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UNCP honors four at Alumni Awards Banquet

February 27, 2009

Two all-Americans and two individuals who have had a huge economic impact on the local community were honored February 20 at the 40th Annual Alumni Awards Banquet at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.


From left: Donna Lowry, Distinguished Service Award, Freddie Richardson and Russ Bryden, Athletic Hall of Fame, and Aaron Thomas, Outstanding Alumnus

Aaron K. Thomas, a 1999 UNCP graduate and president of a local construction company, was named Outstanding Alumnus.

Donna R. Lowry, president and CEO of a local home health agency with 600 employees, is the recipient of the Distinguished Service Award.

Russ Bryden, a 1996 graduate and the only Division II basketball all-American in UNCP history, was inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame. He ranks 3rd on the University’s all-time scoring list.

Former wrestler Freddie Richardson, a 1983 graduate with a career record of 126-14, was also inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame. He was named all-American after finishing 4th at the national tournament his senior year.

Not long after graduation, Thomas helped found Metcon Construction Company, which is a thriving company with 75 employees. The company is responsible for millions of dollars of landmark construction on UNCP’s campus, including the James B. Chavis University Center Annex where the banquet was held.

“I am truly honored, and I am proud of the business success of Metcon,” Thomas said. “UNCP is an economic engine for the local community. The University and our business have grown together.”

Thomas noted that the local community built the first campus building in 1887, and a local construction company is continuing that history. Dr. Cheryl Locklear ‘75, a member of the UNC Board of Governors, said the University is a long-time “win-win” situation for the local community and its businesses.

Robeson County Commissioner Noah Woods ‘62, who was Donna Lowry’s school principal, introduced the Distinguished Service Award winner.

“I am pleased to help honor an outstanding individual who I had the pleasure of meeting when she was in the middle grades,” Woods said. “I knew then that she would achieve whatever she set out to do.”

Lowery thanked her family, employees and the University for helping her build Caring Touch Home Health Care into a $13 million business.

“If you had told me six years ago that I would have a payroll today of $6 million, I would have said you have me confused with some other CEO,” Lowry said. “I like to thank my family and especially my husband, Charles, who works with me, and Dr. (Carmen) Calabrese and Chancellor (Allen C.) Meadors for sending an MBA team to help us out when we were a much smaller company.”

Five years ago, Caring Touch had fewer than 100 employees when a team of graduate business students, led by Dr. Calabrese, then MBA program director, consulted with the company on technology, marketing and management.  To mark that turning point, Lowry established an endowed scholarship in the School of Business.

Bryden’s former coach John Haskins said his development as a basketball player was remarkable.

“He could flat out score, but he became a playmaker while he was here,” said Haskins, who is UNCP’s women’s coach. “He made the people around him better players.”

Bryden, who is married with three daughters, enjoyed the evening.

“I enjoyed coming back here to see how the University has grown,” he said. “It’s a real honor for me to receive this award. Thank you.”

Former wrestling coach P.J. Smith introduced Richardson.

“Freddie has physical attributes that stand out,” Smith said. “Freddie had arms that were scary, but his heart was even bigger than his arms.”

“My mother and father insisted I go to college instead of working,” Richardson said. “I’m glad I did; I met my wife, Deana, here.”

It was an all-star audience, including several former award recipients, noted Sandy Waterkotte, vice chancellor for Advancement. On hand were former recipients Dick Taylor, Mac Campbell ‘68, Purnell Swett ‘57, Noah Woods ‘62, Dr. Locklear ’75,  Breeden Blackwell ’68 and Curt Locklear Sr. ’49.

Besides Dr. Locklear, former UNC Board of Governors member, Dr. Ruth Dial Woods, also attended.

“If you can judge a person or an institution by the company they keep, we are in good company tonight,” Waterkotte said. “Thank you all for coming and making this a memorable evening.”

Chancellor Meadors said it was a special night for four special people.

“We have 50 years of graduates here tonight from 1949 to 1999,” he said. “We hope you all enjoy the University as much as we do.”

Alumni Association President, Floyd Locklear ’86, presided over the event. Locklear, who is the new president of the alumni association recognized outgoing president Jason Bentzler ’96, who could not attend.

“Jason has been a good leader,” said Locklear. “It’s going to be tough, but I’m ready for the challenge.”