UNK to recognize 11 with Distinguished Alumni Awards; Webinar is Oct. 8

KEARNEY – The University of Nebraska at Kearney Alumni Association has announced 11 alumni award recipients who will be recognized during homecoming festivities Oct. 5-11.

In its 40th year, UNK’s Distinguished Alumni Awards will be presented during a live webinar at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 8 at unkalumni.org/special-events.

The 2020 awards will be presented to the following:

Distinguished Alumni
Phil Gaffney (1972)
Mary (Kuk) Rosenthal (1988)
Alan L. Smith, Ph.D. (1964)
Robert Whitehouse (1967) 

Jim Rundstrom Distinguished Service
Lanny Jorgensen (1963) and Panda Jean Vest

Distinguished Young Alumna Award
Brooke McGee (2008, 2011 MA)

Distinguished International Alumnus
Thomas Crowther (1998)

College of Education Distinguished Educator of the Year
Patricia (Morrison) Timm (1969)

Gary Thomas Distinguished Music Alumna
Emily Balcetis, Ph.D. (2001) 

College of Business and Technology Distinguished Alumnus
Terry Peterson (1975)

Distinguished Alumni

Phil Gaffney

Phil Gaffney of Evans, Georgia, is president of Gaffney Management Services LLC.

Gaffney built his career in national and international supply chain management for various companies, including Eaton Corp., Clark Equipment Co., Omaha Steel Castings Co. and most recently as vice president of global supply chain and supplier quality for Club Car/Ingersoll Rand in Augusta, Georgia. He retired early from the industry in 2010 and now provides senior executive-level business consulting for global manufacturing companies through his own firm.

Gaffney has been active on multiple boards and associations, including the International Summer Special Olympics, State of Georgia Chamber of Commerce, Development Authority of Columbia County, GaSCar Antique Automobile Club, Georgia Options Inc., Golden Harvest Food Bank, Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity Foundation, Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (Washington, D.C.) and University Healthcare Foundation (Augusta, Georgia).

He has received numerous awards, including the U.S. Jaycees Outstanding Young Men of America and Chapter Service Award and Silver Knight of Management, both by the National Management Association. Gaffney has been an assistant instructor for Dale Carnegie courses in Cleveland, Ohio, an instructor for Junior Achievement programs and a visiting professor for the University of Nebraska at Omaha and Augusta State University in Augusta, Georgia.

Gaffney volunteers his time through local civic groups, his church and government agencies, and he is an advocate for people with developmental disabilities, especially autism.

An Anselmo native and Anselmo-Merna High School graduate, Gaffney earned dual degrees in political science and speech from Kearney State College in 1972 and completed the University of Notre Dame Executive Program.

Mary Rosenthal

Mary (Kuk) Rosenthal of Omaha is the owner of Rosenthal Consulting and a Realtor with NP Dodge.

Rosenthal is founder and president of Mission Omaha Foundation and a volunteer for the First Responders Foundation, serving as vice president of the board directors and liaison to the Omaha Fire Department. The mission of the First Responders Foundation is to serve and honor first responders and their families, build appreciation and respect for their work and enhance public safety.

She has most recently been involved with assisting those in need during the COVID-19 pandemic, including delivering thousands of bottles of hand sanitizer made at local distilleries to Omaha-area police, fire and medical facilities, as well as delivering meals and food to Omaha police officers and the Omaha Fire Union.

Through her career and service, Rosenthal has earned several awards, including NP Dodge Real Estate Phil Dodge Award for Service Over Self, First Responders Foundation Board Member of the Year and special recognition from the Omaha Fire Union, and she served as keynote speaker for the 2019 Police Memorial Week candlelight vigil.

Rosenthal is an Omaha native and Millard South High School graduate. She earned degrees in computer science and business administration from Kearney State College in 1988. She also has an MBA from Western International University.

Alan Smith

Alan L. Smith of Fredericksburg, Texas, enjoyed a successful career as an environmental consultant until his retirement in 2007.

Smith started his career as a chemistry and physics teacher before completing his master’s and doctorate degrees. He spent the next 35 years as an environmental consultant, owning his own company, Global Environments Inc., for the last 20 years of his career. He also served as an in-house environmental consultant on permitting issues for Shell Pipeline Corp. for 12 years.

He served as a founding board member and president of the Texas Association of Environmental Professionals. Smith has also served on the Coastal Oil and Gas Association Board of Directors, was a member of the Society of Wetland Scientists and a peer reviewer for scientific articles and papers, had peer-reviewed articles published in industry journals, was a speaker and moderator for the International Right-of-Way Association and Shell Pipeline Company, and was a certified environmental professional by the National Association of Environmental Professionals.

Smith was the recipient of the Appreciation of Outstanding Contributions award from the Texas Association of Environmental Professionals. He is active in his community, serving on many local committees and boards, including the Fredericksburg Tea Party, and committees to vet candidates for the Texas House of Representatives and the U.S. House of Representatives.

A Bartley native and Bartley High School graduate, Smith received an associate degree from McCook Community College before earning his education degree, majoring in biology and minoring in physical science, from Kearney State College in 1964. He went on to earn a master’s degree with a major in botany and a zoology minor from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a Ph.D. in plant ecology from Texas A&M University.

Robert Whitehouse

Robert Whitehouse of Papillion enjoyed a 47-year career in the Omaha Public Schools system as a teacher, coach, athletic director and principal.

Whitehouse’s career in education started at Omaha Central High School, where he was a teacher and coach. He then served as athletic director and assistant principal for Omaha South High School, principal at Omaha Bryan Junior High School and principal for Omaha Bryan Senior High School. He then spent the next 12 years as an educational consultant and Omaha Public Schools coordinator of after-school programs.

Whitehouse was elected to two terms on the University of Nebraska Board of Regents and served twice as chairman of the board, as well as a term on the University of Nebraska at Kearney Alumni Association Board of Directors.

He has served in various roles for multiple professional and community organizations, including the Nebraska School Activities Association State Track and Field Championships, Phi Delta Kappa, Nebraska State Coaches Association, Nebraska High School Sports Hall of Fame Foundation, Wells Fargo Bank of Nebraska, South Omaha Optimist Club, Trinity United Methodist Church and many more.

Whitehouse is a member of five athletic halls of fame, including the UNK, Nebraska High School Sports, Bellevue High School, Omaha Public Schools and National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association. He is also the recipient of numerous awards, including the UNO Award of Distinction, National Milken Family Foundation Award, Omaha Public Schools Outstanding Principal of the Year and NIAAA Special Commendation for Distinguished Service to Interscholastic Athletics.

A Bellevue High School graduate, Whitehouse earned his degree from Kearney State College in 1967, majoring in physical education and minoring in biology. He went on to earn a master’s in secondary school administration and an education specialist degree in secondary school administration, both from UNO.

Lanny Jorgensen and Panda Jean Vest – Jim Rundstrom Distinguished Service

Lanny Jorgensen and Panda Jean Vest of Oro Valley, Arizona, are the recipients of the service award.

Jorgensen is retired after a long career as a loan appraiser. He worked in downtown development in Lincoln; Racine, Wisconsin; and Greenville, South Carolina; and affordable housing development in Tucson, Arizona.

Vest was a real estate broker for 40 years and is now a semi-retired Realtor with her own company, Sun Properties Inc.

They have been longtime volunteers for the UNK Alumni Association, hosting numerous alumni gatherings in their home in Arizona, with Jorgensen serving on the association’s board of directors.

Jorgensen, a Kearney High School graduate, earned his business administration degree in 1963 from Kearney State College. He also received his real estate appraiser certification from the University of Oklahoma. Vest is also a Kearney High School graduate and attended Kearney State College. 

Brooke McGee – Distinguished Young Alumna

Brooke McGee of the Washington, D.C., metro area is an attorney adviser at the U.S. Department of Justice, Executive Office for Immigration Review, Arlington Immigration Court.

She began her legal career after being selected as a judicial law clerk through the Attorney General’s Honors Program. McGee is a member of the District of Columbia Bar.

While in law school, McGee was editor for the George Mason University School of Law Civil Rights Law Journal, and her legal comment was published in the journal. She was also president of the Immigration Law Society and a member of the Virginia Bar Association Pro Bono Society and Women’s Law Association. In those roles, McGee assembled a symposium regarding family detention of immigrants, coordinated a pro bono clinic for immigrant children and organized a supplies drive for a women’s domestic violence shelter. She also interned with the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

McGee is a Bertrand native and Bertrand High School graduate. She graduated magna cum laude from UNK in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and minors in Spanish, history and women’s studies. McGee has a Master of Arts in history from UNK and Juris Doctor degree with an immigration law concentration from George Mason University School of Law.

Thomas Crowther – Distinguished International Alumnus

Thomas Crowther of Frisco, Texas, is a native of Freeport, Bahamas. He worked for 20 years in general construction before creating and opening his general construction firm, The Crowther Group, in 2017.

Crowther is president and CEO of The Crowther Group. The firm has been awarded projects with Fortune 500 enterprises that include AT&T, Target, Coremark, PNC Bank and Dallas County’s largest health care system. Crowther grew his business while serving his community as an industry partner for the Dallas Independent School District and Dallas County Community College District Pathways to Technology Early College High School Program.

Under Crowther’s leadership, the company was the recipient of the 2018 Excellence in Business Award from the DFW Minority Supplier Development Council, the 2019 National Minority Development Council’s Supplier of the Year award and the 2020 Dallas Business Journal Minority Business Leader award.

He serves on the Dallas Regional Chamber Board of Directors; Rotary Club of Dallas Foundation Board of Trustees; DFW Minority Supplier Development Council Board of Directors; After School, All Stars – North Texas Board of Directors; Dallas Independent School District Superintendent’s Business/Community advisory board; and as a Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Alumni member.

Crowther graduated from Hawksbill High School in Freeport, Bahamas, and earned a degree in construction management from UNK in 1998. He is continuing his executive education through Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business.

Patricia Timm – College of Education Distinguished Educator of the Year

Patricia (Morrison) Timm of Beatrice has dedicated her career to the education of children.

Timm was a teacher at Friend Public Schools and served as executive director of the Family Resource Center, as well as president of the Family Resources Center Coalition of Nebraska, both in Beatrice.

Timm is retired and currently a member of the Nebraska State Board of Education, serving two terms as president. She has also been involved with the Beatrice Public Schools Board of Education, Gage County Extension Service, Early Childhood Development regional planning team and Buffett Institute Early Childhood Workforce Development Commission.

She has been an active volunteer in the Beatrice community, including time given to the Beatrice Public Library, Beatrice Public Schools, Children’s Guild, Beatrice Children’s Theatre, Beatrice Community Players Board of Directors and Beatrice Police Department’s Personal Safety Awareness committee.

Timm’s efforts have been recognized with the Beatrice Community Volunteer of the Year Award, 2018 National Association of State Boards of Education Distinguished Service Award and 2019 Beatrice Education Foundation’s Friend of Education Award.

Timm, a Callaway High School graduate, earned her degree from Kearney State College in 1969 with an elementary education major and art minor.

Emily Balcetis – Gary Thomas Distinguished Music Alumna

Emily Balcetis of New York City is an associate professor of psychology at New York University and has authored more than 70 scientific publications.

Her book, “Clearer, Closer, Better: How Successful People See the World,” uncovers how the motivations and emotions people hold impact the ways they perceive, interpret and react to information around them. Her research represents an intersection among social psychology, judgment and decision-making, social cognition and perception. Balcetis has received several awards for her research, including ones from the Federation of Association of Brain and Behavior Scientists, International Society for Self and Identity, Foundation for Personality and Social Psychology and Society for Experimental Social Psychology. Her research has been supported by several large grants from the National Science Foundation and has been featured in dozens of TV, radio and print outlets across the world. She is also the recipient of the Golden Dozen NYU Teaching Award and Cornell’s Clark Distinguished Teaching Award.

Balcetis has appeared as a host for National Geographic and as a guest on MSNBC, and she delivered a TEDx New York talk.

An Omaha native and Millard North High School graduate, Balcetis earned a bachelor’s degree with a double major in music performance and psychology from UNK in 2001. A Regents Scholar at UNK, she was involved with the Pride of the Plains Marching Band, concert band, Jazz/Rock Ensemble and a saxophone quartet. She earned her Ph.D. in social psychology from Cornell University, where she held a Sage Fellowship.

Terry Peterson – College of Business and Technology Distinguished Alumnus

Terry Peterson of Omaha is owner and president of Omaha Track.

Peterson enjoyed a successful 10-year career in the food and beverage industry prior to purchasing the Tie Yard of Omaha in 1983. The Tie Yard was a small landscape company selling railroad ties. Once purchased by Peterson, that business quickly evolved and became Omaha Track Inc., a full-service supplier and vendor to Class I and short-line railroads across the United States. Today, Omaha Track has more than 400 employees, including mobile crews, and facilities in nine states.

Peterson is active with numerous boards and associations, including Easter Seals Nebraska, Visiting Nurse Association, Salvation Army and Salvation Army Women’s Auxiliary. His family foundation, The Terry and Holley Peterson Foundation, supports philanthropic activities in Nebraska and surrounding states.

Peterson is a Kearney High School graduate and received his degree in business administration from Kearney State College in 1975.