Alumni Awards

2021 Alumni Awards

John J. Keeter, Jr. Alumni Service Award

The Alumni Service Award is the highest alumni honor HSU can bestow. It has been presented since 1943 to former student(s) who has contributed the most in his or her field of endeavor toward the betterment of HSU, or who has rendered the greatest service to the University. Awards are selected by a committee whose members are established by a campus leadership role.

Mr. Robert Ryan ’59 and Mrs. J’Lyn McDonald Ryan ’60

Robert and J'Lyn RyanThe word “service” exemplifies the lives of Robert and J’Lyn Ryan, graduates of 1959 (B.S.) and 1960 (B.B.A.), including their long-standing active association with Hardin-Simmons.

Loyal supporters of Hardin-Simmons for many years, the Ryans continue giving of their time, their resources, and their hearts. Both Robert and J’Lyn have been active members of Alumni Association Board of Directors. Robert also served several years on the Young Associates Board.

In her student days, J’Lyn was a member of the elite Cowgirls association. She has maintained those friendships through her ongoing involvement in HSU’s Ex-Cowgirls organization, even serving as president in 2019 and 2020. The young ladies who, as students, comprised the Cowgirls functioned as a cheering squad at athletic events, performed short routines during halftime at basketball and football games, and served as official hostesses for special events on campus.

Robert, who transferred to HSU as a junior, was a two-year letterman in basketball. He, too, has continued his association with teammates in the intervening years.

Today, the Ryans are both retired public-school educators with careers which centered around serving others. J’Lyn taught for 37 years while Robert’s career spanned 42 years as teacher/coach, principal, business manager, and school superintendent.

Wherever they have lived, Robert and J’Lyn have devoted time to serve church and civic organizations and, always, to serve Hardin-Simmons University.

Distinguished Alumni Award

This award, given since 1970, is presented to alumni whose personal and professional accomplishments are exemplary of the ideals and aims of the University and thus bring honor to HSU. Awards are selected by a committee whose members are established by a campus leadership role.

Mr. Joseph (Joe) Reid Allen ’60

An outstanding and versatile student athlete, first-generation college graduate Joe Allen (B.S. 1960) utilized his well-honed skills to launch and sustain an outstanding career as a successful football coach and teacher, principal, and superintendent.

During his first job as a head football coach, Joe successfully turned around a losing Roswell, NM, program in only two and a half years. From there, he spent 31 years in the Crane, Texas, Independent School District, ultimately holding the role of Superintendent 1988-1993.  During this time, his peers selected him as Region 18 Chairman for the 1992-1993 school year.

Following retirement, Joe resumed a life-long interest in archaeology. His historical/archaeological study of Horsehead Crossing on the Pecos River in Crane County and of Castle Gap in Upton County resulted in a paper which he presented to the Texas State Historical Association in March 2003.

Joe met and began working with historical researcher and author Dr. Glen Ely on the various Butterfield Overland stage stops in Texas and other similar historic sites. He again presented his work to the TSHA, and Dr. Ely published The Texas Frontier and the Butterfield Overland Mail – 1858-1861, in which he credited Joe’s work.

Joe, who also earned the M.Ed. degree in school administration from Stephen F. Austin (1968), married HSU co-ed Doniece “Donnie” Silcott in 1961. They have three married children and 10 grandchildren.

Dr. Darrell J. (DJ) Gililland Jr. ’98

DJ GillilandDJ Gililland thrives on hard work, busy scheduling, and continued learning, and propelled himself through earning his B.B.S. in All-Level Physical Education from HSU (1998) to ultimately receiving the Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from Texas A&M University (2015).

As of 2018, DJ is an Assistant Professor and Clinical Education Coordinator for the Texas Tech University Health Science Center School of Health Professions, Department of Rehabilitation Sciences, Master of Athletic Training program after holding similar positions with Samford University and Hardin-Simmons University. His professional career includes 15 years at HSU, beginning with a dual faculty/staff appointment in 2002.

DJ’s credentials and memberships are extensive, and his heart is visible through his service. For TTUHSC, DJ sits on the Academics Council-Clinical Subgroup and the Human Trafficking Initiative Taskforce. Through his association with the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education, he facilitated the March 2021 Clinical Immersion Minicon and is a member of the Institutional Peer (Site) Review Team. The State of Texas Governor’s Office selected him for the West Texas Research Collaborative Committee of the State’s Child Sex Trafficking Team.

A former member of HSU’s Board of Young Associates, DJ held student leadership roles with, among others, FCA, Student Leadership Council, and Student Athletic Trainers Assn. of the Southwest.

DJ and Andrea (M.Ed. 2010 & 2011), his wife of 15 years, have an 8-year-old daughter, Taylor.

Mrs. Shannon O’Chester Royce ’82

Shannon RoyceSince 1989, Shannon Royce has been making a difference from our nation’s capital in the areas of faith, family, and freedom. As a public policy and government relations authority, she specializes in strategic leadership, non-profit management, coalition building, grassroots networking, faith-based engagement, pro-family advocacy, and helping special needs children.

Presently, as president of the Christian Employers Alliance, she and her team work alongside and on behalf of Christian-owned businesses to protect religious freedom and to provide the opportunity for employees, businesses, and communities to flourish.

She held key roles in the past with such organizations as the Health and Human Services Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiatives where, as director, she led the effort to enhance and expand engagement of faith-based and community stakeholders.

Shannon also served as Chief of Staff and Chief Operating Officer for the Family Research Council, a nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to articulating and advancing a family-centered philosophy of public life.

Licensed to practice Law in the Commonwealth of Virginia, Shannon holds a J.D. degree from George Washington University School of Law (1993) and the B.B.S. degree from HSU (1982). While a student, she was involved in Phi Phi Phi, Baptist Student Ministries, and Student Congress.

Known as a strong leader, an effective manager, and a determined advocate, Shannon is also tenacious, completing 14 half marathons since 2007.

Outstanding Young Alumni Award

Recipients of the Outstanding Young Alumni Award have achieved a significant level of distinction within their chosen field or have brought extraordinary benefit to the world. They reflect the quality and caliber of today’s HSU students and alumni. At the time of their selection, recipients have graduated from Hardin-Simmons not more than 20 years prior and are not over the age of 45.

Holly (Rampy) Baird ’02

Holly BairdHolly (Rampy) Baird ’02 doubled majored in finance and economics at Hardin-Simmons University and went on to earn her Juris Doctor degree in 2006 from Texas Tech University School of Law. She is currently a partner at the firm of Orsinger, Nelson, Downing & Anderson, LLP. Holly earned her Board Certification in Family Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in 2018. She was recently named by Thomson and Reuters as a Texas Super Lawyer for 2020, as published in Texas Monthly. She also received honors from Thomson Reuters as a Texas Rising Star for seven consecutive years, from 2014 through 2020, as well as being named as one of top Up-And-Coming 50 Women Attorneys in Texas (2017 – 2019) and top Up-And-Coming 100 Attorneys in Texas (2017, 2019). She earned a selection in 2020 and 2021 to Best Lawyers in America, a national peer review guide of top lawyers in the country. Holly was also recognized as one of the top attorneys in Dallas under 40 by D Magazine in 2018. She has served her community as a member of the State Bar of Texas, Dallas Bar Association, the Family Law Section of the Dallas Bar, the Texas Academy of Family Law Specialists, and the Annette Stewart American Inn of Court. She has also served on a fundraising committee benefiting Operation Kindness, North Texas’ leading no-kill animal shelter.

Holly is married to John Baird, and they reside in Las Colinas, Texas, along with Stella, their bull terrier. Holly was active during her time on campus at HSU with Sigma Alpha women’s social club, as a cheerleader, and as a freshman orientation leader.

Rafael Hernandez ’07

Rafael HernandezRafael Hernandez ’07, earned his undergraduate degree from Texas A&M in 2005 and then went on to graduate from HSU with a degree in sports and recreation management. He then went on to earn his Master of Business Administration in Finance from the University of Denver, a Master of Science in Real Estate Development from New York University and a Master of Science in Construction Administration from Columbia University. Through all of Rafael’s studies, he has stayed connected to Hardin-Simmons and has been an active volunteer for local and chapter events.

His career achievements include serving as an Associate at Cushman & Wakefield’s Global Headquarters in Midtown Manhattan, a multifamily Analyst and Processor at Bellwether Enterprise Real Estate Capital also in Manhattan where he sized and screened over 80 commercial real estate projects with a combined lending amount over $979 million. Rafael eventually became an FHA property asset manager at Walker & Dunlop in Needham, Massachusetts where he managed a 499 HUD-insured multifamily real estate property portfolio with a total value of $9.87 billion. Today Rafael now currently serves with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development as an Account Executive concentrating specifically on healthcare facilities.

Rafael has also had great success during his service in the United States Army and Army National Guard as an Armor Officer. His service includes commanding 56 Cavalry troops in Baghdad which completed over 300 convoy and reconnaissance missions in Iraq in 2009 and 2010. Rafael was recently promoted to the rank of Major and continues to serve as the Squadron Executive Officer (Battalion XO) with the 3/278th Armored Cavalry Regiment, Pennsylvania Army National Guard.

Rafael, his wife Candace and 1-year old daughter have now settled in the Fort Worth area where they are members at St. Paul Lutheran Church. He volunteers at Texas Christian University and at the University of Texas at Arlington with DFW UrbanPlan 2020, a program by the Urban Land Institute designed to teach high school and college students the fundamentals and principals of real estate development as well as urban planning.

Sandra (Wood) Peoples ’01

Sandra PeoplesSandra (Wood) Peoples ’01, graduated from Hardin-Simmons with a BBS double majoring in English and Communication and now serves as a disability advocate and encourager to special-needs families. She is the author of three books, including her most recent release, Unexpected Blessings: The Joys and Possibilities of Life in a Special-Needs Family. Her writing has been featured by Christianity Today, The Gospel Coalition, and The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission for the SBC. She’s the former editor and social media manager for Key Ministry and a former teacher with Pilot Point ISD.

Sandra hosts the popular podcast, “Self-Care and Soul Care for the Caregiver” where she provides weekly encouragement to special-needs moms and other caregivers. She also speaks at the top special-needs ministry conferences around the country including keynoting at Inclusion Fusion in Cleveland, Ohio hosted by Key Ministry, Wonderfully Made in Kansas City, MO, and All Access in Houston, TX (a conference she founded and hosts).

Sandra earned her Master of Divinity degree in women’s studies from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2007. She currently serves her church, Heights Baptist in Alvin, TX, as special-needs ministry director, pastor’s wife, and Bible teacher. She also serves the Southern Baptist of Texas Convention as a regional consultant for women’s ministry.

Sandra and her husband Lee have two boys, David and James. James has level three autism and is the inspiration for Sandra’s advocacy work, as is Sandra’s older sister who has Down syndrome. She says, “Churches should welcome people with disabilities because the Bible teaches we are all made with a purpose and can glorify God! Special-needs families could even be considered an unreached people group because so few attend church. But like Jesus, we can break down barriers to inclusion in our faith communities because the Body of Christ is stronger when we are all able to serve with our gifts.”

HSU Athletics Hall of Fame Inductees

The Athletics Hall of Fame honors former athletes and coaches who made a significant contribution to HSU and the athletics program. They are selected at least 10 years after completing their HSU playing career (after five years for coaches), by a committee including current and former HSU athletes from various sports.

Click through to see the current Hall of Fame inductees.