Distinguished Alumni Gala

SHSU Alumni to be Honored for Accomplishments and Service

46th Annual Distinguished Alumni Gala

Friday, October 26, 2018

Six Sam Houston State University alumni who have made significant contributions to their professions, communities and alma mater will be recognized during this year’s homecoming festivities with the SHSU Distinguished Alumni awards, Outstanding Young Alumnus award, and Alumni Service awards. 

Those who will be honored during the Distinguished Alumni Gala on Oct. 26 include Distinguished Alumni Tom Freeman, Russell Gordy and Alan Tinsley; Outstanding Young Alumna Melissa Alvarez-Downing; and Service Award recipients Bill Baldwin and Carol Weller

The gala will begin at 6 p.m. in the Lowman Student Center Ballroom with a cocktail reception followed at 7 p.m. with a dinner and program.  To sponsor a table or purchase individual tickets, contact the Office of Alumni Relations at 936.294.1841 or visit alumni.shsu.edu

For more information, contact the Office of Alumni Relations at 936.294.1841 or visit alumni.shsu.edu.

2018 Distinguished Alumni

Freeman PhotoTom Freeman (1958)

Many know Tom Freeman as a long-time entrepreneur in the Huntsville community. Having owned two businesses - Town and Country Cleaners for more than 30 years and Freeman Investments, L.L.P., a real estate development company, he still manages to devote a considerable amount of time representing Sam Houston State University exceptionally in the community.

His service to Sam Houston State began as a student engaged in numerous activities campus-wide, resulting in his selection as a member of Who’s Who in America’s Colleges and Universities in his senior year.

Freeman also established his talent as a leader and was chosen Commander of the 1,200 man Corps of Cadets – the highest honor attainable in the ROTC program. Since then, he has continued to serve his country, the Huntsville community and his beloved alma mater in numerous ways.

After graduating in 1958 with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree, Freeman received a West Point Commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the US Army. Thereafter, he served on active duty until he was honorably discharged with the rank of Captain.

Freeman believes his education at Sam Houston State reinforced the values he grew up with and helped shape him into the leader and businessperson he has become.

Combining his business degree knowledge and strong leadership ability, Freeman developed a successful dry cleaning business, earning him recognition as a savvy entrepreneur. In 1975, Town and Country Cleaners was nationally honored as “Best Cleaners in America.”

Due to his business prowess, he was elected President of the Texas Laundry and Dry Cleaning Association and given the opportunity to share his insight with others as an industry motivational speaker. As a result, Freeman traveled the world, and brought his passion for high quality customer service to professionals across the globe.

What started as simply a service of providing quality cleaned and pressed garments, Freeman and his wife Patsy found the business as a means to also connect with the Huntsville community in meaningful ways including the establishment of ‘Coats for Kids’ an annual initiative that provides winter coats to local children in need.

Because of his commitment to the community, Freeman received the SHSU Alumni Service Award in 2007.

Many nonprofits have benefited through Freeman’s support including the Boys and Girls Club of Walker County, Shriners Children’s Hospital, Cal Farley’s Boys and Girls Ranch and the Walker County Fair Association Youth where Freeman has purchased numerous student-raised farm animals including a Grand Champion Steer.

In addition, he has served as a deacon and active member of First Baptist Church, president/chairman of the Huntsville-Walker County Chamber of Commerce, and director of the American Bank for 10 years, as well as director for First National Bank for five years.

Freeman’s pride for SHSU is reflected in his generous gifts and tireless work on behalf of the university. As a proud Life Member of the Alumni Association, he has served as chair of the Walker and surrounding counties’ “Share the Vision” capital campaign, also served as a member of the President’s Circle Executive Leadership Council, a Samuel Houston Society member, and an SHSU liaison on the Texas State University System’s Governmental Relations Committee.

Gordy PhotoRussell Gordy (1972)

Russell Gordy’s love for land started back on his grandparents’ 40-acre farm in Louisiana where he learned to hunt and fish. In his youth, he honed his marksmanship shooting wasps with a BB gun while daydreaming over hunting guns in the Sears Roebuck catalog. Today, he owns a museum-worthy collection of antique rifles, guns and pistols along with a $96 million collection of ranches across four states.

The son of a Houston policeman and an office cleaner and the first in his family to attend college, Gordy worked his way through Sam Houston State University with stints as a garbage collector, a truck-loader and offshore roughneck before earning his business administration degree in 1972.

After graduating, he began his career with a small, independent oil company, until it sold in 1981 and he decided to go into business for himself. He co-founded a small oil and gas exploration company that year and managed to sell the majority of it before oil prices collapsed. Expanding into coal-bed methane drilling and minerals exploration, he formed SG Interests. Gordy later formed RGGS Land & Minerals, after acquiring mineral rights from U.S. Steel —a deal that gave him control over the mineral rights to 1.5 million acres.

He is currently managing partner and majority owner in RGGS and SG Interest, a producer of oil and gas. He is also President of Gordy Oil Company, an exploration company in the Gulf Coast and Gordy Gas Corporation, in Colorado and New Mexico. Prior to forming SG Interests, Gordy was a founding partner of Northwind Exploration Company.

Last year, Gordy made his first venture into retail, opening Gordy & Sons Outfitters, a high-price hunting and fly-fishing store in Houston, with his sons Shaun and Garrett. Patrons can shop for handcrafted British Purdey guns and try out rods at the store’s casting pond. At any given time, some 800 of the world’s finest firearms rest in the Gordy & Sons vaults.The distinguished alumnus has also moved into real-estate development with Buffalo Heights, a 4.8-acre mixed-use complex with an upscale grocery, offices and luxury apartments. Currently under construction in Houston, it is the first phase of development of a 23-acre site he owns.

Acquiring ranches through his family-owned Rock Creek Ranch limited partnership, Gordy’s first purchase was a 113-acre parcel in East Texas, which he bought in 1982 for $78,000. Today he is recognized as one of the largest landowners in the United States with over 155,000 acres of mountains, rivers, buttes, waterfalls and forest spread across Texas, Wyoming, Montana and Wisconsin.

Yet, through his substantial gains, Gordy has never lost perspective of his modest beginnings and the essential value of giving back. He and his wife, alumna Glenda (’73, ’77) are passionate in their giving to a multitude of nonprofits and charities including Texas Children’s Hospital, Houston Crime Stoppers and the Broach Foundation for brain cancer research. As arts patrons, the couple also proudly supports the Houston Ballet and Stages Repertory Theatre, including a recent $5 million matching grant to Stages’ building expansion.

The Gordys are Joint Life Endowed Members to SHSU’s Alumni Association and have found a variety of generous ways to give back to their alma mater. The couple’s ongoing commitment to higher education is apparent in their numerous gifts - spread across multiple colleges and departments including: mathematics, osteopathic medicine, forensic science, business administration, musical theatre, agricultural sciences and more. They also give to support enrichment funds for the NCAA Academic Advising program. Most recently, they provided significant support to the proposed College of Osteopathic Medicine.  

Sponsoring many alumni events, Bearkat Champions, the Bearkat Invitational Golf Tournament and annual Let’s Talk, are additional areas where Sam Houston has benefited through their philanthropic spirit. As a major contributor to the Share the Vison campaign and current Honoring Traditions Creating Futures capital campaign, Gordy is the embodiment of a self-made Bearkat success story. Through his triumphs, he and his wife continue to seek-out others in need and help them on their own paths to success.

Tinsley PhotoAlan Tinsley (1971)

Generous supporter. Distinguished counselor. Dedicated alumni. These are words all used to describe this year’s Distinguished Alumni Recipient, Alan L. Tinsley.

After graduating in 1971 with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in accounting, Tinsley secured his license as a Certified Public Accountant before continuing his education at the South Texas School of Law and becoming an attorney. Subsequently, he received a master’s degree in taxation from the University of Houston Law Center.

Tinsley now lives and works in Madisonville, Texas where he owns his own law practice and owns and operates Landmark Title Company and Triple T Ranch.

When it comes to practicing law, his credentials are unrivaled. Currently, Tinsley is licensed to practice before all Texas state courts and numerous federal courts including the United States Supreme Court. He is a member of the State Bar of Texas and is a Texas Bar Foundation Life Fellow, a distinction only given to three percent of Texas attorneys. Certified in tax law and probate and estate planning, Tinsley serves on the Probate and Estate Planning Exam Commission, pursuant to an appointment by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.

In 2015, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott appointed Tinsley to serve as a member of the Texas State University System Board of Regents. He is currently serving a six-year term on the nine-member governing board where he is chairman of the Finance and Audit Committee.

Tinsley’s commitment to SHSU’s motto, “The measure of a Life is its Service,” is apparent through his innumerous years of board service, volunteer endeavors and pro bono work. His dedication to the region earned him the SHSU Alumni Service Award in 2015.

A lifetime director of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, he sits on its legal advisory and armed forces appreciation committees; he is an advisory director on SHSU alumnus Marcus Luttrell’s Lone Survivor Foundation; is a founding member and current trustee for the CrossRoads Cowboy Church; and he supports youth and education by purchasing junior projects at HLSR, as well as at county fairs in Madisonville, Leon, Houston and Walker counties.

A true community champion, he has also served as a director for the ESCAPE Center, The ARC, the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, the Wounded Warrior Banquet, and the Madison County Chamber of Commerce; as a director and founding member of the Madison County Arts Council; and as director and president for the Oak Ridge Country Club and the Madison County Economic Development Corporation.

A longtime supporter of the university and its programs, Tinsley enjoys giving back to SHSU and does so in many ways, supporting the Elliott T. Bowers Honors College fundraising event Let’s Talk, as well as Bearkat Champions, alumni enrichment and SHSU athletics. He has served as president of the Alumni Association and is currently a member of the President’s Circle and the athletic advisory board. Supporting SHSU’s current Honoring Traditions, Creating Futures Capital Campaign, Tinsley serves as the athletics committee chair.

He also devotes many hours assisting with SHSU student mentoring and the High Potential Employee Leadership Academy and provides an unlimited amount of pro bono legal assistance to those who cannot afford legal representation.


BurnettMelissa M. Alvarez-Downing, MD (2000)

Most college students inherently believe that they have the potential to effect change in a positive way, but often question if they are on the right path. For Dr. Melissa Alvarez-Downing, she always knew her career trajectory would lead her to help others.

Today, the mother of three is an Assistant Professor of Surgery at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark, New Jersey, specializing in colon and rectal surgery. One of the youngest surgeons in her field, she is truly a rising star according to her colleagues and credits Sam Houston State University professors for steering her trajectory.

Being as athletic as she is whip-smart, Dr. Alvarez-Downing excelled in science and sports from a young age. One of five children, she followed her older twin sisters to SHSU and received both academic and athletic scholarships. Taking honors classes through the Elliott T. Bowers Honors College, she was an Orange Key, ran cross country and track for all four years and graduated Magna Cum Laude with honors in 2000. Today, she stays connected to her alma mater as a Life Member of the Alumni Association.

The choice of path you take can have a significant impact on your destination in life, as Dr. Alvarez-Downing knows. She planned to earn a PhD in Chemistry, not an MD, and then teach – a goal of hers for as long as she can remember. However, faculty from the College of Arts and Sciences convinced her to consider a career in medicine.

Dr. Mary Plishker, the head of the Chemistry Department at the time, mentored Dr. Alvarez-Downing and encouraged her to pursue medicine due to her outgoing personality and academic aptitude. However, it wasn’t until her Biology professor placed an application for a competitive summer medical program in front of her, that she truly considered a change.

Dr. Alvarez-Downing was accepted into the program and from that point on, she knew she wanted to be a physician. After graduating from SHSU with honors, Dr. Alvarez-Downing attended the prestigious Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, and received Board Certification from the American Board of Surgery in 2011 and the American Board of Colon and Rectal Surgery in 2015.

When describing this up-and-coming surgeon, colleagues portray her as personable, enthusiastic and committed.

Dr. Anne Mosenthal, chair of the Rutgers NJMS Department of Surgery commented, “She is well-trained and has a wonderful bedside manner. I’ve had the opportunity to partner with her, taking care of more complicated patients. The patients love her, the families love her.”

Dr. Anastasia Kunac, program director for Rutgers NJMS General Surgery Residency echoed those sentiments, noting that Alvarez-Downing is “both passionate and compassionate, caring for patients and their families with incredible enthusiasm,” adding, “…I think for years to come she will be a role model.”

“And, that is true of Melissa as an educator as well,” Dr. Mosenthal added, “She is particularly interested in education and training the next generation, and that is what we are about here.”

As a top-performing young professional, not only does Dr. Alvarez-Downing exemplify a focus on academics, excellence and rigor that define Rutgers NJMS, she personifies what it means to be an Outstanding Young Alumna at SHSU, emulating the university motto of “A measure of a Life is it’s Service,” through her teaching, education and philanthropy.

“I found that throughout all steps of my training, were it medical school, residency and even fellowship, that having someone you identify with, who encourages you, and reaches out and supports you is just so important. So, that’s been an important part of my professional life - to give back that way,” she said.

Dr. Alvarez-Downing is a Life Member of the SHSU Alumni Association and provides support to the Department of Chemistry and the Elliot T. Bowers Honors College. 


Baldwin PhotoBill Baldwin (1985)

As a young student at Sam Houston State University, Bill Baldwin began to define his commitment to civic service. At just 19 years old, he was a member of the Huntsville Walker County Chamber of Commerce. The Huntsville native, newly enrolled in college, also became the youngest person in Texas at the time to serve on a school board. Twice elected, he served six years for Huntsville ISD.

Between community meetings, writing a weekly column for the Huntsville Item and supporting himself through a full-time job, Baldwin still managed to earn a Bachelor of Business Administration in 1985. After launching his career as an entrepreneur in Huntsville and then Conroe, he eventually left his hometown roots to start anew in Houston where he turned his education into a successful career and consequently became a beloved change-maker of his new community.

Often described today as the “Mayor of the Heights,” Houstonians know Baldwin as the broker and owner of Boulevard Realty. With almost 60 agents in Houston and Galveston, his business ranks in the top 10 real estate firms selling in central Houston and was recognized in Houston Business Journal’s Top 25 Residential Real Estate Firms in 2017.

Baldwin’s affectionate mayoral title is also testament to the giving back mindset that has long been a part of his life. He says his passion for the city is what motivates him every day. This includes an array of humble servant leadership opportunities, from serving as president of the Houston Heights Association, to sitting on the board for the Houston Epilepsy Foundation, co-chairing the AIDS Foundation Houston's World AIDS Day Luncheon and co-chairing Mayor Sylvester Turner's Quality of Life Transition Committee.

An ardent supporter of Houston’s urban transformation, Baldwin was recently named to the City of Houston Planning Commission, an opportunity to serve that draws from not only his professional experience, but also his ongoing study of the city's ever-changing landscape.

Out of all his contributions, it is his work in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey which many see as true evidence of his devotion to Houston and his ongoing commitment to civic duty.

As the sun first rose over the flooded city, Baldwin waded through downtown waters with his bike to reach the George R. Brown Convention Center. By 9 a.m., he had stepped into his unexpected new role as volunteer coordinator. Helping over 10,000 evacuees and sorting thousands of donations, Baldwin spent the next several days working almost around-the-clock.

During those long shifts, Baldwin searched for solutions to avoid turning away the tremendous outpouring of donated items. Applying the same networking skills he used to build his business, he quickly established the Harvey Relief Hub – a donated warehouse complete with volunteers to sort, store and disseminate contributed items to flood victims.

While helping over 9,000 Houston-area families with truckloads of donations pouring in from around the country, Hurricane Irma struck Puerto Rico. It was then Mayor Turner called Baldwin to lead response efforts as the official City of Houston delegation to Puerto Rico.

With help from United Airlines and other local relief organizations, Baldwin orchestrated the collection and transportation of 55 pallets of supplies, 20 pallets of medical equipment, 11 relief workers and two doctors to the Caribbean. His tremendous and swift efforts made national news with features on NBC Nightly News, CNN and The Wall Street Journal.

In every aspect of his life, Baldwin does all that he can to contribute to the city he calls home. He is proudly a constant voice for a higher quality of life and for equitability in all of Houston’s neighborhoods.

An honored supporter of SHSU, he annually participates in the Houston-area Bearkats in Business events and is a member of the Alumni Association. In August, he accepted the invitation to present as an SHSU commencement speaker.

At the end of the day, however, he is the proud father of two fellow Sam Houston State alumni, Ginger having attended graduate school and Richard recently earning his bachelor’s degree.

Weller PhotoCarol Weller (1969)

Growing up in Crockett, Texas, Carol Weller never imagined a future of traveling around the world after college. She attended nearby Sam Houston State University and joined Alpha Delta Pi before earning her Home Economics degree in 1969. However, shortly after graduating, she would meet her husband and start on a life journey that would encompass the globe.

Weller supported her husband’s executive career while raising two children. Because of her husband’s job, the family frequently moved across the United States and throughout the world, even relocating to Australia at one time. Along the way, Weller was more than content to submerge herself in the new communities the family called home. She not only dedicated her time and talent to school and community events, but even managed to support local nonprofit organizations. Each new relocation allowed Weller an opportunity to meet and help others.

In California, it was a part of Los Angeles County, ridden with gang violence, where Weller found those who needed access to a quality education. Situated on “blood corner,” in a building that was once a part of area crime, she lent her vision to establish a prep school to educate underserved children. Utilizing her philanthropic spirit and background in home decorating and remodeling, Weller conceived a new vision for a school facility and oversaw the entire project from site plans to project management to give the Harambee Prep School an official home. Additionally, her work on numerous charitable events raised more than $400,000 in operational funds for the school.

Weller’s mission to improve the lives of others has positively impacted numerous organizations and communities well beyond day-to-day operations. Her service in California included active involvement in Feeding Those Who Feed Us – a nonprofit organization designed to address the needs of migrant workers and their children living in poverty. Other nonprofits that benefited from Weller’s generosity include the Nestlé Adopt A School Program, a volunteer initiative building positive programs in schools and The Next Door, a ministry for women transitioning out of prison.

For her unwavering dedication to helping others, The City of Pasadena in California recognized Weller with a volunteer award. In Los Angeles, she was awarded for her civic service to the community. In Knoxville, TN, the YMCA honored her as Volunteer of the Year, and nationally, the U.S. Congress House of Representatives presented her with the Prestigious Stewardship Award in recognition of her service achievements.

Beyond her life as a philanthropist, Weller has generously used her talents as a designer and general contractor to manage numerous renovation projects. As a seamstress, artist, painter and jewelry artisan, she has created and still creates numerous artistic projects to donate to fundraisers and charity auctions.

An endowed life member of the SHSU Alumni Association and member of the Executive Leadership Council for the Share the Vision Capital Campaign, Weller has been and continues to be a valued supporter of Sam Houston State.

Forty–sixth Annual
Distinguished Alumni Gala Sponsors


A Hand Up Initiative - Joining together to identify the necessities of vulnerable people.

Platinum Sponsors

Carolyn Chipman Faulk ‘70
Russell ’72 and Glenda ’73, ’77 Gordy
John ’59 and Judy Ragsdale
Carol ’69 and Joe Weller

Gold Sponsors

Frank and Mary Ellen ’64, ’68 Thornton
Office of the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs
College of Business Administration
College of Criminal Justice
College of Health Sciences

Silver Sponsors

Joe ’72 and Liz Amato
Roland E. Black ’61 / Robert and Stella ’71 Koryciak
Budweiser Mont Belvieu - Jimmy ’69 and Tonya Ferris/Ann Wismer and Mike Landolt
Ed ’75 and Cindy ’75 Blazek
Ray ’75 and LuAnn Burgess
Tom ’58 and Patsy Freeman
Len ’69 and Marlene Keeling
Ron ’61 and Donna Koska
Maggie ’48 and George Parker
L.N. “Sonny” Sikes ’55, ’57
College of Education
College of Fine Arts and Mass Communications
College of Humanities and Social Sciences
College of Science & Engineering Technology
Department of Athletics
Office of the President
Office of the VP for Enrollment Management
Office of the VP for Finance and Operations
Office of the VP for Student Affairs
Office of the VP for University Advancement