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EIU Media Relations

Local, National Stars Among Recipients of 2007 EIU Alumni Awards


The recipients of the Eastern Illinois University Alumni Association’s 2007 alumni awards will be honored this weekend in conjunction with Homecoming activities.

“We are very proud to honor such an outstanding group of alumni for their accomplishments and the stellar manner in which they have represented Eastern Illinois University, both near and far,” said Steve Rich, executive director of the Alumni Association. “Their success reflects well on the university and motivates current and future students to aim for the top, as our honorees have done.”

Established in 1973, the Distinguished Alumni Award is the most prestigious award bestowed by the Alumni Association. It is presented to individuals who have distinguished themselves in either academic or literary fields, business, public service and/or service to the university and who, through their accomplishments and service, have brought prestige to their alma mater. Past recipients have included an Illinois governor, Oscar-nominated actors, an NFL head coach, a nuclear physicist, CEOs, educators at all levels and many others.

Details on this year’s five Distinguished Alumni Award recipients are below, followed by information on this year’s other Alumni Award winners.

Distinguished Alumni Award

Joni Comstock ’79 (physical education) serves as the senior vice president for championships and senior woman administrator for the National Collegiate Athletic Association, where she oversees 85 championships each year while reporting to the president of the organization. In addition, she is responsible for playing-rules staffs, statistics and administrators for each of the championships.

Formerly the director of athletics at American University and the University of North Carolina-Asheville, she also served on the NCAA Division I women’s basketball committee, including a term as chair.In 2006, Comstock was named the southeast region athletic director of the year by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics.She previously served as a coach at Lincoln College and held administrative positions at Illinois and Purdue.

Don Gher ’73 (marketing) recently retired as managing director and chief investment officer of Coldstream Capital Management, a $1.2 billion wealth-management firm, which he co-founded in Bellevue, Wash., in 1996.

He has also worked as the head of a multi-billion dollar trust/investment department for the Marine Bank of Springfield; been a shareholder in a San Francisco money-management firm; and managed the Tokyo, Japan, office of Schroder Wertheim & Co. His investment and economic views have been quoted in the Wall Street Journal and Barron’s, as well as numerous other publications, and he frequently appears on television to discuss macro-economic and investment views.

A past member of the EIU Alumni Association board of directors and the EIU School of Business advisory board, he currently serves as a member of the EIU Foundation board of directors, where he chairs the investment committee.

Marty Hickman ’80 (physical education) has served as executive director of the Illinois High School Association since 2002.Having originally joined the organization in 1991, he previously served as both assistant and associate executive director.He began his career in education in 1980, and served as a teacher, coach and administrator at various schools before joining the IHSA staff.

Hickman currently serves as the chairperson of the National Federation of State High School Association's strategic planning committee and is a member of the boards of directors for the Special Olympics (Illinois) and the Council on Standards for International Educational Travel.He has also frequently been called upon to serve as a presenter at numerous local, state and national conferences.

Kevin Savoree ’81 (accounting) owns Andretti Green Racing with racing legends Michael Andretti and Kim Green and serves as president of the company.

In Andretti Green’s five-year history in the IndyCar Series, it has won 32 of 80 races, including the Indianapolis 500 in 2005 and 2007, while winning the series championships in 2004, 2005 and 2007. Having experienced success running a four-car IndyCar Series operation, AGR formed Andretti Green Promotions, which owns and operates the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Kevin serves as managing director of AGP where, under his direction, the event saw tremendous growth and became one of the premiere events on the IndyCar Series schedule. Formerly a partner in a Paris accounting firm, he also served as treasurer and member of the board of directors of Team Green, the predecessor of AGR, from 1994 through 2002.A past member of the accountancy advisory board, he volunteered as an executive-in-residence at the EIU School of Business in 2005.

Jim Schnorf ’76 (accounting) is the founder and president of Wall Street Management & Capital Inc., a strategic financial advisory firm that arranges capital for clients through a large variety of institutional funding sources.His company also facilitates revenue opportunities for clients through introductions to government agencies and Fortune 1000 firms.

He previously served as the general manager and chief financial officer of Florida’s largest independently owned investor-relations company, where he oversaw the entity’s financing, initial public offering and investment portfolio-management functions. His prior experience also includes serving as the co-founder and president of a Midwest-based boutique mezzanine venture fund; as treasurer and chief financial officer of Stevens Industries Inc., a major woodworking firm based in Central Illinois; and as group controller for Sequa Corp., a Fortune 1000 aerospace concern.He held a variety of managerial positions with Caterpillar, Inc., during his 10 years of service at the firm upon graduation from EIU.

A past member of the EIU Alumni Association Board of Directors, as well as the EIU School of Business and accountancy advisory boards, he now serves as a member of the EIU Foundation Board of Directors.

Outstanding Young Alumnus Award

After initially signing with the Dallas Cowboys as a free agent in 2003, Tony Romo ex ’03 (communication studies) emerged as the team’s starting quarterback in 2006.After passing for 19 touchdowns and nearly 3,000 yards for the season, he was selected to play in the Pro Bowl in Honolulu.He completed his first year as a starter ranked fifth among NFL quarterbacks in passing efficiency, and his performance led to one of the most productive and efficient offensive seasons in team history.

An avid golfer, he has also attempted to qualify for the Byron Nelson and U.S. Open golf tournaments.While maintaining his involvement with EIU through the athletic department, Tony has supported various Dallas-area organizations including the United Way, Salvation Army and the Children's Medical Center.

Romo will be unable to attend the awards ceremony due to his NFL game schedule, but he hopes to return to the EIU campus later this academic year to accept his award.

Distinguished Educator Award

Joe Fatheree ’89, ’05 (history, educational administration), a technology instructor at Effingham High School, was named the 2006-2007 Illinois Teacher of the Year. Early in his career, Fatheree was surprised by his students’ frustration and vowed to change his approach in the classroom.His students began doing hands-on work, including reading plays, writing music about them and performing those songs while playing guitar.He found that attendance increased, grades soared and discipline problems diminished.

Three years ago, he started a program that exemplifies his passion for helping students become successful learners and citizens. The “No Barriers Project – Creating Opportunity Through Education” was designed to help students understand how extreme poverty impacts student success.During the program’s first year, students collected 2,500 coats for homeless children living in the St. Louis area. The following year, students collected more than 4,000 books and partnered with a PBS station in St. Louis to find a literacy expert to take the books into students’ homes.

In addition, a documentary he produced with a fellow teacher led to their receipt of five regional Emmy Awards.

Louis V. Hencken Alumni Service Award

Since 1993, Betty Smithson ’63 (elementary education) has spearheaded an annual golf outing and dinner that generates scholarship funds for students from Edgar County.While she would certainly acknowledge the alumni and friends who have helped plan these events and make them successful, it would not have been possible without her leadership and dedication.

The event initially began as an opportunity to offer scholarships to student-athletes, but it has since been expanded to offer additional scholarships based on academics and school/community involvement.Having generated tens of thousands of dollars over the years, the group has established an endowed fund within the EIU Foundation to manage and distribute the scholarships.

A retired educator, Betty spent 32 years as a member of the faculty at Crestwood School in Paris.



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Josh Reinhart, Public Information Coordinator

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