Alumni Association celebrates 2022 homecoming honorees

By FHSU ALUMNI ASSOCIATION

Six Fort Hays State University alumni will be honored on Friday, Oct. 7, 2022, at the Alumni and Friends Awards Banquet during Homecoming. For details on how you can help celebrate these award winners during FHSU’s Homecoming, visit www.FHSUHomecoming.com.

Four Alumni Achievement Award recipients will be recognized: John L. Allen ’89, Rome, Italy; Dr. Judith Billings ’65, Kearney, Nebraska; Mike McCarthy ’89, Frisco, Texas.; and  Donald J. Richardson ’67, Phoenix, Arizona.

The Alumni Achievement Award, the association’s highest recognition, was established in 1959 to recognize graduates of the university for outstanding achievement based on meritorious service to society or the community. The award is based upon career and personal achievements, service involving community betterment and philanthropic activities, and educational achievements.

Young Alumni Award recipients include Tory Marie (Arnberger) Blew ’16, Great Bend, and Brandon Penny ’13, New York.

The Young Alumni Award was designed to recognize graduates early in their careers who have had outstanding achievements and recent accomplishments. The award is based on professional and educational achievements, community activities, honors and awards received, and other noteworthy items of merit since graduation. Candidates must hold a bachelor’s degree from FHSU within 15 years of the current award year and be under the age of 40 as of Jan. 1, the year the awards are presented.

Selecting the homecoming awardees is a challenging task, as Fort Hays State has so many outstanding graduates and friends who deserve to be recognized. This year’s recipients stood out as creative, inspiring, and hardworking leaders in their respective communities, said Carolyn Tatro, alumni engagement strategist for the FHSU Alumni Association. “We are incredibly proud to honor their successes and to share their stories this year. We hope that the public will take the opportunity to get to know these great Tigers as we celebrate them during Homecoming 2022.”

Homecoming 2022 Honoree Profiles:

Alumni Achievement Award

John L. Allen Jr. ’89

From the western plains of Kansas to the streets of Rome, John L. Allen Jr, a 1989 FHSU alumnus and Hays native, has seen the evolution of his educational career right up to the steps of the Vatican.

Allen, a 1983 Thomas More Prep-Marian graduate, came to Fort Hays State University to study philosophy. Before he finished his undergraduate degree, Allen’s interest in politics drew him to Washington, D.C., for three years. Following his graduation from FHSU, he went on to study at the University of Kansas, where he graduated in 1992 with a master’s degree in religious studies.

His passion for journalism led him to teach journalism at Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, California, where he also supervised the student-run newspaper, The Knight. His journalism skills became nationally known following the death of Pope John Paul II, where his commentary appeared frequently on cable-news conglomerate CNN.

He later became the senior Vatican analyst for CNN and lectured regularly on Vatican Issues. Allen also wrote numerous Vatican-centered pieces for The Boston Globe as the publication’s associate editor. Allen used these professional experiences and his education to transition Crux, a website that was started for The Boston Globe, into a fully independent website that offers independent coverage of the Vatican and the Catholic Church.

Allen possesses the intellectual property of the Crux website. He and his wife, Elise, live in Rome and report objective news on the Vatican for Crux. Allen appears weekly in the site’s podcast-like video series, “Last Week in the Church with John Allen Jr.” where he reports on the latest news in the Vatican City.

Late liberal commentator Fr. Andrew Greeley called Allen’s writing “indispensable,” while the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, a conservative, called Allen’s reporting “possibly the best source of information on the Vatican published in the United States.” Kenneth Woodward of Newsweek described Allen as “the journalist other reporters–not just a few cardinals–look to for the inside story on how all the pope’s men direct the world’s largest church.”

Allen’s work has appeared in other publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, NPR, and more. He has authored eleven books about Vatican-related topics, from the Pope to the future of the Catholic Church. Some of his most popular include his works about Pope Benedict XVI and, most recently, his book “The Francis Miracle: Inside the Transformation of the Pope and the Church,” which has received positive acclaim.

Allen holds honorary doctorates from five institutions. He continues to write, edit, and produce for Crux. Allen wishes to dedicate this award to his mother, Laura Ileene Allen, who died in 1999 after being a faculty member in the Department of Nursing at Fort Hays State in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. Allen says his mother, “Loved FHSU deeply, and the whole Allen family is grateful for the way the university took care of her in return.”

Judith “Judy” (Sims) Billings ’65

Few people recognize their calling in life at age six. One exception, however, is FHSU 1965 alumna Judith “Judy” (Sims) Billings. Throughout her life, Billings followed her passion for nursing to educate and serve her community.

Even at a young age, Billings understood her purpose in life: to serve others through nursing. Billings first put her dreams into action as an aid in the Smith County Memorial Hospital before attending Fort Hays State to study nursing. Following her graduation in 1965, Billings moved to Kearney, Nebraska, where she worked as a nurse at Good Samaritan Hospital. It was here she began considering a career in education.

Billings began educating future nurses in 1968 at St. Francis School of Nursing in Grand Island, Neb. After completing her master’s and doctorate degrees at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, she taught at South Dakota State University in Brookings, South Dakota.

In 1976, Billings continued her professional career at Kearney State College (aka University of Nebraska Kearney), where she served as an instructor and department chair. During that time, she developed and managed the first bachelor’s degree program west of Lincoln, Nebraska. By the time Billings retired from 40 years in nursing and nursing education in 2005, she saw the graduation of more than 1,000 students from the Kearney program.

Dr. Clark, who worked alongside Billings at Kearney State College said, “Because of her vision of what nursing service can be, the type of curriculum she developed, and the people she recruited, we’ve produced a tremendous cadre of nurses. The driving force for meeting that goal certainly was Judy Billings.”

Billings’ work has also been recognized by a myriad of honors and awards, including the Nebraska Nurses Association Outstanding Achievement in Nursing Award, Kearney State College’s Council of Deans Distinguished Service Award, Nebraska Nurse’s Association Outstanding Nurse Educator Award, the Freedom Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service, and more. She was also invited to Washington, D.C., to participate in a think tank about the future of patient/family council care in communities.

After her retirement in 2005 from the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Nursing Kearney, Billings has remained active in community service projects, serves on several guilds and church committees, and regularly volunteers in numerous positions for CHI Good Samaritan Hospital. In her free time, Billings enjoys reading, traveling, sewing, and quilting.

Billings lives in Kearney and has five children.

Mike McCarthy ’89

Not every day does Fort Hays State University celebrate an alumnus who has successfully coached National Football League teams like the Green Bay Packers, the San Francisco 49ers, the Kansas City Chiefs, the New Orleans Saints, and the Dallas Cowboys during their tenure. 1989 alumnus, Mike McCarthy, has tied his life experience of becoming a head football coach in the NFL with his education at Fort Hays state.

Born in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, with a father who worked in public safety and a mother who worked for the state, McCarthy and his four siblings grew up working to make their community stronger. Whether it was in athletics, politics, or fundraising, the entire family strove to give back.

After graduating from Bishop Boyle High School in Homestead, Pennsylvania, McCarthy pursued his undergraduate degree and played as a tight end at Baker University in Baldwin City. By the end of his time at Baker, McCarthy had earned a degree in business administration, was recognized as a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Division II national runner-up, and was senior captain of his team.

McCarthy then moved on to FHSU and joined John Vincent in coaching the Tigers for the 1987 and 1988 seasons as a graduate coaching assistant. McCarthy worked towards a master’s degree in sports administration and spent his time coaching linebackers. He graduated from FHSU in 1989 and further pursued his education at the University of Pittsburgh, where he worked as a graduate assistant for three seasons before coaching wide receivers for the 1992 season.

McCarthy joined the Chiefs in 1993 as a quality control assistant by head coach Marty Schottenheimer. During the 1993 and 1994 seasons, McCarthy worked with Hall of Famer Joe Montana. He stayed with the Chiefs until 1999 when he became the Green Bay Packer quarterback coach, where he coached another Hall of Famer, Brett Favre.

From 2000-04, McCarthy worked for the New Orleans Saints. In his first season as offensive coordinator, McCarthy was named NFC Assistant Coach of the Year by USA Today. He then spent 2005 with the San Francisco 49ers as offensive coordinator before returning to Green Bay as Head Coach.

McCarthy served for more than twelve years as Packers head coach, one of its most successful stretches in franchise history. Along with future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the Packers won the Super Bowl in 2011. McCarthy joined Vince Lombardi and Mike Holmgren as the only coaches to guide the Packers to a Super Bowl win.

In 2020, McCarthy was named head coach of the Dallas Cowboys.

McCarthy and his wife, Jessica, have five children. Together, they created the McCarthy Family Foundation. The Foundation’s outreach supported the American Family Children’s Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin, the Seven Loaves Project in Rwanda, and donated $100,000, which was matched by the Green Bay Packers, to the Green Bay Police Foundation. This funding supported outreach programs intended to build community relations and provided bias prevention training for the officers.

Donald Richardson ’67, ’67, ’71

Donald Richardson, an FHSU 1967 and 1971 alumnus, has shared his love of the written language with his students for more than fifty years as a professor at Phoenix College in Arizona.

Richardson, a LaCrosse native, has cultivated an enduring relationship with learning as far back as his high school days. Richardson’s high school instructor, Ray Newton, praised his academic success saying, “I doubt that any other FHSU graduate has such an extensive publication record of both scholarly-academic publications as well as novels.”

Richardson received dual Bachelor of Arts degrees in English and Communication in 1967 and subsequently earned his Master of Arts degree in English in 1971 at Fort Hays State University. This set the foundation to pursue a Ph.D. at Arizona State University in Phoenix, Arizona, where he would ultimately take up a professorship at Phoenix College.

In addition to his lifelong continued education, Richardson is a prolific writer with more than  39 completed Shakespeare Editions, among other publications. He has been inducted into the Phoenix College Hall of Fame, has received the Phoenix Chapter President’s Award a handful of times, and has been nominated several times for the Phoenix College Outstanding Teacher of the Year.

Though he’s an Arizona transplant, Richardson has remained a proud Fort Hays State Tiger, a fact he’s made known among his thousands of students and acquaintances.

As a nimble 79-year-old man, Richardson shows no signs of retirement. He continues to write, publish, and educate future generations of students while working on many community betterment projects. In his free time, Richardson sings in both choirs and barbershop quartets, volunteers for Duet and the United Methodist Church Outreach Mission Program, and regularly donates blood.

Richardson lives in Phoenix and has four children.

Young Alumni Awards

Tory Marie (Arnberger) Blew ’16

Tory Marie (Arnberger) Blew, a Great Bend native, exemplifies how a degree from Fort Hays State University can shape one’s life. During her time at FHSU, Blew was a member of numerous on-campus organizations such as Delta Zeta and the Student Government Association. She was a VIP ambassador for the Office of the President and served as an orientation leader for over two years.

Blew also served as an intern for the Kansas Department for Children and Families in Topeka, where she performed various tasks to assist the Governor’s Internship Program and attended child support dockets to learn the legal aspects of the agency. Additionally, Blew is a graduate of the 2018 class of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Public Excellence series and graduated from Kansas Emerging Leaders in 2021.

Her involvement on the Fort Hays State campus evolved into an interest in local politics. At age 23 and in her senior year of college, Blew ran for a seat in the 112th district in the Kansas House of Representatives and won.

Since, Blew received her Bachelor of Science degree in Business Education, became a teacher, and is a DECA (formerly, Distributive Education Clubs of America) advisor in a rural school district. She was the youngest Kansas legislator from 2017-20. For the 2021-22 legislative session, Blew was assigned to the house federal and state affairs committee, where she served as vice-chair. She also served on the general government budget and health and human services committees.

In 2022, Blew sponsored 10 bills and was elected as house majority whip. Blew recently filed for re-election and is running unchallenged in her district. Her current term ends Jan. 8, 2023. When Blew filed for re-election in District 112, she said, “Before going away for college, I always knew I’d return to my hometown. I love this community and cherish the relationships I have with my constituents – and I will continue to fight for issues important to our district throughout my next term.”

She remains committed to being a vocal advocate for second amendment gun rights, mental health, and limited government.

Blew maintains a close relationship with her “legislative mom,” 105th district representative Brenda Landwehr. Landwehr describes Blew as “a bright spot. Always upbeat. She works hard, and she’s fun.”

“She always looks for solutions. She’s not afraid to ask questions, and she’s always willing to learn,” Landwehr added.

“Blew is thoughtful in her connections and mentorships and wants everyone around her to succeed and will help people do that.”

Blew resides in her hometown of Great Bend and serves as a board member for the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development while working full-time as a human resources director for Pryor Automatic Fire and Sprinkler. She also works as the recruitment and philanthropy advisor for her local Delta Zeta sorority chapter.

When she isn’t working on her many professional endeavors, Blew can be found cooking, on the golf course, or with her husband, Justin, remodeling their first home.

Brandon Penny ’13

Confident, clever, and creative are just a few ways to describe Brandon Penny, a 2013 FHSU alumnus originally from Burlington, Colorado. Penny has translated his eye for design into a lasting career in New York City, where he has been designing for Saks Fifth Avenue since 2018 and was recently promoted to senior designer. His work regularly appears to millions in emails, direct mail pieces, catalogs, store signage, website content, social media, and more.

Penny joined the art and design program at FHSU to earn his bachelor of fine arts in graphic design. He was involved and engaged in his education and extra-curricular activities while at Fort Hays State.

Penny was a member of the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), and his creative side extended to the performing arts, where he was a member of the Fringe Theatre Company, performing in plays and musicals and designing the show posters and programs as the theatre advertising and publicity director.

Following graduation from FHSU in May 2013, Penny moved to Brooklyn, N.Y., landing his first creative internship at OpenSky as an unpaid production graphic designer. A retail job at The Container Store in sales/visual merchandising paid the bills and paved the way to a freelance gig as an assistant at The Society of Publication Designers (SPD).

It was his connections at SPD that landed him a role as Billboard magazine’s first-ever design intern. While at Billboard, Penny acquired an internship with Decker Design, later leaving both when the creative director of People magazine reached out and brought him on as a full-time design and photo intern.

He then designed for Curioos, an online marketplace for unique wall art created by thousands of emerging artists from all over the world. His most recent role with Saks allows him to merge design and advocacy. His current responsibilities include jewelry, a high-profile category, while simultaneously owning business growth through redesigned loyalty program collateral.

In June, Saks celebrated Pride Month, and Penny designed the campaign that featured prominent figures in the LGBTQ+ community, of which he is a member. He is also a part of the company’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion group.

In his nomination letter, Vincent Bowhay mentioned, “Brandon’s attention to detail and design are superb, and he brings a level of positivity to everything he does, which I believe makes him most worthy of this distinguished award.”

Angel Han, Saks senior design manager, and Penny’s direct manager, echoed Bowhay’s sentiments, saying, “Brandon Penny is a true gem, and I am so lucky to have him on the design team. The energy, passion, and enthusiasm he brings make Saks a better place for everyone.”

She added, “No matter how difficult or challenging the task, Brandon takes on every project with a sense of collaboration, determination, and a willingness to learn. I am so proud to see how much he has grown as a designer and as a person over the years.”

Penny is the son of Susanne and the late Norman Penny and brother to Christopher and Danielle.

You can view Penny’s work by visiting //behance.net/brandonpenny.

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