KEARNEY – The University of Nebraska at Kearney Alumni Association will recognize 10 distinguished alumni at an 11:30 a.m. luncheon Friday (Oct. 8) in the Nebraskan Student Union Ponderosa Room. The event is part of UNK’s homecoming festivities.
Tickets are $30 per person or $15 for children ages 12 and younger. They can be purchased at unkalumni.org/homecoming or by calling the UNK Alumni Association at 308-698-5271.
The 2021 awards will be presented to the following:
Meghan Barp (1999)
Larry Feather (1966)
Kirk Hartman (1986)
Dave Thorell (1971)
Jim Rundstrom Distinguished Service
Jeff Blackmon (1978)
Distinguished Young Alumna Award
Melissa (Huffman) Bucher (2007)
College of Education Distinguished Educator of the Year
Rebecca (Davis) Faber, Ph.D. (1979, MAE 1982)
Gary Thomas Distinguished Music Alumna
Adam Zrust, Ph.D. (2006)
College of Business and Technology Distinguished Alumnus
Scott Cruickshank (1986)
Dr. Don Fox Lecturer
April Montoya Vaverka, Ph.D. (2002)
Barp’s commitment to advocating for families and communities started in 2002 when she served as senior director of youth development for the YWCA of the City of New York. From there, she spent time with the Federation of Employment and Guidance Services in New York as the divisional director of teaching and learning. She also served as senior vice president of community impact for the Greater Twin Cities United Way in Minneapolis.
In 2018, Barp was named president and CEO of the United Way of Greenville County, becoming the first woman to lead the organization in its nearly 100-year history. She partners with civic, business and nonprofit leaders to ensure that the nearly 60,000 people experiencing poverty have the ability to improve their upward economic mobility. Barp recently co-founded the Race Equity and Economic Mobility Commission and Covid-19 Community Relief Fund.
Barp has served as a speaker and presenter for a variety of regional, national and international conferences and events. She also serves on a variety of committees, councils and boards, including the South Carolina Statewide Association of United Way Board, Peace Center and Greenville Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. Barp was named to the Top 40 Under 40: Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal in 2014 and was recognized as one of Greenville Business Magazine’s 50 Most Influential in 2018 and 2019.
Barp is a Kimball High School graduate and earned a bachelor’s degree in human development and relationships with a minor in women’s and gender studies from the University of Nebraska at Kearney in 1999. She also holds a master’s degree in contemporary and international women’s issues from Oregon State University, and a certificate in nonprofit management from the Columbia University Institute of Non-Profit Management in New York, New York.
Feather started his post-academic career as an elementary teacher in Denver before going to work for the Phillips Petroleum company in 1968. When the company sold its stores in 1976, Feather became an independent oil marketer. He and two partners started Feather Petroleum in Grand Junction with three gasoline stations, doing business as Stop n’ Save convenience stores. The business grew to 19 locations across the western slope of Colorado at the time of his retirement in 2004.
Feather has served as a spokesperson for the American Petroleum Institute and was a member of the Colorado-Wyoming-New Mexico Petroleum Marketers board of directors.
Feather served on the UNK Alumni Association Board of Directors for six years. He has been a member of the Grand Junction Lions Club since 1972, including serving one year as president, was instrumental in the creation of the Fruita, Colorado, Little League program, and has been actively involved with the Grand Valley Young Life program for nearly 30 years.
Feather has also served on the board of the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce, been a member of the St. Mary’s Hospital (Sisters of Charity) foundation board and was a steering committee member for the Hope West Hospice facility.
Feather is a Sidney High School graduate and earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education and a minor in history education from Kearney State College in 1966. During his time at KSC, he was enlisted with the U.S. Army.
Hartman started his career in broadcasting as an assistant art director for HKM Productions in Los Angeles, then with John Crow Productions in Dallas, working on video broadcasts of professional sporting events. Upon his return to Nebraska, he spent time at KOLT in Scottsbluff prior to serving as the senior director of KOLN/KGIN-TV nightly news programs for nine years.
In 1994, Hartman joined the HuskerVision staff, directing Nebraska football shows for the first big screens to be installed in a college stadium. He was then promoted to executive director of video production in 2002 and has served as the assistant athletic director since 2019. Hartman oversees the creative process for video programing in multiple athletic facilities, and he produces and directs big-screen productions, events and coaches’ television shows.
Hartman has been the recipient of multiple awards, including the Sports Video Group Technology Leadership Award, UNL Contributions to Students Award, IDEA GMA for Best College Video Display, IRIS award, three-time ADDY award recipient and five-time AP award winner.
Hartman, a Paxton High School graduate, earned his degree in broadcasting from Kearney State College in 1986.
Thorell got his start as a student broadcaster for the Kearney State College campus station, KOVF. After graduation, he worked at KUVR in Holdrege before spending the next 42 years of his career at KRVN in Lexington. While at KRVN, Thorell served as an on-air announcer for KRVN AM and was the program director for KRVN FM.
Thorell is retired from broadcasting but continues to do public speaking events for churches and organizations in Nebraska and surrounding states. He has served on the Loomis Public School Board of Education, Loomis Village Board and Holdrege Christian Homes Board of Directors.
In 2016, Thorell was inducted into the Nebraska Broadcasters Hall of Fame. In 2004, Thorell and his wife, Patti, received the 2004 Nebraska Children’s Home Society’s Harris Van Oort Friends of Children Award.
Thorell is a Loomis Public School graduate and earned a degree in speech education from Kearney State College in 1971.
Jim Rundstrom Distinguished Service Award
Jeff Blackmon of Olathe, Kansas, started in the information technology industry immediately following graduation. He has spent his career in the operation risk management, business continuity, security and disaster recovery industries. His career also led to the opportunity to live and work in the Middle East for four years. Blackmon has owned his own firm, Strategic Continuity Solutions, since 2011.
Blackmon has had numerous articles published and presented at a variety of regional and national conferences and events. He was also a finalist in 2015 for the Business Continuity Institute’s North America Award for Continuity and Resilience Consultant.
A long-time volunteer for the UNK Alumni Association, Blackmon assisted with leadership of the UNK Southern California Alumni organization and scholarship program, coordinated Kansas City alumni events and served on the association’s board of directors from 1997-2000. He served on UNK’s Computer Science and Information Technology advisory council from 2008-16 and assisted the Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity following graduation.
Blackmon is a North Platte High School graduate and earned a bachelor’s degree with a double major in math and computer science from Kearney State College in 1978. He also holds a master’s degree in information systems management from the Keller Graduate School of Management, as well as multiple professional certifications.
Distinguished Young Alumna Award
Melissa (Huffman) Bucher
Melissa (Huffman) Bucher of Axtell started her career with Eaton as a technical sales intern in 2007 in the electrical and electronic manufacturing division. After graduation, she continued with Eaton, working her way up in the organization, including roles in the leadership development program-technical sales, sales engineering, sales manager-control panel flex center, area sales manager and district sales vice president. In 2021, Bucher was promoted to national account director.
Bucher currently serves as chair of the National Association of Electrical Distributors Women in Industry and received the NAED 30 Under 35 Award in 2015.
An Axtell Community School graduate, she earned her degree in industrial distribution comprehensive in 2007 from the University of Nebraska at Kearney. She also holds an MBA from the Jack Welch Management Institute – Strayer University.
College of Business and Technology Distinguished Alumnus
Scott Cruickshank of Scottsdale, Arizona, spent more than 25 years in the financial technology industry. He is currently board chairman for ClickBank, a privately owned e-commerce marketplace platform company based in Boise, Idaho. Cruickshank is also an advisory board member for Investcorp, a global investment management company.
Cruickshank served in executive leadership roles for several public and private equity owned businesses, including J.P. Morgan Chase, Qsent, CyberSource and CSID. He is an angel/friends and family investor in several startup companies and serves as an adviser and mentor to the companies.
While in college, Cruickshank was a member of the baseball team, earning all-district and honorable mention All-America honors. He is a graduate of Columbus High School and earned a bachelor’s degree in business with a finance minor in 1986 from Kearney State College.
College of Education Distinguished Educator of Year
Rebecca (Davis) Faber
Rebecca (Davis) Faber of Lincoln recently retired after more than 40 years as an educator. She began teaching in 1979, serving as an English and French teacher at Cozad High School and an adult education instructor for two community colleges.
In 1988, Faber made the transition to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, spending the next 30 years of her career as an instructor and academic adviser, including work as assistant director/senior career adviser in career services for the final 18 years. She has numerous academic publications, local and national presentations, and creative writing honors.
Her dedication to education has been recognized with several honors and awards, including being a nine-time recipient of the UNL Parents Association Award for Recognition of Contributions to Students. Faber has served on a variety of committees and boards, and she currently serves on the Nebraska Center for the Book board of directors and Nebraska Literary Heritage Association board.
Faber is a Creston, Iowa, native and Creston High School graduate. She received her bachelor’s in education in 1979 and a master’s in English education in 1982, both from Kearney State College. Faber earned a doctorate degree in English in 1995 from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Dr. Don Fox Lecturer
April Montoya Vaverka
April Montoya Vaverka of Roswell, Georgia, is a senior materials scientist at Kimberly-Clark Corp. After receiving her degree from UNK, Montoya Vaverka attended the University of California, Davis, where she was awarded an NSF NEAT-IGERT fellowship and worked at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory while earning her Ph.D.
She spent two years with Intel Corp. before joining Kimberly-Clark in 2011. She started as a lead scientist in the nonwovens department developing materials for personal care and Kimberly-Clark Professional products. She is currently developing next generation materials for N95 respirators, filtration, scientific apparel and wipes.
Montoya Vaverka is a mentor in the Georgia Tech materials science department, active in the Women’s Inclusion Network and volunteers at a crisis housing program for single mothers, The Drake House.
Montoya Vaverka is a graduate of Cottage Grove High School in Cottage Grove, Oregon. While in college, Montoya Vaverka was a member of the UNK swim team and is the current record holder in the 500- and 1,650-meter freestyle events. She received her bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 2002 from UNK. Montoya Vaverka has a Ph.D. in materials science engineering from the University of California, Davis.
Gary Thomas Distinguished Music Alumnus
Adam Zrust of Maryville, Missouri, recently joined Northwest Missouri State University as a professor of choral music education. where he conducts the University Chorale and Madraliers and teaches specialized music education courses.
From 2017-21 he served on the faculty at the University of Central Missouri as director of choral activities and voice area coordinator. Prior to starting his collegiate teaching, Zrust was the director of choirs at Mansfield Legacy High School in Mansfield, Texas.
Zrust conducts numerous honor choirs and presents at various conferences across the United States and abroad. Academically, his expertise is in rehearsal efficiency. Zrust is a member of the American Choral Directors Association and National Association for Music Education.
While in college, Zrust was a member of the Choraleers, Nebraskats, Collegium and Jazz/Rock Ensemble and participated in several musicals. Zrust earned a degree in music business from UNK in 2006, and his Master of Music Education and Ph.D. in choral conducting and music education, both from Florida State University. He is a graduate of Boone Central High School in Albion.
2021 Homecoming Alumni Events
Thursday, Oct. 7
5:30 p.m. – Kearney Quarterly After Hours (Discovery Hall)
Friday, Oct. 8
11:30 a.m. – Distinguished Alumni Awards Luncheon (Nebraskan Student Union, Ponderosa Room)
2:30 p.m. – Chemistry Department’s Dr. Don Fox Lecture (Copeland Hall 131)
3:30 p.m. – One Room, One Teacher Induction Ceremony (College of Education Atrium)
5:30 p.m. – Athletic Hall of Fame Banquet (Nebraskan Student Union, Ponderosa Room)
Saturday, Oct. 9
10 a.m. – Homecoming Parade (Downtown Kearney)
Noon – Loper Alumni Brews & Brats Tailgate at Loperville (Cope Stadium)
2 p.m. – UNK Football vs. Missouri Western (Cope Stadium, Foster Field)