Georgia Southwestern announces 2023 Outstanding Alumni Award winners: Recipients will be recognized at inaugural Gold Force Gala on Jan. 21
Published 2:01 pm Friday, November 11, 2022
By Chelsea Collins
AMERICUS – Georgia Southwestern State University (GSW) has announced its most outstanding alumni for their professional and personal achievements as well as their contributions to the University. These individuals will be recognized Saturday, Jan. 21 during the inaugural Gold Force Gala in the GSW Storm Dome.
“It is indeed an honor to recognize these outstanding alumni for the impact they have had in their chosen fields and in areas of service to their alma mater and respective communities,” said Alumni Engagement Specialist Angela Smith. “What better way to celebrate them than with a gala acknowledging their achievements while enjoying fellowship with GSW family, friends and supporters. Hearing the accolades of these alumni invokes a sense of GSW pride, and we are so excited to recognize them with such a special and festive event.”
Each of these awards holds special significance and has different criteria. The 2022 Alumni Awardees are:
- Aeolian Award recipient: Leon Holloway, ’73
- Canes Community Champion: Barry Blount, ’78
- Leewynn Finklea Award recipient: Amy Benton, ’90
- Visionary Award recipient: Hugh Yaughn, ’72
- Young Alumni of the Year: Qaijuan Willis, ’15
- Family Legacy Award recipients: The Terrell and (late) Janie Turner ’74 family
- Hall of Fame inductee: Brennon Sewell, ’74
More about the Outstanding Alumni:
After earning his undergraduate degree in political science in 1973, Holloway went on to become a premier florist and caterer known across the state and beyond. In 1977, Holloway purchased Gatewood’s Flower Shop from his Aunt Bette Duke, and he remains owner-operator to-date. He is a member of and has served in key roles with the Southwest Georgia Florist Association and the Georgia State Florist Association. In 1975, he and his cousin, Jane Slappey Kelly, formed Cousins Catering. Holloway also served on the decorating committee at the White House for President Carter’s inauguration and for the opening of the Carter Center in Atlanta.
Though he regrets he wasn’t more engaged on campus as a student, Holloway’s involvement in and support of his community now knows no bounds. He has been a member of the Andersonville Guild and served on its board of directors since its inception; is on the Board of Trustees for the Phoebe Sumter Foundation, where he is a member of the Wheatley Society; and is on the Board of Trustees for the GSW Foundation, where he is a member of the President’s Circle.
The Aeolian Award is given to an alumnus/alumna who has distinguished his/herself in their profession as well as in their community. This award is chosen based on outstanding lifetime achievement as a distinguished alumni and community leader.
Fewer names are more synonymous with Americus and the GSW community than Barry Blount. A lifetime resident of Americus and 1978 GSW graduate, Blount will be the recipient of the first-ever Canes Community Champion Award.
A 44-year veteran of the banking industry, Blount has served customers at SB&T Bank, People’s Community Bank and Citizens Bank of Americus. He may argue his most important constituents were those he served as Mayor of Americus during his 16 years in office. During his tenure as Mayor, Blount was truly a champion for GSW and higher education within the community, helping lead both GSW and South Georgia Technical College in the “Two Great Choices – One Great Community” campaign. His support of GSW can be traced to an early age when his father John Blount served on the faculty in the Department of History and Political Science.
Now a life trustee for the GSW Foundation, Blount has served as treasurer, secretary, vice chair and chairman. Additionally, he has served as chairman of the Sumter County Chamber of Commerce and the Sumter County Development Authority. In 2008, he received the Aeolian Award for his distinguished service to GSW and achievement within his own career.
The Canes Community Champion Award recognizes a dedicated servant of the community who shows a fervent record of collaboration with and advocacy for GSW.
Benton is a servant leader at heart and a Hurricane through and through. In addition to serving as the current president of the Alumni Association Board of Directors, she has a long resume with the Rotary Club of Peachtree City, including Rookie and Rotarian of the Year, and will serve as its next president. She earned a Bachelor of Science in biology from GSW in 1990 and received a teacher certification in grades 7-12 science, teaching 28 years of high school science in three states. She has won numerous awards in both teaching and in competitive cheer, serving as a coach for 23 years.
It’s no secret Benton bleeds blue and gold and her family does as well. She has served faithfully on the Alumni Association Board for eight years and has led the charge for nearly two years as president, unifying the board and fostering an environment of service to the University. Her husband Jeff, whom she met at GSW, is a double Cane, and she has a family full of GSW alumni, including son Bryce and his wife Kellie, daughter Brooke, sister Mandy, and brother-in-law Mike. She and her husband, who are both members of GSW’s President’s Circle of donors, can often be found at Kappa Delta Sorority and the Kappa Sigma Fraternity events or hosting reunions and events at their own home.
The Leewynn J. Finklea Award, named in honor of the University’s first alumni director, recognizes individuals who have demonstrated exceptional service to campus life, the alumni association or the University.
Yaughn may be retired, but he is working harder now than ever for foster children, at-risk youth and families in need in the Bulloch County community. A 1972 education graduate, he played baseball for GSW under Coach Knight three out of his four years on campus and was member of Pi Kappa Phi fraternity. With a background in education and a desire to coach, Yaughn spent years doing both and was named 2001 Tattnall County Teacher of the Year.
He has an incredible and long-lasting relationship with the Clemson University football program, where he worked high school football camps for 23 years. From 1993 until 2017, Yaughn helped Clemson on game days by setting up fans and heaters to keep the Tigers comfortable on the sideline.
Now in retirement and despite an auto-immune health challenge, he works tirelessly to serve needs in the Statesboro community with Fostering Bulloch, a Christian-based organization started by his son Chris that supports children in crisis situations. As part of that organization, Yaughn has been part of projects like Hope Chest, a 1,500 square foot emergency clothing closet that serves over 2,000 children annually, and 7th Mile Farm, a planned 30-acre outdoor recreation facility that will serve foster children and at-risk youth.
The Visionary Award is given to an alumnus/alumna who is an entrepreneur or innovator with the commitment to turn a vision into reality, the courage to assume risk, and the ability to make changes and take advantage of new opportunities.
Willis, who earned his bachelor’s degree in management in 2015, has quickly made a name for himself in the Americus community at only 30 years old. After getting his start as a student intern at the Sumter County Chamber of Commerce, he became program coordinator for the City of Americus and was promoted to Director in 2019. In this role, Willis has taken the Main Street Program to a new level and has brought the downtown vacancy rate to below 10%. He works tirelessly with the Downtown Development Authority to push for the necessary investments and improvements that are creating a vibrant downtown district. Under his leadership, the program has maintained an upward trajectory; the most recent community impact report reflects over $1.2 million in total public and private investment and can boast nearly 700 jobs in the downtown district alone.
Willis is also a passionate community advocate. He works closely with the youth through his role as a youth pastor and as a member of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee at Furlow Charter School. He serves on the Georgia Downtown Association Board of Directors, is a member of the Rotary Club of Americus and currently sits on the Board of Directors for the Sumter County Chamber of Commerce. Willis has led the Chamber Achievers Program and was recently awarded the President’s Impact Award at the Chamber’s Centennial Celebration.
Young Alumni of the Year is given to an emerging leader making waves in his/her field as a positive role model and positive reflection on the University. The recipient must have attended GSW within the past 15 years. Distinction in one’s career and/or community and service to GSW are also considered.
The Turner Family
Terrell Turner brought his teaching skills to GSW in 1967 as an instructor of mathematics. His presence, along with that of his wife, the late Janie Turner ‘74, was the catalyst that would sow the seeds for future generations of Hurricanes, both kin and colleague. In 1974, Terrell, the patriarch dubbed “Grandaddy” of the Turner family, and his department cohorts created the University’s annual High School Mathematics Tournament which is the longest running math competition in Georgia to-date. The Janie, Terrell’s wife of nearly 70 years and “Granny”, also made her mark as a member of the first class to graduate from GSW’s Master of Education program in 1974.
The couple’s three children and a couple of their spouses boast GSW alumni status: Dr. Jim Turner ‘83, Dr. Bobby Turner ’79 and his wife Lisa Turner ’80, Cheryl (Turner) Fletcher ’82, ’91 and her husband Mike Fletcher ’78 are all Hurricanes. Mike and Cheryl’s two children Michael Fletcher ’08 and Maggie (Fletcher) Moore ’12, ’20 received degrees from GSW as well. Cheryl serves as a member of the Alumni Association Board of Directors. They invest their gifts, talents and treasures and have created both a GSW bloodline three generations strong and an impressive academic lineage that invokes Hurricane pride which is sure to impact the next generation.
The Family Legacy Award recognizes one family with a tradition of attending GSW through multiple generations with continued interest in and support of the University. Outstanding service to GSW, the Alumni Association, their communities and their professions are also considered.
Sewell was inducted into the GSW Hall of Fame on April 25, 2022. He earned his Bachelor of Science in business administration with an accounting option in 1974. Sewell served as the head coach for GSW Tennis from fall 1995 until his retirement in 2022.
Throughout his 27 years of service to GSW, Coach Sewell put competitive programs on the court for both men’s and women’s tennis. He coached 20 NAIA All-Americans, six NAIA Academic All Americans and players who held 13 individual national rankings. Brennon was named Conference Coach of the Year on four separate occasions and in 2001, he led the Hurricane men’s tennis team to a NAIA National Runner-Up finish.
Individually, Sewell has been ranked in the top 10 in the state of Georgia for players aged 35-45 and was a past Georgia State Men’s Singles Champion. He was also a winner in the Father/Son Doubles Championships.
The GSW Athletics Hall of Fame Award recognizes excellence in competition as a student-athlete, coach or advocate.
These Alumni Award winners will be recognized at the inaugural Gold Force Gala on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023. The event begins with a cocktail reception and silent auction starting at 6 p.m. followed by dinner and the awards ceremony at 7 p.m. Tickets and sponsorships are available online at gsw.edu/GoldForceGala. Reservations are required and the deadline to register is Friday, December 30, 2022. For more information, call the GSW Alumni Association at 229-928-1373 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.