Awards presented for distinguished service, alumni achievements during Homecoming

Getting together at the conclusion of WCU’s Homecoming awards ceremony are (from left) Marty Ramsey, director of alumni engagement; F. Edward Broadwell Jr., recipient of WCU’s Distinguished Service Award; Irene Hamrick, recipient of the Academic Achievement Award; Chancellor David O. Belcher; Todd Vasos, recipient of the Professional Achievement Award; David Joy, recipient of the Young Alumnus Award; and Robin Parton Pate, president of the Alumni Association.


Three Western Carolina University alumni were recognized for their achievements and a former chair of the WCU Board of Trustees received one of the highest honors bestowed by the university, the Distinguished Service Award, as part of Homecoming activities on campus.

During a ceremony held Saturday, Oct. 28, WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher and Robin Parton Pate, president of the university’s Alumni Association, presented the service award to Asheville resident F. Edward “Ed” Broadwell Jr., who completed eight years on the WCU board this past June after previously serving for 12 years on the University of North Carolina Board of Governors.

Pate also presided over presentation of awards given by the Alumni Association. David Joy, a Haywood County resident who has written a series of critically acclaimed novels set in the modern-day Southern Appalachians, received the Young Alumnus Award. Dr. Irene Hamrick, a nationally recognized geriatrics expert, was honored with the Academic Achievement Award, and Todd Vasos, chief executive officer of Dollar General Corporation, was presented with the Professional Achievement Award.

Broadwell, who was raised in Raleigh, received his undergraduate degree in economics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1961 and moved to Haywood County four years later to become chief executive officer of HomeTrust Bank (formerly Clyde Savings Bank). He continued in that role for the next 48 years as the bank grew from six employees to nearly 300 and in assets from $10 million to more than $1.6 billion. He retired as CEO in 2013, but continues to be associated with the bank as chief executive officer emeritus.

Over the years, Broadwell has contributed his time and energy to a host of Western North Carolina community organizations involved in economic development, health care, education and other areas. He was a member of the UNC Board of Governors from 1995 through 2007, and two years later, he was elected to the WCU board and served the past two years as that body’s chair.

As she presented the Distinguished Service Award at A.K. Hinds University Center, Pate said that Broadwell was a champion for all three UNC schools located in the mountains during his time on the UNC board and that it was a “great stroke of good fortune” for WCU when he joined the university’s trustees.

“It is no coincidence that Ed’s combined two decades of work on the UNC and Western Carolina boards coincided with a transformation on the WCU campus that now, thinking back on it, boggles the mind,” Pate said. “Those of you who were around in the ’70s, ’80s or early ’90s, just think about how this university has progressed since then in terms of enrollment, the physical plant, academics and quality. It is astonishing. And, without a doubt, Ed Broadwell was a gentle but powerful voice who served with great dedication and intellect while helping make that happen.”

As he accepted the award, Broadwell called it a great honor for himself, but also for the “huge team of family and friends, HomeTrust bank co-workers and fellow Western Carolina University trustees who have made everything I’ve ever done possible over these many years.”

“I’ve been blessed with many mentors during my life journey,” he said.

The Homecoming awards ceremony also included the announcement of a $1 million gift commitment from Broadwell and wife Donna Allsbrook Broadwell to be used in providing scholarships for WNC public high school graduates, with preference given to residents of Buncombe, Haywood and Henderson counties.

Joy, recipient of the Young Alumnus Award, is a native of Charlotte who earned his bachelor’s degree in 2007 and his master’s degree in 2009, both through WCU’s Department of English. His first novel, “Where All Light Tends To Go,” was published in 2015 and was a finalist for the International Dublin Literary Award, one of the top honors in the publishing world. His second novel, “The Weight Of This World,” was released earlier this year, and a third novel, “The Line That Held Us,” is due out next summer.

In presenting the honor, Pate said Joy’s short stories and essays also have been published in numerous magazines, and readings and book signings have sent him across the nation and to Europe in recent years. “David’s creativity, work ethic and sheer literary talent have taken him a long way over the past several years, and it’s going to be exciting to watch him continue to make his mark in the long legacy of exceptional Southern fiction writers,” she said.

In his comments, Joy said he found valuable mentors in English Department faculty members Ron Rash, Annette Debo and Deidre Elliott, calling Elliott “the greatest teacher I’ve ever met.”

Joy relayed a story about when he was working in Cashiers and he learned that a publisher was buying his first novel. He said he drove from Cashiers to the WCU campus and entered the Coulter Building, home of the Department of English, to stand in the hallway between the offices of Rash and Debo “because that was where it all started.”

“For the rest of my life, everything that happens, it will all be tied back to this place. I owe a great deal to Western,” he said.

Hamrick, who received the Academic Achievement Award, earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing at WCU in 1991 and worked her way through medical school as a single mother. Her career as a physician, teacher and researcher has spanned a total of 26 years at East Carolina University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she currently is geriatrics services director for the University of Wisconsin’s Department of Family Medicine and Community Health. The Teaching Nursing Home, a program she developed, is designed to educate students and resident physicians in caring for patients in that setting.

Pate told the awards ceremony audience that Hamrick has been honored for her superior teaching skills at both East Carolina and the University of Wisconsin. “Through her clinical practice, research and teaching, Irene has had a profound impact on the lives of thousands of geriatric patients, medical students, medical residents and fellow physicians,” Pate said.

In her comments, Hamrick said the faculty mentors she found at WCU have fueled her academic pursuits and her work in geriatrics. Addressing the current students in the room, she said the university “provides a wonderful environment to be successful.”

“Really pursue your dreams and go after what you’re planning to do,” she said. “Western is a very fertile ground.”

Vasos, recipient of the Professional Achievement Award, received his bachelor’s degree in marketing at WCU in 1983 and served in leadership positions at Phar-Mor Food and Drug Inc., Eckerd Drug Corporation and Longs Drugs before joining Dollar General Corp. nine years ago. During his tenure at Dollar General, the company has grown from about 8,400 stores and $10.5 billion in sales to more than 14,000 stores and $22 billion in sales. In his current position as CEO, Vasos oversees approximately 130,000 employees, all the company’s retail locations and 15 distribution centers.

Pate said observers of the business world have noted Vasos’ dedication to Dollar General and the communities it serves and to the work of the Dollar General Literacy Foundation, which supports literacy efforts and education. “Todd’s remarkable talent for business has been demonstrated over the years through his ability to navigate the rapidly changing retail environment and commitment to staying true to Dollar General’s 80-year-old culture of serving the underserved,” she said.

As he accepted the honor, Vasos said he often is reminded about the lessons he learned from professors, advisers and peers at WCU. “It’s those lessons that continue to help guide me at Dollar General as I lead a company deeply committed to the mission of serving others,” he said. “Having the background and teaching that Western Carolina provided has undoubtedly helped me lead the company and has provided the foundation for my success both at Dollar General and throughout my career.”

Closing out the awards ceremony, Pate congratulated all four recipients. “David, Todd, Irene and Ed, you all have made us so very proud,” she said. “You four are wonderful representatives of this university.”