Foundation recognizes past graduatesPublished 2:18pm Tuesday, April 22, 2014
The people who gathered at the A.W. Todd Centre on Monday evening came from all different walks of life, but they all could agree on one thing – education is an important part of the local community.
These supporters of education gathered Monday for the second annual Russellville City Schools Education Foundation banquet, which is a fundraising event for the non-profit foundation that exists to raise money for scholarships and for current and future educational opportunities in the classroom.
During the event, two scholarships funneled through the foundation were given to outstanding Russellville High School seniors who were chosen based on their academics, leadership qualities and talents.
The Dr. Wayne Ray Scholarship was awarded to RHS senior Tyler Childers, who has been a leader in many areas throughout his high school career.
The Patti Kimbrough Scholarship was awarded to Micah Fleming, who has been a leader in the fine arts department.
In addition to these two scholarships, the RCS Education Foundation will award four more scholarships of $500 each at the RHS awards night to four more deserving seniors.
“This is the essence of what the foundation is about,” RCS curriculum coordinator Susan Hall said.
“We want to do all we can to help our students and our teachers succeed. We feel like these scholarships are a wonderful way to support and encourage our students to continue to achieve their dreams by continuing their education.”
Members of the foundation’s board also added a new segment to this year’s banquet that included the recognition of our past RHS graduates who have gone on to lead successful personal and professional lives.
The first graduate recognized was Don James, who graduated from RHS in 1967 after a high school career that included being a three-sport letterman, captain of the RHS state championship football team, student council president and class valedictorian.
After graduating from high school, James went on to B.S. and M.B.A. degrees from the University of Alabama.
James joined the U.S. Army and served as aide-de-camp to the commanding general of the U.S. Army finance center and later used his G.I. Bill to attend law school.
In 1992, he became the senior vice president and general counsel for Vulcan Materials Company. He moved up the ranks and became the company’s president and chief operating officer and then the chairman and chief executive officer.
He has been involved in numerous civic, community and professional organizations, and he has maintained his ties with Russellville through his family cattle farm near Frankfort, a home on Cedar Creek Lake, and is a regular follower of Golden Tiger football.
“I am honored to be standing here tonight,” James said after receiving his torch statue recognizing his achievements.
“Russellville has always values its public schools, and I want to thank all of you who are here for valuing your school system.
“My time in school was wonderful and something I will never forget.”
1984 RHS graduate Don Wilson was also honored for his achievements.
After receiving the Alabama Scholar-Athlete of the Year award, Wilson went on to play football for Georgia Tech and earned four varsity letters before graduating with and industrial engineering degree. Wilson received his MBA from Penn State University in 1992 and worked in operations management and financial planning for 10.5 years before going back to school to receive his Masters degree in math and becoming a teacher.
Wilson chose an international teaching career that began in Costa Rica. He currently teaches high school mat at Qatar Academy in Doha, Qatar.
Because of his career overseas, Wilson was unable to attend the banquet, but his sister, Dr. Faye Wilson, accepted the award on his behalf.
“Don went into teaching because he felt like he wanted to make a difference,” Wilson said.
“One of the things our parents taught us was the value of education. They told us to get an education because education is something no one can take away from you. Knowledge is something you’ll have the rest of your life, and Don is a firm believer of that.”
Arguably one of the most notable past graduates of RHS was Dr. Joab Thomas, who passed away March 3 of this year.
Dr. Thomas had already been selected by the committee to receive this special recognition before his passing, and his wife, Marly, received the award on his behalf.
Thomas came from a family that is steeped in Russellville school tradition. His father, R.C. Thomas, was the first superintendent of the Russellville City School System and was instrumental in the construction of the current Russellville High School. His mother, known as Mrs. Mittie, was a music teacher.
Joab Thomas was a 1951 graduate of RHS and was involved in numerous extracurricular activities. After graduating from RHS, Thomas went on to attend Harvard University where he earned three degrees. He began his professional career at the University of Alabama in 1961 as a professor of biology. He also served as assistant dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and vice president of student affairs. He then accepted a position as chancellor at North Carolina State University in 1976, and after a successful tenure, he returned to UA in 1981 to serve as the school’s president until 1988 (serving with the likes of famed football coach Bear Bryant) and later served as the president of Penn State University from 1990-1995.
Dr. Wayne Ray, who presented Thomas’ posthumous award to his wife, Marly Thomas, said the Russellville School System was honored to have such a distinguished graduate from their high school.
“Joab Thomas was a world-renowned botanist and outdoorsman, as well as a respected scholar and member of the collegiate academic community,” Ray said.
“He has multiple buildings names in his honor on prestigious college campuses and had a prestigious and prosperous professional career. We are very proud of what Mr. Thomas has accomplished and the fact that he was always true to his hometown.”
The final graduate recognized was Charlie Britnell, who graduated in 1950 after an active high school career participating in everything from Beta Club to the cheerleading squad.
Britnell received his B.A. degree from David Lipscomb College in 1954 and went on to serve as a radio and television evangelist and authored the book “The Newlyweds.” Britnell entered the ministry in 1947 and since that time has impacted a countless number of lives. He currently serves as the pastor of Gravel Hill Church of Christ in Franklin County and has served in numerous capacities in civic, community, political and academic organizations including serving as the president/chancellor of Jefferson Christian Academy, the president of Northwest Alabama Community College, an Alabama state representative and an Alabama state senator.
“I believe in education,” Britnell said when accepting his award.
“Teaching is a passion and something that is so very important. What you all are doing through this foundation is such a commendable thing. It makes me very proud of the Russellville School System, and I am honored to be here and be a product of these schools.”