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Friday, March 5, 2010

University’s Alumni Awards Banquet was a family affair

Jim Thomas received the Distinguished Service Award and Kellie Blue ‘93 the Outstanding Alumnus Award at the 41st annual Alumni Awards Banquet on February 26.

Softball player Cindy Thorndyke ’92 and wrestler Willie Dye ‘82 were inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame.

Gina Gibson ’03, an art professor at Black Hills State University, was named the first-ever Young Alumnus of the Year.

From left: Kellie Blue, Jim Thomas, Cindy Thorndyke and Willie Dye

From left: Kellie Blue, Jim Thomas, Cindy Thorndyke and Willie Dye

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Chancellor Charles Jenkins set the tone for the evening in his welcoming remarks.

“This is a celebration of five outstanding individuals, who have been successful in their family lives, professional careers and in leadership of their communities,” Chancellor Jenkins said. “This is a night to celebrate our University and the contributions these individuals have made to it.

 “Over my nearly 40 years here, I recognized that this is a family, and this event is a family celebration,” he said.

Keeping with the family theme, Jim Thomas thanked his uncle, Samuel Locklear, for introducing him. Locklear is owner of Locklear and Son Funeral Home in Pembroke.

“This is a very special award for me,” said Thomas, who is CEO of a successful commercial real estate company in Los Angeles, Calif. “It is very special to me that my parents graduated from this institution.”

Gina Gibson

Gina Gibson

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Thomas has established a scholarship to honor his parents and established the Thomas Family Center for Entrepreneurship and the Thomas Family Distinguished Professorship in Entrepreneurship.

“The Thomas Center is something that is very fulfilling to me,” Thomas said. “When the opportunity was presented to me to establish an entrepreneurship program through the University, I seized it.”

The center has created several academic programs in entrepreneurship and a program to assist new and start-up businesses. Thomas is optimistic that the programs will have an impact.

“The odds are greatly in favor of us achieving our goals,” he said. “There is no telling what I could have accomplished if I had this kind of training.”

Kellie Blue, another great friend of the University, is a past director of the UNCP Foundation. She thanked Larry Chavis ‘71, her cousin and CEO of Lumbee Guaranty Bank, for introducing her.

Blue, who was the first recipient of the Earl A. and Ophelia Thomas Scholarship, said the scholarship helped convince her to attend UNCP.

“It’s truly a great honor to meet Mr. Thomas for the first time,” Blue said. “Thank you!” 

Blue is the finance director for Robeson County and a member of the University’s Chancellor Search Committee.

“As a member of the Search Committee, I can tell you that we are dedicated to finding a chancellor who will take us to the next level,” Blue said. “I believe we’re going to see more great things happening here.”

Gina Gibson, a digital artist who served on UNCP’s faculty for two years, accepted her award live via Internet. She thanked a University family that nurtured her abilities.

“I decided to enroll at UNCP after meeting Dr. John Labadie,” Gibson said. “I was surprised at how much faith my professors had in my work.

“I want to influence young people the way my professors influenced me,” she continued. “I learned from an amazing group of people how to be a caring and helpful teacher.”

Cindy Thorndyke was not only an outstanding softball player, Athletic Director Dan Kenney said in his introduction.

“She was a pied piper here, and she still is,” Kenney said. “When we switched to fast pitch and did not have a pitcher, Cindy stepped up.”

Starting her career in the field, Thorndyke became UNCP’s first pitcher of the fast-pitch era. She remains a UNCP leader for winning percentage in a season (.762), career earned run average (0.28) and still holds the single-season record for runs batted in (44).

“This is an awesome honor,” Thornkyke said. “Growing up, it was school, church and playing ball,” she said. “It was a family affair, and I’ve always wanted to make my parents proud.

“I’d like to thank UNCP for two things: first, the opportunity to play ball, and second and most importantly, the opportunity to meet my husband.

“I’m proud to be a member of UNCP’s Hall of Fame, but it would not be possible without friends and family,” Thorndyke said.

Former UNCP wrestling coach and fellow Hall of Famer Mike Olsen introduced Willie Dye, a man he said is “like a son.”

“First, Willie is a gentleman,” Olsen said. “He came to our house to eat Sunday dinners, and he has a great family of his own.

“Second, he was a great wrestler,” he continued. “I remember one of the few times he got down 10-1 in a match.

“I just told him he was the better wrestler, escape and pin him,” Olsen said. “He did.”

Dye was 126-5 in his career at UNCP and was a two-time all-American.

“I’d like to thank God, my wife (who he met at UNCP), my family and Pembroke’s faculty who showed me a lot of love,” Dye said. “There weren’t too many Black kids at Pembroke when I got here, but it wasn’t about the color of your skin here; they respected everyone.”

Alumni Director James Bass coordinated the event and Alumni President Floyd Locklear introduced each award.

For more information about alumni programs, please contact the Alumni Relations Office at 910.521.6533 or email alumni@uncp.edu.

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