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SHSU Distinguished Alumni to be Recognized Oct. 19

Five Sam Houston State University graduates who have brought pride to the university through their contributions to business, humanitarian efforts, the medical profession, and public service will be honored as Distinguished Alumni on Oct. 19 as part of the university's 2007 homecoming festivities.

The honorees include Kemper Crabb, Melinda Estes, Roger Lawrence and Cecil Neely, and Peter Bell, the recipient of the university's Young Alumnus Award. The Distinguished Alumni Gala will take place at 6 p.m. in the Lowman Student Center Ballroom.

Tickets are $60 each or $750 to sponsor a table.   For more information about the event, contact the Office of Alumni Relations at 936.294.1841.

Kemper Crabb

Kemper Crabb

When Kemper Crabb received his Bachelor of Science degree in physical education in 1954 and his Master of Science degree in education three years later, both from Sam Houston State, he followed the traditional path that was expected of most at that time.   He married, began a career, had children and retired.

He spent 30 years in education as a coach, athletic director, and professor of kinesiology.   He and his wife Tommye, also a Sam Houston graduate, brought up their family in San Antonio.

However, at a time in life when most people are reflecting upon their past accomplishments and settling into a time of relaxation, something unexpected happened to Crabb.   After a mission trip to India, he felt called to return to the impoverished streets of that country to try to make life better for its needy citizens.  

Although he was a member of a Baptist congregation, he became an ordained Episcopal minister when he had to get an official sponsor for his work, and in 1994, he organized the Order of Servants of the King, a charity organization that builds churches, schools, orphanages and hospitals in remote areas of foreign countries.   His primary emphasis has been in India, Nepal and Uganda.

The work he does now is quite a distance both literally and figuratively from the east Texas Piney Woods where Crabb grew up.   Even at a young age, he displayed the entrepreneurial traits that have continued throughout his life.   When he was 13, he was licensed to drive an 18-wheeler.   While coaching, he ran a canoe rental business on the Guadalupe River.   He's had a passion for motorcycles, buying, riding and selling more than 50 over the years.

He now uses that entrepreneurial spirit to advance his work among the poor of Asia and Africa.   Although he has been imprisoned, robbed, beaten and stoned, his organization is responsible for the establishment of 845 churches, 22 orphanages, three leprosy hospitals, 60 schools and one seminary school in India and Nepal.

His efforts are now focused upon Uganda, where Servants of the King expect to complete over 400 churches, two orphanages, one AIDS hospital, 20 schools and one seminary school this year.

His friend, Larry Holt of Huntsville, emphasized Crabb's selflessness and commitment to his work.

"Kemper, at the age of 75 and founder of a world wide charitable organization still uses his personal money to build and maintain orphanages and for missionary travel expenses including airfare travel four to five times a year," Holt said.

"He also travels all over the USA speaking at colleges and preaching at churches about the Kingdom of God. For 14 years and 266,000 miles, he drove a 1992 Mazda pickup with a manual transmission.   Many times he would sleep on a pallet in the rear of the truck to save money on hotel expenses so he can support the orphans in India, Nepal and Uganda.

"He recently had to purchase a car with an automatic transmission because he's had complications from a poisonous spider bite he received in Uganda," Holt continued.   "Though he is still recovering and is in severe pain, he still plans on traveling to Uganda several times this year."

Crabb has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times, once by Mother Teresa, for his missionary work.

Melinda Estes

Melinda Estes

San Antonio native Melinda L. Estes, M.D., has served as president and chief executive officer of Vermont's Fletcher Allen Health Care, a 562-bed facility whose 6,000 employees provide care to nearly one million people in Vermont and northern New York, since 2003.

She also serves as a clinical professor in the Department of Pathology at the University of Vermont College of Medicine in Burlington.

Estes received the Bachelor of Science degree from Sam Houston State University in 1974, majoring in biology with a minor in chemistry.   She received her medical degree from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston in 1978, where she graduated magna cum laude.

She completed an internship at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas and a residency in neurology at UTMB in Galveston.   She also was a neuropathology fellow at The Cleveland Clinic Foundation and completed special training in pediatric neuropathology at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Even though she was enjoying a busy career as a medical professional, she decided to enroll in business classes.   In 1995, she earned a Master of Business Administration degree from Case Western Reserve University School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.

Prior to joining Fletcher Allen, Dr. Estes served as chief executive officer, chief medical officer, and chair of the Board of Governors of Cleveland Clinic Florida.   She was also the executive director of business development at The Cleveland Clinic Foundation and the executive vice president and chief of staff for the MetroHealth System, both in Ohio.

She was honored with the YWCA Career Woman of Achievement Award and was recently given the American College of Healthcare Executives-Vermont Regents' Special Recognition Award.

"Mindy has always been driven to excel in everything she does," said longtime friend and fellow Sam Houston State alumnus William Hall.   "She was a superb student at Sam Houston State and used the same organizational skills to be a leader in medical school, graduate school and her career.

"As the president and chief executive officer of Fletcher Allen Health care, she strives to improve the quality of care provided to the community," Hall said.

"After taking over the helm of Fletcher Allen in 2003 in the midst of a financial and legal crisis, Mindy orchestrated a remarkable turnaround," Hall continued.   "In Fiscal Year 2003, the organization lost $5.7 million.   Two years later, under Mindy's leadership, the hospital ended its last fiscal year with a profit.

"Under her direction, Fletcher Allen has established one of the most generous patient assistance plans and uninsured patient discount policies in the country.   The hospital also provides $3.6 million in support of community health programs," Hall said.

"During the Hurricane Katrina crisis, Fletcher Allen developed sister relationships with two hospitals in the afflicted area - West Jefferson Medical Center in Marrero, Louisiana and Coastal Family Health Center in Biloxi, Mississippi.   Under Mindy's leadership, the employees of Fletcher Allen raised money and collected supplies to send to these two hospitals."

Estes is married to Harold H. Morris III, M.D., and they are the parents of two daughters, Megan and Sarah.

Roger Lawrence

Roger Lawrence

Roger D. Lawrence's name is synonymous with the highly acclaimed banking program at Sam Houston State University.

Lawrence received a Bachelor of Science degree in sociology with a minor in business from Sam Houston State in 1969, and later graduated with a Master of Business Administration degree from Texas A&M University.

He is a huge supporter of the banking program at SHSU, especially the internships. Over two-thirds of his staff have graduated from SHSU, and he has been instrumental in fundraising as another means of support. The Smith-Hutson Endowed Chair of Banking at the university boasts one of the finest technological classrooms to be found anywhere and it is appropriately named the Roger D. Lawrence Banking Center.

Lawrence's career in banking for over 40 years has spanned positions from clerk to chairman.   In addition to his experience in suburban banks, he has almost 15 years of experience in larger holding company banks.

He retired from Citizens Bank as chairman of the board/president/CEO at the end of 2001 after 15 years of service.   During his time at Citizens Bank, he took a small rural bank of approximately $20 million in assets to over $125 million in assets in three locations.  

Today he serves as chairman and CEO of Texas Community Bank - a bank he chartered in 2002 along with three other individuals - in The Woodlands.   The bank began operations on Sept. 10, 2002, and has since grown into a $210 million institution.   He also formed TCB Holding Company in 2005.

In numerous letters of support for his nomination as Distinguished Alumni Award recipient, Lawrence's devotion and commitment to Sam Houston Sate University was echoed.

"As educators, we are always hopeful that our graduates will realize the importance of supporting the university," said R. Dean Lewis, dean of the College of Business Administration at SHSU.  

"He has not only supported the university with his money, but he has also spoken to business classes on numerous occasions.   Even more importantly, he has been an enabler for many young men and women to attend Sam Houston State University who might not have otherwise been able to get a college degree," Lewis said.   "He has also generously paid for many of his employees to pursue their MBAs."

"As a past alumni board member, I am familiar with the requirements and high standards that must be satisfied to achieve this very special (Distinguished Alumni) recognition," said the Judge Jerry A. Sandel of Huntsville.   "When you consider his achievements in the business world, particularly the banking industry, and his generous support and willing service to Sam Houston State University, you will agree that he has clearly met these standards and is rightfully deserving of this award."

"Roger is called on to speak at banking conferences all over the United States and has guest taught at Sam Houston on many occasions," said Walt Pinegar. "His business acumen has earned him accolades from both private and federal colleagues."

"Roger is a unique individual who has been successful in everything that he has done.   More importantly, he has used the wealth he has obtained to help others," said James Bexley, chair of the banking program at Sam Houston State.

"When we wanted to start a banking intern program, he agreed to underwrite and hire two interns.   He also gave us the final funding we needed to build the banking center in the College of Business Administration," Bexley said.

"He has distinguished himself in both a personal and professional manner, and he is recognized in banking circles as one of the brightest and most innovative people in his profession," Bexley said.

Lawrence is married to the former Angela Allen who is also a Sam Houston State graduate.

Cecil Neely

Cecil Neely

After one exceptional career in the military, Cecil Neely was primed to continue public service in a second distinguished career.

Neely came to Sam Houston in 1953 from Madison County, where he had demonstrated his leadership abilities as the first president of the Madisonville High School Honor Society.

After completing approximately 90 hours at Sam Houston State, he joined the United States Army as a private and rose to the rank of brigadier general during the 29 years he served.   He was recognized on many occasions for the service he provided that went above and beyond the call of duty.

He holds the nation's highest peacetime award, the Distinguished Service Medal.   He also received the Bronze Star for valor in Vietnam, as well as the Combat Infantryman's Badge, the Parachutists' Badge and numerous other U. S. and foreign awards.   He has also been inducted into the Infantry "Hall of Fame" at the United States Army Infantry School in Fort Benning, Ga.

He was a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon and served as Nation's Duty Officer for the President of the United States and the Secretary of Defense.

During the time he was enlisted, he completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Nebraska and earned the Master of Arts degree in history from Sam Houston State in 1971.  

After his retirement from the military, Neely began a second career in public service.   In 1995, he returned to his Texas roots and took the role of county judge for Madison County.   During his term he improved hospital service, resolved a long-standing redistricting problem to the satisfaction of the Justice Department, and helped reduce property taxes by 43 percent in two years, taking the county from the seventh highest taxed county in the state to approximately the 150 th .   He was also instrumental in establishing Madison County's own District Attorney's office to help solve legal problems within that county.

In an old elementary school owned by Madison County, Neely established a "one-stop" center for the Texas Department of Health, GED Center, Work Force Development Center, Texas Department of Human Services, County Extension Agent, Texas Department of Transportation Driver's License office, Alcohol and Substance Abuse Program, and other youth programs.

Neely has also been a member of the Brazos Valley Council of Governments since 1994, serving as chairman for two years.   The regional planning council covers a seven-county area providing services in the areas of health, housing, assistance to the elderly, and public safety planning.

He and his family have supported Sam Houston State University through the establishment of scholarship endowments for the College of Business Administration.

"Mr. Neely has represented himself, his family, his community, his country and his school with integrity, bravery and honor," said Jim Dunnam, Texas state representative for District 57.

"A man with accomplishments of this kind in all aspects of life is beyond the dreams of most people in this world.   He represents all that it means to be distinguished and honorable," Dunnam said.

"After he assumed the position of county judge, I had numerous occasions to work with Judge Neely in a professional setting.   He has been conscientious and caring with accomplishments too numerous to mention," said Alan Tinsley of Madisonville.  

"Judge Neely is one of the finest persons I have the honor and pleasure to know and call a friend," Tinsley continued.   "He has done Sam Houston proud by his accomplishments in life.   He is the epitome of everything the Distinguished Alumnus Award represents."

Neely and his wife, Lynn Hardy Neely, who received her Master of Education degree from Sam Houston, are the parents of three children -- Susan, Russell and Michael.

Peter Bell

Peter Bell

A young entrepreneur who took a small company and developed it into a major corporation to help life return to normal for victims following a catastrophe has been named the Outstanding Young Alumnus for Sam Houston State University.

Peter Bell of Houston received the Bachelor of Business Administration degree from SHSU in 1993.

At the age of 26, while working in the restoration industry, Bell had the opportunity to start his own company.   His plan was to modernize the old services, which were being used in the restoration business while focusing on improving customer service at the same time.

The new venture was named Cotton USA and has evolved into a national disaster recovery business that specializes in catastrophe management, fire and water restoration services, commercial construction, and environmental remediation.

Bell's company began with a staff of four employees in Houston.   Today, Cotton USA has offices in eight states and conducts business throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean Islands, and employs more than 400 people.   In its brief history, Cotton USA has twice been named one of the top 100 privately held companies making the greatest impact on Houston.

In March 2007, Charys Holding Company purchased the company; however, Cotton retains its name and brand as well as its leadership, and Bell continues to serve as president.

Bell has also established two real estate capitalist venture groups, which purchases and develops land primarily in Texas.   In honor of his alma mater, Bell named the groups Sam Houston and Bearkat Ventures.

He and his wife Jill Miller-Bell, also a graduate of Sam Houston State, support a number of philanthropic causes.   They created the Cotton Foundation, which is dedicated to helping children restore their lives after illness, injury or catastrophic events. The organization has also reached out to help victims of Hurricane Katrina.  

Those individuals endorsing Bell's nomination for the Outstanding Young Alumnus Award often mentioned his compassion and generous spirit as well as his work ethic:

"Over the past 17 years, I have had the honor to see Pete grow as a person, businessman, entrepreneur, father, husband and philanthropist," said fellow alumnus Randall Thompson.

"In every role Pete has conducted himself as a man of good character with ambitious purposes for all, possessed of good morals while having the highest sense of honor and the deepest sense of personal responsibility," Thompson said.   "Pete has impacted thousands of people with career opportunities, leadership and an unconditional giving heart."

Bell's support of Sam Houston State University was also noted.

"He has gone on to support the university through giving, time, and continuously marketing and promoting Sam Houston State to every family and young person trying to decide their college path," Thompson added.   "Truly believing in the value of the Sam Houston product, Pete has hired many Sam Houston graduates over the years and currently has many working in key management roles for his company."

"Pete has touched many lives at work, in the community, and through the Cotton Foundation for children," said another Sam Houston alumnus, James Scaife.

"He continues to support Sam Houston State and continually seeks out graduates to give them an opportunity in the business field," Scaife said.   "Pete believes in Sam Houston State and values the education he received while attending classes at the university."


SHSU Media Contact: Julia May
Oct. 9, 2007
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