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Huntingdon alumni honored for achievement, loyalty

Faith * Wisdom * Service

For more information, contact Su Ofe, associate vice president for communications and marketing: ofe@huntingdon.edu; (334) 833-4515

October 7, 2014
For immediate release:

Huntingdon alumni honored for achievement, loyalty

Montgomery, Ala.—The Huntingdon College National Alumni Board honored eight Huntingdon alumni for their personal achievement or loyalty during the annual Alumni Awards Ceremony, Friday, October 3, part of the College’s annual Homecoming festivities. Those recognized were:

Mary Sue Barnette McClurkin

Alabama Representative Mary Sue Barnette McClurkin, Class of 1969

Achievement Award Recipients
The Honorable Mary Sue Barnette McClurkin ’69, Alabama House of Representatives; Indian Springs, Alabama

Saying that the Huntingdon College motto, “Enter to grow in wisdom, go forth to apply wisdom in service,” is the motivation for her life, Mary Sue Barnette McClurkin has lived a life of service. The Abbeville, Alabama, native received the Charles E. Rew Award upon graduation from Huntingdon, given to the student recognized as the most outstanding among those majoring in home economics. She completed a master’s degree in education from Auburn University and became a leader in business, owning the Alabama Butane Company and serving as president of the Alabama Propane Gas Association and later as executive director of the Pelham Chamber of Commerce. She participated in Leadership Birmingham in 1987, was named to the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce’s Top 40 Under 40, and received the Chairman’s Award from the Shelby County Red Cross in 1989.  In 1998, McClurkin was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives, representing Shelby and Jefferson counties. She serves as chair of the House Education Policy Committee, vice chair of the House Ways and Means Education Committee, chair of the Shelby County delegation, and as a member of the Women’s Commission, the Housing Finance Authority Oversight Committee, the State Health Policy Leadership Forum of the National Conference of State Legislators, the Southern Regional Education Board Legislative Advisory Council, and the Legislative Oversight Committee for Women & Girls in Incarceration.  She is the state chairman for the American Legislative Exchange and serves on the Alabama Republican Executive Committee and the Executive Committee for the Shelby County Republican Party and is the past vice chairman for women’s affairs for the Alabama Republican Party, the national chairman of Women in Government,  and a member of the leadership team of the National Pro-Life Women’s Caucus. McClurkin owns McClurkin Enterprises, a property and land management company. Her community involvement includes service as a member of the Board of the Mid-Alabama Cancer Society, the Board of Directors of Alabama Green Industry Training, and the Board of Directors of the Business Council of Alabama, and as vice chairman of the State Health Coordinating Council. She and her husband, Van, have three sons and three grandsons.

Major General Ken Peck

Major General Ken Peck, Class of 1970, center, with President J. Cameron West and Huntingdon alumni board president Terri Smith Francis ’83

Major General William “Ken” Peck ’70, USAF Retired, Aerospace Consultant; Enterprise, Alabama

William Aiken “Ken” Peck came to Huntingdon from his hometown of Atlanta on an academic scholarship in 1966. Although he was planning to teach high school mathematics upon graduation, the receipt of a draft notice led him, instead, to join the Air Force. So began a decorated nearly 33-year military career, during which he gained extensive senior experience in Air Operation Centers. In 1993 he was responsible for Deny Flight planning and directing no-fly enforcement over Bosnia. In Desert Storm, Peck was the deployed commander for the 20 fighter wing at Incirlik, Turkey. In 1995 and 1996 he was the commander of the 366th Wing at Mountain Home AFB, where he was responsible for the Air Force’s largest standing composite wing of F-15Es, F-15Cs, F-16Cs B-1s, KC-135s and a tactical control squadron. Peck deployed the wing, composed of 25 squadrons and 5000 people, to Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. He flew all five aircraft and was current in the F-15E. In 1997 and 1998,  he served as the director of requirements for Air Combat Command, where he was responsible to the commander of the ACC for all functions related to the acquisition of new weapons systems for the combat air forces. In 1999, Peck served as vice commander of the 7th Air Force in Osan, Korea, directing the annual war plan construction for the defense of South Korea. He served as the Chief of Staff for Combined Forces Command, composed of U.S. and South Korean Air Forces and was current in the F-16C.  For three years, beginning in March 2000, he served as commander of the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center, reporting to the Chief of Staff of the USAF and overseeing operational testing of all new equipment and modifications purchased by the Air Force. He directed an annual budget of more than $80 million and led 1000 people from 25 locations around the country. Upon  retiring from the USAF in 2003, Major General Ken Peck began independent aerospace consulting, specializing in operational testing, requirements development, weapons development and strategic planning. He has consulted for Lockheed, Boeing, Northrup Grumman, General Dynamics, Raytheon, Pratt and Whitney, Titan, Textron, TRW, General Electric and many other companies. He is a member of the Board of Directors for Zodiac Data Systems in Alpharetta, Georgia, and Base2 Solutions in Bellevue, Washington, and serves as president of the Enterprise Country Club.

Virginia Rath Whitfield

Virginia Rath Whitfield, Class of 1964, right, with Vice President for College and Alumni Relations Anthony Leigh

Ms. Virginia Rath Whitfield ’64, Television Co-host, “The Time of Your Life,” Founder, Buy Alabama’s Best; Montgomery, Alabama

Virginia Rath Whitfield hasn’t stopped teaching or mentoring in some fashion since her first job after graduating from Huntingdon, when she taught English for The Montgomery Academy. After a long career as vice president of public relations for Whitfield Foods/Alaga Syrup, she remains as one of the stockholder/owners of Alabama’s oldest family-owned company. An innovator with an entrepreneurial spirit, Whitfield founded the Buy Alabama’s Best program, designed to identify and promote the sale of Alabama food products. This program, along with Alabama Grocers, has donated more than $350,000 to Children’s Hospital toward finding a cure for pediatric cancer. Whitfield also co-founded Ladies First, which has the mission of mentoring through “everyday lessons from everyday women.”  Whitfield co-hosts, with Jack Galassini, the WSFA and WFRZ television program, “The Time of Your Life,” a show meant to educate, to entertain, and to make a difference for good.  In memory of her only child, whom she lost to illness in 2006, Whitfield donates trophies to the Quarterback Club for the purpose of rewarding young athletes.  A tireless worker, Whitfield serves as chairman of the Baptist Medical Center East Advisory Board and as a member of the Air University Foundation Board of Trustees, UAB Montgomery Regional Medical School Board, Women of Influence Board, Alabama Military Support Board, Cancer Wellness Foundation Board, IRP Department of Agriculture Board, and the Montgomery Christian School Board.  In 2010, she was honored to be the first woman chosen as the River Region Living Citizen of the Year, and in 2012 she was selected by the Montgomery Area Council on Aging as a Senior of Achievement.

Loyalty Award Recipients

John Bricken

John Bricken, Class of 1967, center, with President J. Cameron West and alumni board president Terri Smith Francis ’83

Coach John Bricken ’67, Montgomery, Alabama

John Bricken attended Huntingdon on a basketball scholarship after playing for the state championship basketball team at Sidney Lanier High School. A two-sport athlete, he also played baseball for the Hawks and was honored as a four-year letterman. During his senior year, he was the captain and the leading scorer for the basketball team. After completing a master’s degree from Troy University, Bricken began a long career in physical education and school administration, teaching and coaching for Floyd, Bellingrath, and Sidney Lanier High School. In 1993 he became the director of athletics position for the Saint James School, a position he held until his retirement in 2007 after 41 years as an educator. A member of the Huntingdon Athletic Hall of Fame, he has served the College as a member of the National Alumni Board and of the Board of Trustees. He is the past president of the Greater McGehee Neighborhood Association and is active in the Montgomery City Advisory BONDS Committee and supports the Red Cross.  He is married to his Huntingdon sweetheart, Frances Cooper Bricken ’67; they have two children and five grandchildren.

Celia Smith Rudolph and Glenn Rudolph

Celia Smith Rudolph, Class of 1980, with son Glenn Rudolph, Class of 2009

Dr. Celia Smith Rudolph ’80, Muscle Shoals, Alabama

Celia Smith Rudolph served as a varsity cheerleader for Huntingdon College after transferring as a sophomore from Gulf Coast Community College, and she has continued cheering for the College ever since. Passionate about education and committed to life-long learning, she completed her Huntingdon degree majoring in psychology/secondary education and special education, then earned a master’s degree in school psychology from Auburn University.  She has completed master’s level certifications in mental retardation, gifted education, and educational administration.  Rudolph earned her educational specialist degree from the University of North Alabama and doctorate in educational leadership from Samford University and has compiled more than 31 years of experience as a teacher, administrator, and psychometrist in K–12 public schools.  In 2002 she was appointed assistant superintendent for Muscle Shoals City Schools. In 2011, she left that position to begin three years as chair of the Huntingdon Department of Teacher Education, during which she led the department through a major State of Alabama accreditation review that included the review of nine programs and the introduction of the Collaborative Special Education K-6 program. Rudolph increased Huntingdon’s partnership schools from three to more than 20, and from one school system to six school systems. Huntingdon’s chapter of the Association for School Curriculum and Development, introduced by Rudolph, remains the first and only collegiate chapter of ASCD in Alabama. In the summer of 2014 Rudolph returned to her Muscle Shoals home and continues to serve Huntingdon in an advisory role.  She was recently appointed to serve on the board of Muscle Shoals City Schools. Rudolph has served on the College’s National Alumni Board and on the Huntingdon College Board of Trustees. She and her husband, Roy, have three sons, one of whom, Glenn, graduated from Huntingdon in 2009.

Ms. Mary Blackshear Sessions ’69, Mobile, Alabama
Born in Montgomery and raised in Gadsden, Alabama, Mary Blackshear came to Huntingdon in 1965 and participated in the Huntingdon Christian Council, Westminster Fellowship, Social Standards Board, Young Republicans, and the International Club.  She was inducted into Sigma Sigma Sigma, was a Garland Bearer during May Day, and was a senior representative on the All-Star Queen and Court for intramural football.  Another member of the Huntingdon Class of 1969 became her sweetheart and later her husband, U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions. During her husband’s law school years, Mary Sessions taught in Tuscaloosa, Reform, and Montgomery schools.  While raising three children, she played an important role behind the scenes as her husband’s career advanced from United States Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, to Attorney General for the State of Alabama, to the United States Senate in 1997. Mary Sessions serves in the prayer shawl ministry for her church and as a member at large of the Daughters of the American Revolution and a member of the Senate Spouses Club, the Congressional Club, the Republican Congressional Spouses, and the Advisory Committee of Congressional Families Cancer Prevention. She is also active in CHERUBS, a charity dedicated to helping families affected by Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia and Congenital Heart Defect.  A Huntingdon enthusiast, Sessions frequently refers prospective students to Huntingdon and always makes Huntingdon visitors to our nation’s capitol feel welcome.

Mrs. Sessions was unable to be present for the awards ceremony.

Mindy and Robert La Branche

Mindy Bevan La Branche ’05 and Robert La Branche ’06 announced their future hawk during the Alumni Awards ceremony

Outstanding Young Alumni Award Recipients

Mr. Robert La Branche ’06, Senior Legislative Assistant, U.S. House of Representatives; Alexandria, Virginia  
Robert La Branche, the son of a United Methodist pastor in the Alabama/West Florida Conference, grew up familiar with Huntingdon College because of the College’s active connection with the United Methodist Church. La Branche graduated with a major in global leadership while being involved in Huntingdon Ambassadors, College Republicans, and the Wesley Foundation, interning for the Office of U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions’69 in Washington, D.C., and serving as a field representative for the College Republican National Committee for the 2004 Presidential Campaign.  Since graduating he has completed a master’s degree in national security and strategic studies at the United States Naval War College and a degree from the Air Force’s Air Command and Staff College.  He has served in the offices of Congressman Bill Posey of Florida’s Space Coast; Congressman Parker Griffith representing the Huntsville area; and Senator Jeff Sessions. He serves as senior legislative assistant to Congressman John Culberson  of Texas, covering the congressman’s work on the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) Appropriations Subcommittee, focusing on NASA, NSF, and the Department of Commerce.

Ms. Mindy Bevan La Branche ’05, Legislative and Policy Associate, National Council of State Housing Agencies; Alexandria, Virginia 
Fort Walton Beach, Florida, native Mindy Bevan La Branche attended Huntingdon College as a Bellingrath scholar and graduated in 2005 with majors in business administration and global leadership. While at Huntingdon, she participated in numerous activities, including serving as vice president and director of publicity/secretary for the Student Government Association, president of the Business Club, a Huntingdon College Ambassador, and an orientation leader. She was a member of Chi Omega women’s fraternity, Circle K International, and Wesley Fellowship. She also interned in the Office of United States Senator Jeff Sessions ’69 while attending Huntingdon.  She earned her Master of Business Administration at Georgetown University in 2012 and serves as a legislative and policy associate at the National Council of State Housing Agencies (NCSHA), where she has worked since 2007. NCSHA is a national nonprofit representing the state housing finance agencies (HFAs) before Congress, the Administration, and federal agencies. In addition to meeting with stakeholders, her work includes analyzing and reporting on federal activity, preparing comments on federal regulations, and coordinating sessions for NCSHA’s national conferences.

Huntingdon College, grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition of the United Methodist Church, is committed to nurturing growth in faith, wisdom, and service and to graduating individuals prepared to succeed in a rapidly changing world. Founded in 1854, Huntingdon is a coeducational liberal arts college. Ranked in the top tier of regional colleges by U.S. News and World Report and consistently listed in the Princeton Review’s “The Best Colleges: Region by Region,” Huntingdon has for three years been recognized on the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Washington Monthly, which ranks colleges on the basis of their contributions to the public good, places Huntingdon in the top 20% of 352 baccalaureate colleges. The Chronicle of Higher Education recently recognized Huntingdon among “The Fastest Growing Colleges in America.”