Southeastern recognizes distinguished alumni, volunteers at awards event

Tuesday, October 25, 2016
by: Rene Abadie

2016 Alumni of the YearSOUTHEASTERN HONORS ALUMNI OF THE YEAR – The Southeastern Louisiana University Alumni Association recognized Texas A&M head basketball coach Billy Kennedy as its Alumnus of the Year and Zac and Cari Caramonta of Hammond as the Young Alumni of the Year. Pictured are, from left, Southeastern President John L. Crain, Interim Alumni Association Director Julie Perise; Cari and Zac Caramonta; Kennedy; and Alumni Association President Mayson Foster.

2016 College Alumni of the YearCOLLEGE ALUMNI HONORED – Southeastern graduates were honored with Alumni of the Year recognition by their respective colleges at Homecoming’s Alumni Awards event. Pictured, from left, are Alumni Association President Mayson Foster; Rob Dugas, College of Arts, Humanities and Social Studies; Gino Marino, College of Business;  J. Rogers Pope, College of Education; Lucas Watkins, College of Science and Technology; Barbara Hebert, College of Nursing and Health Sciences; Alumni Association Interim Director Julie Perise; and President John L. Crain.

     HAMMOND -- One of the most successful coaches in Southeastern Louisiana University’s history and a pair of local entrepreneurs were honored Friday night as the Alumni Association’s Alumni of the Year during Homecoming Week celebrations.
     Billy Kennedy, currently head basketball coach of the SEC-champion Texas A&M Aggies, was recognized as the Alumnus of the Year, while Zac and Cari Caramonta, owners of the micro-brewery Gnarly Barley, were honored as the Young Alumni of the Year.
     Kennedy recalled how he played basketball as a walk-on to the Lions’ team in 1982 and said he realized then he wanted to be a coach. He thanked his family for providing the support he needed as he moved from job to job.
     Kennedy graduated from Southeastern in 1986. A native of Metairie, he joined Southeastern as head coach in 1999 and served until 2005, leading the Lions to two Southland Conference regular-season titles and the school’s first-ever trip to the NCAA tournament. In 2004 he was named the Southland Conference Coach of the Year.
     Last season saw the Aggies earn a share of the Southeastern Conference Championship and advance to the NCAA Sweet 16. Kennedy was named the SEC Coach of the year, and his team climbed to No. 5 in the Associated Press Top 25.
     The Young Alumni of the Year, the Caramontas, are owners and operators of the Hammond-based craft beer production company Gnarly Barley. The couple met at Southeastern as undergraduates and married in 2009. Their products are distributed at approximately 300 locations throughout nine parishes.
     Also at the Awards Evening, the 2016 Alumnus of the Year for each of Southeastern’s academic colleges was recognized.  Winners included:
     College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences – Rob Dugas, a 1986 communication graduate, is currently the vice president and chief procurement officer for Chick-Fil-A, overseeing 2,000 stores nationwide.
     College of Business – Gino Marino, a former Southeastern football player who played running back from 1970-73, was an instrumental player in helping the university return football to its athletic program. He is the owner of the award-winning Gino’s Restaurant in Baton Rouge.
     College of Education – Rep. J. Rogers Pope, who holds both a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Southeastern, is a life-long educator, serving as a teacher and coach before becoming superintendent of Livingston Parish Public Schools. He currently serves in the a Louisiana House of Representatives representing District 71.
     College of Nursing and Health Sciences – Barbara Hebert received a degree in liberal arts studies in 1980 and later earned her master’s degree in education in counseling in 1994, both from Southeastern. Currently the executive director of the Children’s Advocacy Center – Hope House, she previously served as director of Southeastern’s Counseling Center and has touched the lives of countless students.
     College of Science and Technology – Lucas Watkins of Ponchatoula earned a master’s degree in biology and established several businesses, including  Southland Forestry Services and the engineering and consulting firm, Krebs, LaSalle and Lemieux, where he developed a subsidiary company, Elos Environmental, a wetland delineation and permitting service company.
     Other special awards were presented at the event, including:
     Loyal Lion Award – Presented by Southeastern President John L. Crain , the award was given posthumously to Gayle Neal, who demonstrated life-long support for the university. A former president of the Alumni Assocation, Neal served as an assistant dean of Continuing Education at Southeastern and as an assistant superintendent in the Louisiana State Department of Education.
     Kathy L. Pittman Distinguished Service Award – George Ibert of Ibert’s Jewelry was honored for his long-time support of Southeastern fund-raising events, including Chefs Evening, FeLions Champagne Bingo, and the Alumni Association’s Champagne, Chocolates and Diamonds event.
     L.E. Chandler Award – Presented to the faculty or staff member who has assisted students and student organizations, the Chandler Award was given to Amber Narro, associate professor of communication. Narro serves as an adviser for the Southeastern Press Club and coordinates an annual study abroad program. Her most recent work involved helping student volunteers organize to clean up area homes after the August flood. The more than 170 students provided help in more than 50 homes with flood damage.
     Director’s Diamond Award – Pat Walsh retired from the office of retired Judge Jimmy Kuhn of the First Circuit Court of Appeals and has now become a permanent fixture in the Alumni Association’s offices as a valuable volunteer.
     Friendship Oak Award – Robby Turner, a 1989 graduate from Baton Rouge, was recognized for his efforts to organize the delivery of relief supplies and his work with local officials to provide for the needs of Baton Rouge residents during the most recent floods.
     The Alumni Association also recognized recipients of the organization’s scholarships. Receiving the scholarships were Emily Crithers of Brookhaven, Miss., a senior majoring in occupational safety, health and environment; Haley Dewesse of St. Amant, a social work major; Kayla Martin of Metairie, majoring in communication sciences and disorders; Grace Mikesell of Baton Rouge, a nursing student; Anna Rudesill of Pearl River, a student in communications with a minor in art; and Erin Fernandez of Marrero, who received the SGA President’s scholarship.

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