(Abilene, Texas – October 12, 2021) A business leader, science educator, artist, religious leader, teacher, retired administrator, athletic director, retired district judge, community leader and philanthropist will all be recognized for exemplifying excellence in their professional careers at the Annual Night of Distinction dinner set for Friday, October 15. McMurry University will acknowledge the accomplishments of these 10 outstanding alumni which include two former trustees.
“McMurry University recognizes our notable alumni for their professional achievements, commitment to service, and contributions to, and impact on, McMurry,” says University President Sandra S. Harper. “We are excited to welcome these accomplished alumni and their families back to campus and to join us for the celebration of their achievements.”
“The alumni who we honor this year, as well as our past honorees, continue to be the shining light of inspiration for current and future students,” says Vice President of Institutional Advancement Michael V. Hutchison ’87. “We are grateful for their legacy of servant leadership and the impact each has made to their alma mater and communities.”
The Distinguished Alumni Award was established in 1971 by the McMurry Alumni Association to recognize alumni who have made a significant contribution to their profession, society, and McMurry University. This year The Honorable Jorge A. Solis ’73 is being recognized posthumously as the 2021 Distinguished Alumnus. Solis served as a United States District Judge for the Northern District of Texas in Dallas from September 1991 to May 2016. He was nominated by President George H. W. Bush in June 1991 and received his commission in September of that year. He presided over 250 trials, including patent, trade secrets, trademark, oil and gas, antitrust, and securities litigation. These included class-action suits and enforcement actions by the Securities and Exchange Commission, employment, environmental/ CERCLA, and other complex commercial federal cases. More recently, he served as special counsel for the Katten law firm with a focus on trademark, oil and gas, and securities litigation and arbitration.
Hunter Sims ‘07, the Young Alumni Award winner, serves at the Athletic Director (AD) for Howard Payne University (HPU) while continuing his involvement with the Big Country Fellowship of Christian Athletes. At McMurry, he was a respected athlete and teammate, and continues to serve as an example of leadership and sportsmanship for HPU and the Brownwood community. He is one of the youngest ADs in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and is a notable ambassador for the NCAA’s Division III sports.
Orland Gilbert ‘57, who will be honored posthumously, and Sara Hernandez Hudman Graham ‘63 are joining an elite group of McMurry leaders being named McMurry’s newest Trustee Emeriti. Gilbert served on the board from 1998 to 2007. Graham served on the board from 1998 to 2007 and again from 2012 to 2019. These individuals are being recognized for their distinctive and meritorious service to the University as trustees.
Leslie Chalmers ’99, Outstanding Alumna in Business, serves as executive director of the Jacksboro Economic Development Corporation. She was named one of Parker County’s Top 40 under 40 and received the Jean Bryant Marketing Award in 2014. She is a recent graduate of Leadership Texas, an elite program dedicated to developing women leaders active in decision-making in political, economic, and public life.
Zach Kerzee ’11, Outstanding Alumnus in Religious and Spiritual Life, is a minister in Sterling, MA. After attending Harvard Divinity School, he founded Simple Church, a Methodist dinner church and began serving Worcester Fellowship, a church for the homeless. He currently serves at the historic First Church in Sterling while continuing his homeless ministry. His innovative approach to ministry has been featured in Faith and Leadership Magazine, the Christian Science Monitor, and the New York Times.
Rory Peacock ’01, Outstanding Alumnus in Education for 2021, is deputy executive director for Region 11 Education Service Center in White Settlement, TX, encompassing 77 school districts in North Texas and serving approximately 600,000 students. He successfully created the FIBER11 network and led a consortium of schools and partners in the region to build out a fiber-connected network. The FIBER11 project has been implemented in multiple regions now, impacting over two million students in Texas.
Don Taylor ’56, Outstanding Alumnus in Education for 2020, began his impressive 44-year tenure in education at Roosevelt High School in Lubbock upon graduation from McMurry. He held many positions at Roosevelt High School and retired as superintendent of Lubbock ISD in 2000. He demonstrated his continuing commitment to education after retirement by establishing an endowed scholarship in the teacher education program at McMurry and led the campaign to establish the Avoca High School Ex-Students Endowed Scholarship for students seeking a degree in education at McMurry.
Tom Turner ’01, Outstanding Alumnus in Fine Arts, is an artist and educator based in Eagle River, AK. He has taught at the Art Institute of San Antonio, Northwest Vista College, Saint Mary’s University, Texas Tech University, and the Creative Light Workshops in San Antonio. His artistic practice is focused on photographic landscape imagery, and he has exhibited locally, nationally and internationally. His work has appeared in Wired Photo, 4th International Photography Annual, Juxtapoz Art and Culture Magazine, and most recently in Fraction Magazine.
Aletha Williams ’04, Outstanding Alumna in Math and Sciences, has been a chemistry teacher for 14 years. She is part of the Teaching and Learning Council created by Educate Texas. A TED-ED innovative educator, she has worked on a project to help teachers learn about literacy and project-based learning for English Language Learners. She is the founder of Change Agents of Katy (ISD), a community effort to recruit teachers of color into the profession. She is a 2020–2021 Teach Plus Ready to Lead fellow and is currently completing a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction for Science, Technology, Education & Math (STEM) education.
Each year faculty, staff, and fellow alumni nominate accomplished McMurry graduates to be considered for Distinguished Alumni honors. This year’s awardees again demonstrate McMurry servant leadership at its very best. While the annual Night of Distinction dinner is by invitation only, the awards presentation will be available online at alumni.mcm.edu following homecoming weekend.