Approximately 125 Reinhardt University friends – alumni, trustees, faculty, staff and students – gathered for the Talon Awards Gala on Thursday, March 24, 2011. They honored Joan McFather, Jacob Griffith, Joe Whitemore, Gordon Dennis Harris, Jr., and the Fellowship Class from Haygood Memorial United Methodist Church. The event was held at Northside United Methodist Church in Atlanta.
JoEllen Bell Wilson '61, vice president for institutional advancement and external affairs, emceed the affair, and she thanked SEI Investments, the presenting sponsor, for their generous support. "Their gift will allow Reinhardt to use more of the ticket proceeds toward scholarship funds for deserving students," she said. "In addition to recognizing some very special people, enjoying exceptional music provided by Reinhardt students and sharing a delicious meal, we also raised funds for scholarships. What a lovely evening!"
Joan U. McFather of Canton, Ga., received the President's Award from Reinhardt's president, Dr. J. Thomas Isherwood. This award had only been given six times before, the last time in 1997.
Isherwood thanked McFather all she does for her church, her community, and for Reinhardt as a generous donor, as a Falany Performing Arts Center Advisory Board member, and as a volunteer in the Funk Heritage Center and the Falany Performing Arts Center. "We are thankful for all those that offer us work. We appreciate those who lend us their wisdom. We are forever grateful to those who share with us their wealth. We are humbled by the few saints who do all that. Joan does that."
McFather said she enjoys supporting causes of her choosing and serving others. "What I really like about [volunteering] is getting to be a part of it. As service-oriented as I am, if a student needs to find out about the Southeastern Indians, I can do that. If a patron needs a ticket taken or a seat found, I can do that, too. And that is what really means something to me."
McFather humbly accepted the award on the behalf of the many volunteers who give to others. "To stand here and accept this award makes me extremely uncomfortable... because I am just one of many that do the things that I do," she said, "but... I will take it ..., on one condition, and that is, if you understand I accept it only as a representative of the very many people who do things such as I do. For them, I accept."
A native of Long Island, NY, McFather moved to Georgia to pursue a fine arts degree at the University of Georgia. She had a successful career teaching at Cherokee High School. During the almost 30 years as an English teacher, she also directed main stage and one-act competition plays and musicals and coached award-winning Academic Teams and Mock Trial Teams. She was named Star Teacher a seven times. While working full-time, she served her community as a member of the Canton Jaycettes and Service League of Cherokee County and raised two daughters.
After retiring in 2000, McFather began a second career as a community and church volunteer. Her activities include membership and leadership positions in the Etowah Garden Club, the Cherokee Chorale, the Philanthropic Education Organization, the Cherokee County Arts Council, Cherokee FOCUS, Cherokee County Chamber of Commerce, and Leadership Cherokee. Other civic awards include an Arts Council membership Award, Cherokee FOCUS community service award and Volunteer of the Year, Blue Ridge Bar Association Liberty Bell Award, Canton Rotary Club Lamar Haley Community Service Award and Jean Harris Award and Cherokee Chamber of Commerce Volunteer of the Year. She is also very active in her church, Canton First United Methodist Church.
Other recipients were just as poetic in their acceptances. Jacob Griffith, a Reinhardt Class of 2003 member, was named Outstanding Young Alumnus of the Year. This Award was created in 2008 to recognize alumni who had graduated within the past 10 years, who have excelled in their profession and who have provided service to their communities.
A former teacher at Teasley Middle School, Griffith graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in Middle Grades Education degree. He received Reinhardt's Presidential Academic Scholarship for four years. He was the 2003 Price School of Education Most Outstanding Middle Grades Student and received the 2003 W. G. Hasty Most Outstanding Education Major Award. He has earned a Master of Education from Kennesaw State University and a specialist degree from the University of West Georgia, where he was named Secondary Education Student of the Year in 2009. He currently teaches at Scoggins Middle School. He has presented at several conferences and has been a member of Reinhardt's Education Alumni Advisory Committee since 2003. In 2010, he received his school's Teacher of the Year Award. In addition, he is a member and the director of Masonic education at Beulah Lodge #698. He, his wife, Jamie, and their son, Jackson, live in Paulding County, Ga., and they belong to Zion Baptist Church.
In accepting the award, Griffith recognized Reinhardt Adjunct Professor of Education L. Gene Norton '60, a former Cherokee County School superintendent and Canton, Ga. resident. "I tell people... I'm a well paid story teller. I teach Georgia Studies to 8th graders; I see about 140 kids come through my classroom every day. And I love what I do." In calling Norton an inspiration, Griffith said, "I can only hope that I can emulate his life and the impact he's had on the students and teachers... A teacher is one of the most powerful jobs anyone could have. I'm thankful for Reinhardt. I'm thankful for the presidential scholarship that allowed me to go to school.... It is very difficult to say what Reinhardt has meant to me, but I only hope that I can give the things that Reinhardt has given to me back to students in my classroom."
Joe Whittemore, Reinhardt Class of 1956 and a resident of Hartwell, Ga., was named Distinguished Alumnus of the Year. This award recognizes an individual with outstanding personal achievement and an unselfish and dedicated personal devotion to Reinhardt.
After leaving Reinhardt, Whittemore graduated from the University of Georgia in 1958. He served as managing partner of Whittemore and Smith CPA in Hartwell and Elberton, Ga. He also served as president of the Athens Chapter and vice president of the Georgia Society of CPAs.
He has been a dedicated Rotarian serving as Hartwell Club president and District Governor of International District 6910. He is a past recipient of the Rotary International Foundation Distinguished Service Award and past chair of the Hart County Hospital Authority and Covecrest Renewal Center.
Whittemore and his wife, Patricia, are members of the Hartwell First United Methodist Church. He is a certified lay speaker and a Sunday school teacher. He serves on the Administrative Council, the Finance Committee and the Staff/Parish Relations Committee. For the North Georgia Conference, he serves on the Council for Finance and Administration and has been an Annual Conference delegate each year since 1982. In the past, he was Conference Lay Leader and on the Board of Ordained Ministry.
Whittemore also uses his musical talents. He has been a revival and assembly song leader throughout Georgia for more than 50 years, including the United Methodist Men's Rock Eagle Retreat for 18 years, and he is the featured singer on the album "The Heritage of Vasti-Jesus Available".
As Whittemore accepted the award, he acknowledged others. "God has given me one opportunity after another, and I've tried to meet His expectations, but when I look at my contribution to the Methodism and the community, it is quickly apparent they are small in relation to the cumulative impact of Reinhardt alumni over the last two generations... There are hundreds, even thousands, of Reinhardt alumni in my generation and our parents' generation that have made enormous contributions... I have no special claim to this wonderful honor, but on behalf of Reinhardt alumni, friends and family, it is a distinct privilege to... accept this award."
The John Wesley Laity and Clergy Award recipients were also named: Gordon Dennis Harris, Jr., Reinhardt Class of 1958, and the Fellowship Class at Haygood United Methodist Church in Decatur, Ga., respectively. These awards were presented by Rev. Dr. James Mooneyhan, Reinhardt Class of 1966 and Reinhardt Ministerial Association past president. The Wesley Award was established in 1991 to recognize a layperson who had made a significant contribution to United Methodist institutions of higher education and ministries. Two years later, the clergy award was added. These awards are named for John Wesley, the founder of Methodism.
Harris has served on Reinhardt's Board of Trustees since 1993. He received degrees from Reinhardt and The University of Georgia and completed the Executive Management Program at Emory University. Harris worked at Reinhardt for almost 20 years – completing his tenure in 1982 as vice president of business. He retired several years ago as president and CEO of North Bros. Co., a division of National Service Industries in Atlanta, Ga. He and his wife, Jeanette, live in Rydal, Ga. He is a member of the Stone Mountain United Methodist Church.
Harris thanked Reinhardt for the award. "Deserving – no, I don't think so. Thrilled with it, yes. Thankful, absolutely. Thank you for making it possible for me to honor my parents, who set the example that I have been trying to live up to all my life. My grandfather and my mother both were admirers of John Wesley, and that was instilled in me... Reinhardt has been a part of my life for the past 55 years... and I'm sure it will be a part of my life in the future."
The clergy award recognizes a Sunday school class that "exemplified their work as ministers as the Gospel of Christ. They are persons who allowed themselves to be a part of Reinhardt in a unique way," said Mooneyhan, who had visited the class while he was a student at Reinhardt. "Over the years, they made sure students had scholarships, and donated more than $30,000 over three decades of work," he said.
Buddy Young, Fellowship Class president, (right) and The Rev. Mary Lou Gilbert (center), Haygood Memorial UMC pastor, accepted the John Wesley Clergy Award during Reinhardt University’s Talon Awards Gala on March 24, 2011. It recognizes someone in ministry who has made a significant contribution to United Methodist institutions of higher education and ministries. The award was presented by the Rev. Dr. James Mooneyhan (left) '66 and Reinhardt Ministerial Association past president. Mooneyhan had visited the class while he was a student at Reinhardt.
Buddy Young, Fellowship Class president, and The Rev. Mary Lou Gilbert, Haygood Memorial UMC pastor, accepted the class' award. "I've been a member of Haygood church 61 years, and it's a great church," Young said. "It was an honor for us to be involved in sponsoring a scholarship – we probably got more blessings out of it than the students did."
Reinhardt President Dr. J. Thomas Isherwood closed out the evening. After outlining the many activities the students, faculty and staff had taken part in during the University's first "Rooted In Love" week, Isherwood said, "The week has touched everyone on campus... Let me assure you that there just aren't many places out there that could have a week like we're having...This place is something special. Reinhardt is so much more than our great majors, our wonderful athletics, or our fine buildings. It is a place, blessed by God, that offers young people meaning and purpose. It's a place where we are not afraid, where we accept the challenge of faith, and where we openly pronounce that love has everything to do with everything we do. I am most fortunate to be part of this experience and to spend every day with these wonderful students who sing and play like angels and live with enthusiasm and hope."
Also taking part in the evening were Reinhardt students Charity Neese of Jasper, Ga., James Smith of Powder Springs, Ga., Chris Clanton of Locust Grove, Ga., Chasity Miller of Summerville, Ga., and Elizabeth Coe of Cumming, Ga., who provided the musical entertainment for the evening.
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