About 150 volunteers will power HSU’s 2013 Homecoming this week as an expected 1,100-1,200 alumni and friends gather on the HSU campus.
Keeter Alumni Service Award
Melinda (Offner) Stricklin
Possibility and potential infuse the beginning of each academic year. Take the fall of 1979, for example. That semester, the fortunes of Hardin-Simmons University improved dramatically. That’s when a first-year coed began a love affair with HSU that has borne bountiful fruit across more than three decades.
HSU bestows the John J. Keeter Jr. Alumni Service Award, its highest honor, upon that student, Melinda Offner Stricklin. This award reflects Hardin-Simmons’ appreciation for the prodigious talent, immeasurable time, steadfast commitment and infectious passion Stricklin has invested in her alma mater.
Stricklin was and is a natural “joiner,” and she began to give back to Hardin-Simmons right from the start. In the fall of her freshman year—during the PVF (Pre-Varsity Football) Era—she helped her intramural team win the women’s football championship.
She also joined Phi Phi Phi and later served as social chair, Inter-Organizational Council representative, money-making chair and participant in the All-School Sing. She was a member of Student Congress and provided leadership as Homecoming chair and Tri-College representative.
She was secretary of her sophomore class and then stepped up to lead her class as president during their junior and senior years. Melinda was chapel secretary for Baptist Student Union. And in her “spare” time, she also was a member of Student Foundation, Rotaract and Kappa Delta Phi, the national education honor society.
The HSU community recognized Stricklin’s gifts and contributions during her student years. She represented the University in Who’s Who in Among Students in American Universities and Colleges and was named to Outstanding Young Women of America.
She made the Dean’s List and received the Mabel Bagby Atwood Scholarship, awarded for academic excellence, intellectual leadership and moral character. Both Tri Phi and Student Congress named her their Most Outstanding Member.
During spring commencement in 1983, when she received the Bachelor of Education degree with a minor in counseling, Stricklin accepted the Minnie L. Anderson Award, presented to the outstanding female graduate.
She did post-graduate work in counseling at Hardin-Simmons. But, of course, her life and achievements extended beyond the Forty Acres.
Melinda married Dirk Stricklin, a 1980 Hardin-Simmons graduate. They are the parents of three sons: Drew; Jon, a 2011 HSU alumnus; and Ben, a current HSU student.
Melinda and Dirk are co-owners of Savers Cost Plus Supermarkets in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. She also taught junior high in the Irving and the Hurst-Euless-Bedford independent school districts, and she taught high school at Faith Christian School. She has been a special testing supervisor for both the SAT and ACT programs, and she has been an educational consultant.
Through the years, Stricklin has expressed her faithfulness to Christ through leadership in her congregation. At Woodland Heights Baptist Church in Bedford, she and Dirk co-teach the college department. She has directed the children’s department, children’s choirs and youth department. She also has sung in the adult choir and on the praise team. She has been a member of the youth leader search committee, benevolence committee and building committee.
She also committed her time and talents to Boy Scouts of America. She was a Tiger Cub leader, Cub Scout leader, Boy Scout leader, merit badge counselor and Eagle Scout committee member.
Despite all her other commitments, Stricklin has dedicated voluminous time and energy to Hardin-Simmons University. In the early years after graduation, she was a member of the Board of Young Associates and served as president in 1994-95, as well as president-elect/vice president, past president and membership committee chair.
She has boosted the Fort Worth-Area HSU alumni chapter as a member of its board of directors and scholarship committee. She has been a member of the HSU Board of Development and served on its marketing and public relations committee.
And she currently is serving in her second term on the HSU Board of Trustees, where she has been board secretary and chair of the student development and advancement committees, as well as a member of the presidential search committee. She’s also a tireless volunteer for alumni events and Homecoming.
Stricklin says she loves Hardin-Simmons University, which holds a special place in her heart. “It is the place where I was able to grow both spiritually and emotionally, as well as not only realize, but achieve, my dreams,” she explains. “This is where my husband and I met, and where two of our sons have received an incredible education. This school continues to bless not only my family, but countless other families. It is for these reasons and many more that I will forever be grateful, or indebted, to HSU!”
Hardin-Simmons University perpetuates the strong legacy of service reflected in the Keeter Award by bestowing it upon one of HSU’s most faithful servants, Melinda Offner Stricklin.
Distinguished Alumni Awards
Sue (Fargo) Conley
B.S. 1989/B.S. 1990
During her undergraduate years at Hardin-Simmons University, Sue Conley demonstrated the multitasking skills, energy and determination that propelled her to healthcare leadership. Back then, she completed requirements for two bachelor’s degrees while working full-time and managing a family.
Now, she is the chief executive officer of not one, but two hospitals. Friends who observed the arc of her career aren’t surprised she has been selected to receive a 2013 Distinguished Alumni Award from her alma mater.
Conley earned a Bachelor of Science degree, cum laude, in biology in 1989 and added another BS degree in medical technology in 1990. Not surprisingly, she also earned membership in Beta Beta Beta, the national biological honor society.
While Conley excelled in the classroom and the laboratory, the time demands of her life did not afford the opportunity to build a long Hardin-Simmons resume. “I really did not have many HSU activities,” she explains. “I worked full time most of my enrollment—and had two kids and a husband.”
Still, Hardin-Simmons shaped and empowered her, Conley recalls. “Even though I was a non-traditional college student, I have many great memories of my time at HSU—particularly the great people I encountered, both students and faculty,” she says. “I learned so much there and will be forever grateful for my experiences and for my family’s support during my college years. Education is something that no one can take away from you, and I feel it was the key to any success I have achieved.”
Conley’s choice of the phrase “any success” is quite an understatement. In 1989, she went to work for Hendrick Medical Center, just south of the HSU campus in Abilene. She worked her way up from medical technologist to continuous quality improvement coordinator for the 400-bed, 2,500-employee facility.
Out in the “real world,” Conley learned on the job. “When I started working the laboratory, I started to think that maybe administration could use some help in making decisions, because, of course, when you’re younger, you think you have all the answers,” she notes.
But when she took the quality-improvement position, she adds, “I learned decisions that are made on the administrative level—there was a lot more information I didn’t have. That made me understand administrators need to communicate to their staff. … If you can just explain why you’re doing something or what the issues are, your staff is so much more supportive and understanding and can even give you help.”
In 1996, Conley earned a Master of Science degree in health care administration from Trinity University in San Antonio and also joined the staff of Brownwood Regional Medical Center. In Brownwood, she started as assistant administrator and, in less than a year and a half, rose to chief operating officer.
Then in 2000, she took another COO position, this time with Medical Center of South Arkansas, in El Dorado. The next step up the healthcare ladder took her to Mesquite, Nevada, where she became chief executive officer of the brand-new Mesa View Regional Hospital in 2004.
Six years later, Sparks Health System, a 492-bed facility, in Fort Smith, Arkansas, recruited Sue to become COO. From there, in 2011, Sue became CEO of Summit Medical Center in Van Buren, Arkansas. And last year, Capella-St. Thomas Health Services chose Sue to lead two of its Tennessee facilities—DeKalb Community Hospital in Smithville and Stones River Hospital in Woodbury, both southeast of Nashville.
Her engagement and recognition extends beyond the hospitals she has led. In Tennessee, she is a board member of the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce and a member of the local Lions Club. Among her affiliations in Arkansas were board member of the Van Buren Chamber of Commerce and vice chair of the Arkansas Valley Trauma Regional Advisory Council.
In Mesquite, Nevada, she was named Distinguished Citizen of the Year in 2009 and Business Person of the Year in 2006. She led the Rotary Club and the Chamber of Commerce as president there.
She is a fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives and was a member of the boards of the Nevada Hospital Association and Nevada Rural Hospital Partners.
Sue and her husband of 38 years, Allen, are the parents of Jo Beth Wharton, who lives in Sacramento, California, with their grandsons, Jaze and Jones, and Michael Conley, who lives in London, England.
Healthcare has provided Sue Conley with a joyful and purposeful career. “I just love what I do,” she says. “I love the patient care piece. I love the diversity of being a COO or CEO and having the ability to make a difference in the community, along with the entire team.”
Ivan Smith Jr.
In the mid-1960s, Ivan Smith Jr. dashed out of C.E. Byrd High School in Shreveport, Louisiana, bound for Hardin-Simmons University on a track scholarship. An intramural basketball injury limited his track career to one year, but he’s been running at full speed in building his furniture business and caring for other people ever since. So, it’s no surprise Ivan’s selection to receive a 2013 Distinguished Alumni Award from HSU is a natural mile-marker in the race of life.
Although he arrived in Abilene from Louisiana, Ivan actually is a Texas native. He was born in Marshall, and his family moved east to Shreveport in 1953. As a youngster, Smith gained notoriety for his speed. He ran the quarter-mile and mile relay so fast for the Byrd Yellow Jackets, he sprinted right into the North Louisiana Track and Field Hall of Fame.
If the sudden end to his athletic career discouraged young Ivan, it failed to slow down his other pursuits. He participated in Sigma Delta Sigma and was awarded best pledge. He went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in business, majoring in economics and finance, in 1968.
“Hardin-Simmons University provided a great environment for me,” Smith remembers. “I learned discipline toward studies.” He particularly cites the influence of Mr. Gilton, the chairman of the business department, in whose classes, he notes, “Indirectly I learned leadership skills and became more confident.”
After graduating from Hardin-Simmons, Smith returned to Shreveport and the family business. He began working for his father, Ivan Smith Sr., at Ivan Smith Furniture.
Just eight years later, in 1976, he bought the company from his dad and began building the business. He expanded his locations by an average of one store per year.
Today, the company owns 42 Ivan Smith Stores and four Ashley Furniture Homestores spread across East Texas, South Arkansas and North Louisiana.
Ivan Smith Furniture received the J. Pat Beaird Memorial Industry of the Year Award from the Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce in 2004. The company also accepted the 2009 and 2010 Torch Award from the Better Business Bureau in recognition of its trust, performance and integrity.
Beyond the energy demanded by his growing business, Ivan has poured his vision, passion and insight into the community and the lives of others. He served eight years on the Commercial National Bank board of directors and has served for 15 years on the Retail Merchants Association board of directors.
He also sponsored pastor/minister/activist Mack McCarter in launching Community Renewal International in Shreveport. The neighborhood-redevelopment program later was adopted by Hardin-Simmons to rejuvenate north Abilene and to improve the lives of residents near the HSU campus.
Through the years, Smith has volunteered in and supported non-profit organizations that minister to the sick and less fortunate. He has served two terms on the Volunteers of America board of directors as treasurer, two terms on the Goodwill Industries board of directors and four years on the board of the Highland Center, a child care and day care ministry in Shreveport. After the revolution in Zimbabwe, Africa, Ivan spent a month rebuilding missionary housing in the bush country.
Smith has received the Junior Achievement of North Louisiana Hall of Fame Award, the Harry Blake Civil Rights Humanitarian Award in 2006 and the Volunteers of America Humanitarian Award in 2012. Ivan Smith Furniture also received the Partner of the Quarter Award from Shreveport-Bossier Community Renewal for its efforts in the We Care campaign.
Across the years, Smith also gave back to his alma mater. In 2012, he completed nine years on the Hardin-Simmons University board of trustees. He also has established an endowed scholarship and is a member of the President’s Club. You also would not be surprised to know he’s a consistent and cheerful university volunteer.
Ivan and his wife, Gloria Greenlee Smith (ex 1968), are longtime members of First Baptist Church in Shreveport. He has been chairman of the church’s deacons, a member of the Finance Committee and vice chairman of the Pastor-Search Committee.
He served three terms on the board of trustees of First Baptist Church School, where he also coached basketball 20 years. The school presented him with its Patriot Award.
Ivan and Gloria are the parents of four children—Lisa, Trey, Emily and Jonatthan—all of Shreveport, and eight grandchildren. Ivan enjoys fishing, hunting and spending time with those grandkids.
Louanne (Worley) Stephens
If folks on the Hardin-Simmons University campus in the early 1960s paid close attention to a certain vivacious brunette coed, they captured a glimpse of a bright future.
They noted her enthusiasm when she led cheers for Cowboys and Cowgirls athletes three years. They recognized her intellect when she finished runner-up in the E.P. Mead Speech Contest.
And they knew they witnessed something special when she won Outstanding Actress in a Major Role. They observed the beginning of a remarkable and lauded acting career for Louanne Worley Stephens, who tonight receives one of HSU’s 2013 Distinguished Alumni Awards.
Before Stephens launched her acting career, she made a name for herself on the Forty Acres as a campus leader. Her freshman year, she was a class officer, freshman cheerleader, member of the chapel choir and band, and pledged Delta Social Club.
As a sophomore, she made varsity cheerleader and was ROTC sponsor, class favorite, runner-up in the Mead Speech Contest and Alpha Chi National Scholarship Society inductee. The next year, Stephens repeated as varsity cheerleader and member of Alpha Chi. Fellow Delta women elected her an officer, and she was named to Who’s Who in American Colleges and Universities.
As a senior, she reprised her roles in Who’s Who, Delta and Alpha Chi. Classmates elected her Homecoming princess, and she was inducted into the Sigma Tau Delta International English Honor Society. And, in a foreshadowing of great things to come, she earned the Outstanding Actress award.
At graduation in 1964, Stephens earned a Bachelor of Arts degree, magna cum laude, and received the Minnie L. Anderson Award as that year’s outstanding female graduate.
“Hardin-Simmons was the perfect college for me,” Stephens notes. “I felt at home immediately; its warm and loving environment supported my expanding world.”
Stephens world expanded, indeed. She journeyed to New Orleans, where she earned a Master of Arts degree in American literature from Tulane and went on to teach high school and college English.
More recently, although based in her native Texas, she has been active in radio, television, films and theater for more than twenty-five years. The Internet Movie Data Base (imdb.com) cites Stephens for about two-dozen movie and TV roles, including multi-year television parts.
Her film credits include the role of Marjorie Powell, Anthony Hopkins' wife in Instinct, and Laura Fleming, Blaze Star’s mother in Blaze, with Paul Newman. She recently completed an indie film Mahjong and the West, shot in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Stephens television credits include the recurring award-winning role of Grandma Saracen in Friday Night Lights and Ruby on Longmire, presently on AETV. She’s also done hundreds of commercials.
On stage, Stephens has twice been selected as outstanding actress in a major role by the Dallas theater critics.
Stephens life transcends movies, television and theater.
She’s been a member of First Baptist Church in Richardson since 1977. In that congregation, she has been member/director of the Nursing Home Birthday Group for 30 years. She also taught Sunday School seven years and was a Sunday School director 10 years, with experience ranging the spectrum—kindergarten, sixth grade and eleventh grade.
She was a children’s and youth camp counselor 10 years and also taught Vacation Bible School. She’s a 20-year choir member and has acted in various church drama productions.
In the community, Stephens has been involved with Boys and Girls Clubs. She was an Alateen sponsor eight years, volunteered in schools during the educational journeys of three children and volunteered with Buckner International.
Next year, Louanne and her husband, Michael Stephens, will celebrate their golden wedding anniversary. Michael, who was Louanne's high school sweetheart, has been a nephrologist in Dallas for 37 years. Their family includes one daughter, Lee, and two sons, Scott and Greg (and wife Lisa), as well as two grandchildren, Maddy and Parker.