Tennessee Tech Celebrates 2014 Outstanding Alumni
Every year, a select group of alumni are recognized for their lifetime achievements and outstanding support of Tennessee Tech University.
This year, eight were recognized at a Feb. 7 reception at the Leslie Town Centre. Each of the university’s six colleges, the Whitson-Hester School of Nursing and Athletics selected a former student to recognize.
College of Agriculture and Human Ecology
Jerry Bellar is a Tennessean through and through. He attended Gordonsville High School and earned his bachelor’s degree in animal husbandry from Tech in 1958. Fifteen years into his career, he became an entrepreneur to ensure he could stay in the region.
After graduating from Tech and serving two years as a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division, Bellar returned to Tennessee to start a sales job with the veterinary division of Norwich Pharmacal Company in Tennessee and Kentucky. He eventually became the company’s national sales manager. Rather than relocate to Philadelphia when the company moved, Bellar decided to start his own company so he could stay in Tennessee.
Bellar is CEO of Agri Sales Associates, a manufacturer’s representation group involved for nearly 40 years in the sales and marketing of animal health products across North America. Bellar has been a member of teams that brought eight products to the market that went on to reach the top slot in sales in their product category across the U.S. and Canada.
Throughout his career, Bellar has retained a strong connection with his alma mater. His first hire as a manager was a fellow Tech graduate. Several years ago he started a second company, Eagle Enterprises, named in honor of the Golden Eagles. Jerry’s brother, Jacky, is also a TTU grad.
College of Arts and Sciences
Bob Luna’s golden voice is one of the most well-known across the Upper Cumberland.
He has been the voice of the Golden Eagle marching band for 20 years and of the Cookeville Community Band for more than a decade. He is a candidate reader during his alma mater’s commencement ceremonies and has served as master of ceremonies for hundreds of meetings.
Luna graduated from high school in Nashville and was recruited by Robert Woodland, the speech and debate coach, to come to Tech, where he won the state championship in intercollegiate debate in 1971.
He took a break from his studies to join the U.S. Navy in 1975, where he volunteered for submarine duty. Stationed in Charleston, he served on board two nuclear-powered fleet ballistic missile submarines operating out of Rota, Spain. His awards include the Navy Achievement Medal, a good conduct medal, meritorious unit commendation and the Silver Dophins submarine qualification insignia. In 1980, Luna was selected as Atlantic Fleet Sailor of the Year.
He returned to Tech in 1981 and earned his degree in English/speech in 1982. He Between 1982 and 1985, he did brief stints as news director at WTPN WGSQ radio and as managing director of the Cookeville Performing Arts Center.
He began his career in financial services in 1985 with J.C. Bradford & Company, where he was appointed investment limited partner. In 2005, using Raymond James Financial Services as broker dealer, He founded his own company, Luna & Herren Investment Group, in 2005. He is currently senior partner.
In the past 30 years, Luna has been very active in his community. He is a member of Cookeville’s Rotary club, was named Rotarian of the Year in 2001 and served as president in 2003-2004. He is a founding member of the TTU College of Arts and Sciences board of visitors and has served as chair on the boards of Genesis House, WCTE Upper Cumberland Broadcast Council, Cookeville First United Methodist Church and the Upper Cumberland Chamber of Commerce. He serves as trustee of Martin Methodist College.
He chaired the 2010 gubernatorial debate at Tech and has served as finance chairman for the TSSAA steering committee for the past two years.
His wife Gail Leonard Luna graduated from TTU in 1976. Both his daughters are also Golden Eagles: Susan graduated in 2007 and Jennifer is currently enrolled at Tech.
Department of Athletics
Thomas Pemberton II has been a Golden Eagle for 40 years, though he’s only had his degree from Tech since 2011. He made his mark on the football team and as a member of its Letterman’s Club, earning honors from the Ohio Valley Conference and its coaches.
He left Tech before finishing his degree to sign a free agent contract with the Washington Redskins in 1975. He has remained involved with Golden Eagle Athletics all these years, organizing tournaments and supporting student-athletes.
Pemberton earned a bachelor’s degree from Mercer University School of Pharmacy, an MBA from ETSU and has led a very successful career in health care. He started as a pharmacy intern, stocking shelves in Atlanta and worked his way up to hold the positions of pharmacy director, chief executive officer, vice president and president at various hospitals and health care organizations across the Southeast. He retired from his position as Capella Healthcare’s senior vice president and chief operating officer in 2009.
He is the chief integration officer for RegionalCare Hospital Partners, where he ensures that hospitals brought into the partnership integrate smoothly.
Retired Golden Eagle men’s basketball coach Mike Sutton, who teaches in Tech’s RODP program, helped Pemberton transfer his pharmacy credits into a chemistry degree. Pemberton says the experience helped him to close a loop in his life, earning his degree from the place where he met his wife, Laura, played football and made lifelong friends. Tom’s daughter, Jill Williams, and her husband, Trent, as well as brother Mike and his wife, Dana, are all TTU graduates.
College of Business
Grady P. Williams graduated from TTU with honors and a degree in accounting after working to pay almost all of his own way through college. Born and raised in East Tennessee, Grady was one of six children and the first in his family to attend college.
After graduation, Williams wandered Chattanooga looking for a job before settling at the Hazlett, Lewis, & Bieter accounting firm in 1957. Following a two-year leave of absence to serve as a U.S. Army paratrooper infantry officer, Williams was discharged as a captain and returned to the firm in 1968 as a partner. He spent 47 years with the company.
Grady served as president of the Tennessee Society of Certified Public Accountants and received its public service award in 1992. He also served on the Tennessee State Board of Accountancy for 15 years.
Outside of his profession, Grady believes strongly in service and has spent his life trying to make this world a better place. He is heavily involved in the Chattanooga community, serving on the Chattanooga State Foundation, the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga Foundation and the United Way, among others. For his good works, Grady received the Kiwanis Club Distinguished Service Award, the Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Philanthropy, and just this past weekend was awarded the prestigious Heart Ball Honoree by the Chattanooga Heart Association.
At his alma mater, he is a member of the College of Business Foundation board of trustees and has helped a large number of students fund their education. Four or five business students every year receive the Grady Williams scholarship, and he organizes other Chattanooga-area alumni to help raise funds for other scholarships. He is honored to have joining him tonight, several current and past recipients of the Grady Williams scholarship at TTU.
Grady is currently affiliated with Lattimore Black Morgan & Cain, P.C. and CapitalMark Bank & Trust.
College of Education
Dr. Mark Heinrich
Mark A. Heinrich grew up in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, and graduated from Tech in 1975 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and, in 1976, master’s degree in educational psychology and guidance. While pursuing his undergraduate degree, he was a scholarship athlete on the varsity tennis team.
He graduated with a doctorate from The University of Alabama. While there, he served on coach Paul “Bear” Bryant’s athletic staff.
He spent the next 28 years working in a number of positions at Carson-Newman College, now Carson-Newman University, including professor and chairman of psychology and graduate studies in school counseling, dean of social sciences and education, associate provost and vice president for academic affairs.
In January 2008, Heinrich became president of Shelton State Community College in Tuscaloosa, Ala. He served there for five years.
In 2012, the Alabama state board of education unanimously elected him chancellor for the Alabama community college system, which serves more than 250,000 students a year. As chancellor, Heinrich is the CEO of 25 community and technical colleges and one military institute.
There, he is committed to developing strategies to unite the Alabama community college system under the goal of improving the state’s economy by creating a well-educated and highly skilled workforce.
He and his wife Elaine Flynn Heinrich, also a TTU graduate, live in Montgomery, Ala.
College of Engineering
David Richard Wright’s career has been exactly what Tech’s College of Engineering hopes all of its graduates aspire to have.
After graduating from Tech in 1980 with a degree in civil engineering, Wright went on to earn a master’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin. He spent about a decade working for John Carpenter & Associates, Stanley D. Lindsey & Associates and Lockwood Greene Engineers. He embodied the university’s Renaissance engineer, using and adapting techniques from Europe that had never before been used in the United States, and working to construct and improve a variety of industrial and technology projects across the country.
In 1994, Wright and his former boss, John Carpenter, became partners and formed Carpenter Wright Engineers. Today, in addition to helping to create engineering solutions for businesses and organizations nationwide, the company employs about 25 people in their Nashville and Knoxville design offices.
Wright has continued to be a part of the Tech community over the years. He and his wife, the former Connie LaFevor of Lebanon, met at Tech and are proud members of the Eagle Society of the university’s President’s Club. He also is chairman of the civil and environmental engineering department’s advisory board and was named Tech’s 2010 engineer of distinction. He has served as the Nashville branch president and district 9 delegate of the American Society of Civil Engineers and is a member of the Mount Juliet Breakfast Rotary Club.
His wife Connie, parents Richard and Harriet, sister Carolyn and children Brendan, Jordan and daughter-in-law Rebekah are all Golden Eagles as well.
College of Interdisciplinary Studies
Danny Brooks has been the president and CEO of Dan Brooks & Associates for 32 years. His other businesses are American Wine and Spirits, Freedom Discount Tobacco, American Roof and Construction and Freedom Carwash. He is also the CEO of CSA Prepstar, a high school athletics recruiting company.
Brooks graduated from Tech in 2003 with a degree in interdisciplinary studies. He attended Lees-McRae Junior College from 1975-1977 and transferred to Tennessee Tech. He attended Tech from 1977-1979 and played football during his years on campus. He served as volunteer coach for Tech for four years under Jim Ragland. After coaching in the 1990s, he did the color commentary for WCTE at Tech football games for six years.
He has been married to TTU grad Karen Randolph Brooks for 14 years. The pair have three children, Leslie Brooks Thompson, who is a 2008 graduate of Tennessee Tech, Julie Brooks, and stepson Brent Harris, and they have a 20-month old granddaughter, Lenora Kay Thompson.
In his spare time, Brooks still supports the Golden Eagle football team, loves to play golf and spend time at the lake. He and Karen spend their winters in sunny Florida.
Whitson-Hester School of Nursing
Dr. Steve Talbert
Steve Talbert earned his bachelor’s degree in nursing from Tech in 1988, where he was active in the student nursing associations, with the Chemical Medical Science Club, and in the Men’s Chorus. He continued his education at the University of Alabama at Birmingham for a master’s degree and the University of Kentucky, where he received his doctorate.
He spent more than a decade in the field at hospitals around the country. He worked as a staff nurse at the University of Maryland Medical Center, Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the University of Alabama Hospital. He was a clinical nurse specialist in Savannah’s Memorial Medical Center and a flight nurse at the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center in Pennsylvania and the University of Kentucky Medical Center.
Throughout his career, Talbert has worked to advance his field through research. He has published 21 papers in professional journals, given 20 presentations to others in his field and served on the editorial board of two journals. He has done original research into improving triage through the use of computers and airway protection, funded by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences and the National Institutes of Health.
Since 2003, he has also helped to educate the next generation of nurses as a professor at Duke University School of Nursing and the University of Central Florida College of Nursing.
He is the son of the late Gene Talbert, who taught in the College of Education at Tennessee Tech for 30 years, and his younger brother Doug is currently chairperson of the Department of Computer Science at TTU. Older brother David and his wife, Angela, are also TTU grads.