Each year, Hardin-Simmons honors our alumni and former students. Awards are given for outstanding achievements in either their careers, their community, or their dedication to HSU. If you know of an alum who meets the criteria for one of our awards, please click here to nominate them. Our award categories are:
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.
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.
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.
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.
2023 Outstanding Young Alumni Award
|James Jesse ’04
James Jesse attended Hardin-Simmons University, graduating in 2004 with a Bachelor of Arts in English and Philosophy. As a person whose family experienced generational poverty, James found freedom and opportunity through his HSU education. Since graduation, he has devoted his life to helping others in the same way.
James joined the staff of Tarrant County College in 2008 as assistant coordinator of student support services. Two years later, he became assistant director of the college’s TRIO student support program, helping students who had financial challenges or disabilities obtain college degrees.
In 2010, James co-founded Opportunity Resources Services (ORS), an educational nonprofit facilitating higher education opportunities for first-generation and low-income youth. He established 501(c)3 status, developed a strategic plan, recruited board members, and wrote funding grants. He also led the development of the ORS core values and pillars of growth.
In 2019, James became vice president of ORS programs, leading a team serving thousands of low-income youth and adults while also establishing numerous connections with community leaders. He oversaw seven ORS programs in all, ensuring each achieved objectives and met performance measures.
During his career, James has established nine college access programs for low-income youth and adults and developed partnerships with 15 school districts and over 100 nonprofit organizations and businesses. He has raised $28 million in federal grant funds, hired employees focusing on equity and inclusion and managed annual budgets of more than two million dollars.
James helped lead ORS for almost a decade but now new challenges beckon. A master’s candidate at Louisiana State University, James will graduate in August with a Master of Arts in Nonprofit Leadership.
James has received the Best of the Best award from the Johnson County Cleburne Times Review and the Community Excellence Award from the East Cleburne Community Center. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board also nominated him for a STAR Award.
In all his efforts, James works with the passion of one who has been in the place of those he serves. He credits his experiences at HSU for setting him on that path of service, noting that the faith his HSU professors had in him inspired him to believe in himself and deepened his faith in God.
He also notes that the presidential scholarship he received at Hardin-Simmons offered him a way to access a college education, break out of poverty and change not only his future but his family’s. He has used the skills he learned at HSU to help many other low-income students and is grateful every day for the opportunity to do so.
James lives in Burleson, Texas with his wife Mary, a 2003 HSU graduate, and their three children.
|Allison (Causey) Kendrick ’14
Allison (Causey) Kendrick graduated from HSU in 2014 with a Bachelor of Arts in Communications. She has since built a successful career working with community and state entities to promote tourism and economic growth in Texas. She is currently the executive director of the Texas Plains Trail Region, an award-winning Texas Historical Commission program.
While at HSU, Allison served almost two years as communications assistant to Dr. Tim Chandler in the HSU Communications Department, designing and implementing multiple advertising and social media campaigns.
She can trace her interest in the tourism industry to her student days at HSU, when she completed a project about the Charles Goodnight House for Dr. Chandler’s advertising class and, in 2012, accepted a job with the Abilene-based Texas Forts Trail Region. Allison became head of communications for the agency, which HSU graduate Margaret Hoogstra directed. Allison coordinated the organization’s social media, website, marketing, and regional tourism efforts and worked state-wide travel and trade shows.
After graduating from HSU, Allison joined the Abilene Convention and Visitors Bureau in 2015 as technology marketing manager. She coordinated the agency’s technology and workflow, overseeing their website and computer programs and creating bid proposals for groups and conventions.
In 2019, Allison moved to Lubbock when she accepted the job of Texas Plains Trail Region executive director. There she is responsible for promoting heritage tourism and economic development throughout 52 counties of West Texas.
When Allison began her job with the Texas Plains Trail, her path came full circle. The Charles and Mary Ann Goodnight Ranch, which she had carefully researched as a student years before, was debuting as Texas’ newest state historic site. The site was in Allison’s region and administered by Allison’s employer, the Texas Historical Commission. It was clear to Allison that God had set a plan into motion many years before. The connections she made in college through Dr. Chandler and the Forts Trail helped her step smoothly into her new role and build relationships within the West Texas region she serves.
Allison holds several professional certifications, including Texas Destination Marketer and Basic Public Information Officer certifications, as well as certifications from FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute Community Preparedness. She is hospitality certified by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension and a Certified Tourism Executive of the Texas Travel Industry.
Outside of the office, Allison has been active in several organizations, serving on the boards of the Texas Forts Trail, the Abilene Downtown Association, Meals on Wheels, and the Swenson House Historical Society. She is a graduate of Leadership Abilene.
While at HSU, Allison was a member of HSU Sweethearts. She served on the Alumni Association Board of Directors from 2019-2021.
Allison lives in Lubbock, Texas, with her husband Koby, a 2012 HSU graduate.
|Jenny (Bell) Van Dorf ’07
Jenny (Bell) Van Dorf studied Public Relations and Advertising at Hardin-Simmons, graduating in 2007 with a Bachelor of Behavioral Science degree. She currently serves as director of marketing and communication for Del Sol Food Company, the manufacturer of BRIANNAS Fine Salad Dressing, the number one premium salad dressing distributed worldwide.
After graduating from HSU, Jenny joined Blue Bell Creameries, one of North America’s largest ice cream companies, serving as public relations market specialist until 2016, when she became public relations manager. During a period of rapid expansion, Jenny oversaw the company’s promotion, product releases and market development as Blue Bell entered new markets and opened dozens of additional facilities. Jenny managed strategic communication and developed an extensive sales training program for thousands of employees. She planned and developed photo shoots, training and tourism videos, and worked with multiple external PR firms. During a widely reported consumer crisis, Jenny guided public relations, served as spokesperson and managed internal and external communication. Blue Bell saw a return to success following the challenging time.
In 2020 Jenny moved to join Del Sol Food Company, overseeing all BRIANNAS advertising and promotional campaigns, communication strategies and new product development and introduction. She has launched the company’s award-winning first advertising campaign, managed a successful and award-winning rebranding of company packaging, and overseen an expansion of product offerings into additional lines, including marinades and croutons.
In addition to her professional accomplishments, Jenny regularly lends her experience and abilities to numerous charities and nonprofits. She has been a board member for the Texas Arts and Music Festival since 2015, helping develop the 2016 inaugural event, which over 4,000 people attended. A volunteer with the Washington County Chamber of Commerce, Jenny became the youngest-ever serving board member when she began a three-year tenure in 2015. She is also a graduate of Leadership Washington County.
While a student at HSU, Jenny was active in student government, serving as a sophomore representative-at-large, junior class president and senior class president. She organized the senior class gift fundraising, managed PR for Western Heritage Day and was publicity chair for HSU student life, promoting events, organizing volunteers and coordinating student activities on campus.
As an HSU Leadership Studies Program member, Jenny coordinated a Tri-Collegiate community celebration and acted as the HSU host/hostess program director, working directly with the university president. She also served as a team leader for a Students in Free Enterprise National Competition presentation and the American Advertising Federation National Student Advertising Competition. She was a member of Freshco, a leadership organization with Baptist Student Ministries.
From 2008 to 2014, Jenny served on the Hardin-Simmons Board of Young Associates.
Jenny lives in Brenham, Texas, with her husband Phil, a 2006 HSU graduate.
2022 Alumni Award Recipients
John J. Keeter, Jr. Alumni Service Award
|Frances (Kesner) Renfroe ’60
Frances (Kesner) Renfroe graduated from HSU in 1960 with her BA in Mathematics. After graduation, Ms. Renfroe taught in the public school system for 32 years, in both Rochelle, TX, and San Angelo, TX.
In 1992, Frances returned to Hardin-Simmons as a math professor and served in that capacity until 2005, investing in the lives of many students along the way. She was named Faculty Member of the Year in 2005.
As a student at HSU, Frances was very involved in campus life, as a class officer, as a member of the Cowgirls (president her senior year), as the associate editor of the 1959 Bronco, as a member of Alpha Chi, and as a participant in intramural sports.
Frances has continued to invest in HSU after retirement. She has served as a student teacher supervisor, Academic Foundation board member, HSU Fellowship officer, Alumni Association Board of Directors, and Ex-Cowgirls officer. She gives back to HSU through her service on the Board of Development and as a member of the John G. Hardin Society. In 2022, Frances was recognized as the Retired Faculty Member of the Year.
Distinguished Alumni Award
|Dr. Melvin Blackaby ’88
Melvin Blackaby graduated from Hardin-Simmons University with his Bachelor of Arts in History in 1988. He went on to complete his MDiv in 1991 and PhD in 1997, both from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Dr. Blackaby has been pastoring churches in Texas, Canada, and Georgia since 1992. Currently, he is the senior pastor of First Baptist Church Jonesboro in Jonesboro, GA; a position he has held since 2008.
In addition to pastoring, Blackaby has co-authored several books including Experiencing God Together: God’s Plan to Touch Your World, Your Church Experiencing God Together, and What’s So Spiritual about Your Gifts. Even though Blackaby has had the opportunity to write books and speak internationally, his first love is the local church.
|Cara (Cagle) Naizer ’92/’94
Cara Naizer graduated with a Bachelor of Music in Education and Vocal Performance in 1992 and a Master of Music in conducting in 1994, both from Hardin-Simmons University.
In the spring of 2022, Cara retired from full-time teaching as the Director of Choral Activities and Fine Arts Department Chair at Cooper High School in Abilene. During her 28 years of teaching, she also served Madison Middle School and Clyde ISD choral departments.
Cara frequently serves as clinician and UIL adjudicator across the state and mentor to young choral musicians. She maintains memberships in several professional organizations, including the Texas Music Educators Association, the Texas Choral Directors Association, the Texas Music Adjudicators Association and Sigma Alpha Iota.
Naizer has been named a teacher of the year four times. Most recently, the Fine Arts Teacher of the Year in 2022 by the Abilene Education Foundation.
|Louis Revor ’94
Louis Revor has worked at Raytheon Intelligence and Space for over 25 years, currently serving as Director for Digital Technologies Engineering Solutions. A highlight of Revor’s career was serving as Associate Architect for the National System for Geospatial Intelligence Consolidated Library.
Revor graduated from Hardin-Simmons University in 1994 with his Bachelor of Science in Mathematics with a minor in Computer Science. He went on to complete a Master of Science in Mathematics from the University of North Texas in 1996.
Louis has remained connected to HSU through service on various boards including Cowboy Band Foundation, Board of Young Associates, Board of Development, and currently as a member of the Board of Trustees.
While at Raytheon, Louis has received numerous awards, including the 2022 Director Talent Pool, Engineer of the Quarter, and technical Honors in 2005 and 2009.
HSU Athletics Hall of Fame Inductees
Click through to see the most recent Hall of Fame inductees.