projects and concerts with Whelan. He works with local elementary and middle school students in activities that range from recording another song, dedicated to cancer awareness, to performing with them in honor of Grandparents Day.


Kyle Greathouse and Scott Arnold are co-owners of Beautiful Demise, a T-shirt brand and custom printing company based in Greenville, South Carolina. Members of the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team and professional basketball player Ray Allen have been spotted wearing their T-shirts. The company ships orders to 11 countries. Greathouse, Arnold and their successful business were featured in July in the Upstate Business Journal. A former Catamount basketball player, Greathouse is married to Rachael Holt ’07, a former WCU cheerleader.

Luzene Hill MFA ’12 is a recipient of a national artist fellowship awarded by the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation. Hill is one of 16 artists selected from a national open call of American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian artist applicants who were reviewed by a panel of art peers and professionals.

Staff Sgt. Rusty Taylor, former percussion player in the WCU Pride of the Mountains Marching Band, has received the American Legion’s national Spirit of Service Award in recognition of his extensive volunteer work. Taylor, a special agent based at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, was honored along with representatives from the other armed services at the annual meeting of the legion held in August in Cincinnati, Ohio. He has served his local community in leadership roles for food drives, Relay for Life, an adult literacy council and a boat festival. He also volunteers with the local zoo, the Salvation Army and Child Protect, an organization that provides counseling to child abuse victims. In his military career, Taylor has deployed to Korea, Afghanistan and the United Arab Emirates.


A. Nicole Lawson, 2016-17 Teacher of the Year at Berryhill Elementary School in Charlotte, was one of 10 teachers in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district who received Teacher Innovation Fund grants from the Charlotte Hornets, Lowe’s and FOX Sports Carolinas. Lawson’s $5,000 grant will be used for Orff Schulwerk and world drumming collections for her school.


Melanie Batchelor MHS ’13 serves as the health management programs coordinator at Harris Regional Hospital in Sylva and Swain Community Hospital in Bryson City. Batchelor’s responsibilities include programs for employee wellness, outpatient medical nutrition therapy, diabetes self-management and childhood healthy weight. She also serves on the adjunct faculty at WCU, teaching classes in medical nutrition therapy.

Melissa Geissele and Antoine Bideau ’09 of Fort Mill, South Carolina, welcomed their second child, Claire Elizabeth, on March 27, 2016. The Bideaus are employed by Continental Tire.

Caitlin Sullivan MAEd ’11 was named 2017 Teacher of the Year for the Reynolds school district of Buncombe County. Sullivan teaches at Fairview Elementary School.


Catherine Belair MAT has been named the 2017 Roberson District Teacher of the Year for Buncombe County Schools. A nationally certified math teacher at Valley Springs Middle School, Belair joined the teaching profession after a 20-year career in business. She has been teaching for 11 years.

Matt Dawson, who has several teaching and coaching duties at Enka High School in Asheville, has taken on a new role, bone marrow donor. After volunteering for a screening sponsored by his local fire and rescue department, Dawson was a match for a person in need of a life-saving transplant. He was flown to Virginia to undergo a donation procedure and will learn in 2017 if the transplant has proven successful for the recipient. Dawson serves as the baseball coach and assistant football coach at Enka, where he teaches history. He is the son of Kim and Mike Dawson ’84.

Nicholas Gattis, band director at Carmel Middle School in Charlotte, was one of 35 teachers in the U.S. and Canada selected to receive a 2016 Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship sponsored by National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions. The professional development program for K–12 educators offers an opportunity to bring geographic learning experiences back to the teacher’s community and classroom. Gattis participated in an 11-day summer experience in Iceland aboard the National Geographic Explorer. Outside the classroom, Gattis serves in leadership roles as an arts and science council cultural arts representative for his school district and a district representative for the North Carolina Bandmasters Association.

The Durham gallery Carrack Modern Art hosted a solo exhibit by Michael Polomik MFA in September. The show, titled “Hellbent Crown,” included 20 recent oil paintings, ink drawings and a large sculptural installation.


Kristin Elizabeth Beeker of John’s Island, South Carolina, former WCU cheerleader and chemistry major, is a clinical pharmacist at the Medical University of South Carolina’s College of Pharmacy in Charleston. Becker earned her doctorate in pharmacy at MUSC and holds a master’s degree in business administration from The Citadel.


Dakota “Koty” Burdette has been living his dream of world travel since graduating from WCU. Burdette has led tours to most European countries. His plans include future trips to the Middle East and Africa. A native of Robbinsville, Burdette taught school in his hometown for four years after graduating. He recently accepted an administrative position with Caris Healthcare in Chattanooga, Tennessee. His younger brother, Kyler Brooks, is a freshman at WCU.

Austin Burgess is the new director of ticket operations for the WCU Athletic Department. Burgess previously worked with the Asheville Tourists and also served as a ticket operations assistant at WCU.

Ariel Robinson MA has been selected as Asheville City Schools’ Teacher of the Year for 2016-17. Robinson, a nationally certified teacher, is a member of the faculty at the School of Inquiry and Life Sciences.

Former Jackson County teacher Katelyn Dawson Sorrells is teaching kindergarten at Shining Rock Classical Academy, a charter school in Waynesville. Sorrells and husband Travis have two sons.


Clare Murray has earned her master’s degree in English composition and rhetoric from Texas State University. Murray is an adjunct professor at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, where she teaches first-year English composition and rhetoric.

Ben Rutz is living in Kokomo, Indiana, where he is an on-air personality for the morning show of Z92.5 radio station. Rutz was general manager of the campus radio station WWCU-FM as a WCU student.


Terry Bellamy MPA was named in July to the board of trustees of Warren Wilson College. Bellamy, former two-term mayor of Asheville, serves as director of communication for the Asheville Housing Authority. She is a recipient of the Old North State Award presented by North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory for outstanding public service to the state.

Sofia Lilly is the assistant winemaker at Overmountain Vineyards of Tryon. The family business has been owned and operated by her parents for more than 26 years. Overmountain Vineyards was featured in the August issue of Edible Upcountry magazine.

Patrick O’Neal has accepted a position at Group Health Permanente in Seattle as recruiting and communications coordinator. O’Neal was formerly an intern in the WCU Office of Communications and Public Relations and was a member of the WCU cycling team. He recently completed a two-year, post-graduate internship at the YMCA in Black Mountain.


Former Catamount running back David Giron is a leading receiver for the Frankfurt Universe, a German-American football team in the German Football League, the country’s top league. A native of Guatemala, Giron is the top player in his league for receptions per game and leads his team in punt returns and touchdowns.

Justin Gragg MBA organized a unique foot race in Western North Carolina that featured a scenic 13.1-mile route on a flat road. The inaugural French Broad River Half-Marathon held in October attracted more than 300 runners. The race started in Asheville and ended in Marshall. Gragg is a runner himself and holds several records. He was on the 12-person team that won the 208-mile Blue Ridge Relay in 2015.


Benjamin Morrison has started his professional career with a position at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Morrison is employed in the prospect strategy and research department of UNCC’s Division of University Advancement.

Christian Carswell was named Athlete of the Games in men’s track and field during the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games held in July in Linville. Carswell finished first in the 100-yard dash, the 22-yard dash and the triple jump in the games, which hearken back to the sport and athletic prowess celebrated in ancient times by Celtic tribes. Athletes from around the world in kilts and traditional dress participated in this year’s games. Carswell was a key player in WCU’s sweep of the Southern Conference Outdoor Track and Field Championship in 2016.

Laura Thomas and Jacob Massie, who met as students working at the WCU Print Shop, were married June 18 at Lake Junaluska.