McKendree University Announces its 2020 Alumni Award Recipients

Akers Award, Loyal Service, Academy of Excellence, Rising Stars, Sports Hall of Fame

(LEBANON, Ill., October 5, 2020) — McKendree University celebrated the lives and contributions of some of its distinguished alumni during a homecoming weekend virtual awards presentation on Saturday, Oct. 3. Chosen by the alumni board, the 2020 honorees have made exceptional contributions to the university, their professions and communities.

“These are men and women who have built upon their McKendree education,” said Alumni Association President Ryan Furniss. “They have made, and continue to make, a difference in the world.”

Peter Akers Award

The Reverend Dr. George Pence, of Sebring, Fla., received the highest alumni honor, the Peter Akers Award for professional success, outstanding service and loyalty.

Pence received a B.A. in history and philosophy from McKendree in 1961, an M.A. in social science from the University of Illinois, an M.T.S. from Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in church history and ethics and a Ph.D. in administration of higher education and statistics from Saint Louis University.

He and his late wife, Ione, a 1962 McKendree graduate, lived in Edwardsville, Ill., in the 1960s. As a student, Pence was a member of Plato and served as its president, participated in Sigma Zeta biology honor society and was student assistant to Dr. Otha Clark in the history department. Soon after graduating from McKendree, he was ordained a deacon in the Methodist Church. Both Pence and his late wife Ione, a 1962 McKendree graduate, worked for their alma mater from 1965 to 1969. Pence was very instrumental in furthering the development of the admission process and he served as the first director of admission. In memory of his wife, the Ione K. Pence Endowed Scholarship was established.

Pence continued his career in higher education as a professor and the director of admissions at Saint Louis University and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University before finishing his theology degree and becoming an Episcopal priest. He served as an assistant scout master for the local Boy Scout Troop while living in Texas. He served on the City Planning and Zoning Commission and was a member of the local Rotary Club no matter where he lived. After living for many years in Illinois, Pence moved to Florida, where he now enjoys life with his dog, cat, and friends, being involved in the local parish, and tending his flower garden and 20 pineapple plants.

Loyal Service Award

Jackie Leemon, of Wellington, Fla., received the 2020 Loyal Service Award, given for long and continuous service to the university. Leemon earned a bachelor’s degree in 1985 with an individualized major and a minor in psychology. She received an MBA from Pepperdine University in California in 1989. She has been a member of the McKendree board of trustees since 2009. She and her parents, Chuck and Pat Leemon, have had a long-standing relationship with McKendree. Both parents have endowed scholarships named for them and their daughter established the Janet Leemon Hakala Endowed Scholarship for music students. Leemon Athletic Field was named in honor of herher parents.

The owner of Victory Lane Farm in Wellington, Leemon has enjoyed a wide-ranging career in horse training, riding and designing equestrian courses and is one of the few course designers who also competes. She has received Grand Prix ribbons from competitions across the U.S. and has competed internationally in England, Germany, Holland and Canada. In addition, she has been a United States Equestrian Federation licensed jumper course designer since 2008. She has designed internationally, for venues and events such as the Winter Equestrian Festival, and she was one of only two Americans on the course design team at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Academy of Excellence

Four alumni entered the Academy of Excellence in 2020 for social science, community service, nursing and health professions, and business. Each has contributed to the honor and prestige of the university and has demonstrated in their professions the values imparted by a liberal arts education.

Social Sciences

Sgt. Calvin Dye Jr., earned a degree in sociology in 2003 and began his career as an Illinois state trooper in 2004. In 2013, he became the safety education and media liaison officer, and was certified as a special agent. In May 2019, he was named southern recruitment coordinator and the internship coordinator for central and southern Illinois. In February 2020, he was promoted to the rank of sergeant. Dye is a Belleville YMCA board member, Team Illinois Youth Police Camp coordinator, Belleville West High School volunteer varsity basketball coach, and member of the Cultural Diversity Board at Wolf Branch School in Swansea, Ill.

He regularly attends the university’s Career Fair to recruit students and help with internships and has been a guest lecturer for several courses on campus. In 2020, he joined the Alumni Association Board.

Community Service

Judy Beasley, a 1969 graduate, studied education at McKendree, where she was a member of Alpha Omega sorority. She retired as an educator after 33 years working in the Cahokia, Ill., school district. She has also presented to reading teachers throughout the Midwest. Beasley is a member of the Collinsville Women’s Club, and co-chaired its eighth annual Empty Bowls program, which raised more than $16,000 for the Collinsville Food Pantry. She is also active in First United Methodist Church in Collinsville, Ill., and recently served as secretary-treasurer of her church committee.

Her service work reflects the values of her McKendree education, the importance of giving back, and her strong Methodist ties. She believes it is important for young women to be college-educated and discussed this with her students during her teaching career. She often returns to her alma matter to attend homecoming festivities or a performance at the Hettenhausen Center for the Arts.

Nursing and Health Professions

Dr. Lisa Greene, a 1988 graduate, grew up in southern Illinois on her parents’ dairy farm. She studied biology at McKendree, where she was involved in the biology honors group and Gamma Sigma Sigma sorority. She earned a Doctor of Optometry degree at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. In 1994, Greene moved with her family to the Asheville, N.C., area and joined Asheville Vision Associates in 1996, and in 2008 became the owner of the Biltmore Park Town Square location. She is a member of the American Optometric Association, North Carolina Optometric Society, Mountain District Optometric Society, Leadership OD and the Optometric Nutrition Society.

She has participated in 10 international clinics and many regional vision vans with OneSight, which serves the poor and provides eyeglasses, and was selected for the inaugural panel of the OneSight Doctor Advisory Board. During a 2008 visit to a clinic in El Salvador, she established contact with an orphanage that cares for abused and neglected girls. Almas Unidas-Hearts United is the non-profit that she founded to continue support abroad. It provides humanitarian aid to help young girls break the cycle of poverty and abuse. In Ecuador, projects focus on children in one of the poorest communities of Isla de Trinitario, providing basic school supplies such as books, paper and pencils.


David Kosten came to McKendree as a transfer student to study marketing. He graduated in 1995 and went on to earn a master’s degree from Washington University in St. Louis. He has had a very successful career in business, serving as vice president, human resources and talent acquisition for The Children’s Place; senior vice president, global human resources for GUESS; executive vice president, human resources at A|X Armani Exchange for 12 years; and in human resources and benefits positions for MetLife, Arthur Andersen and J.Crew. He is currently vice president of human resources, operations and engagement for Barnes & Noble, Inc.

Rising Stars

Rising Star Awards recognize graduates of the last decade who have had significant success in their careers or impact in their communities.

Allison Poehler, a 2012 graduate, majored in biology at McKendree, where she served as secretary of Sigma Zeta math and science honor society and as president and vice president of Sigma Sigma Sigma sorority. She was a Student Ambassador, New Student Orientation leader, University 101 peer mentor and a member of the women’s cross-country team.

She went on to earn a master’s degree in public health from Washington University in St. Louis. There she was involved in Women in Leadership, served as a Peer Orientation volunteer and a graduate research assistant, and worked at the Prevention Research Center. Poehler was a practicum student on the AIM-Local Health project (Adoption & Implementation of Evidence to Mobilize Local Health) for the Washington University School of Medicine.

She has served as a disease control specialist for the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health. Currently self-employed as a public health consultant, she advises private businesses on establishing employee and corporate-level policies to promote and ensure employee health, prepare for and respond to public health emergencies, and mitigate impacts on business operations. Her work currently focuses on COVID-19 preparedness and response.

Max Aviles, a 2017 graduate, studied international relations at McKendree, where he was an honors program student and a member of Phi Kappa Phi, Phi Eta Sigma, Pi Gamma Mu and Pi Sigma Alpha honor societies. He was a peer tutor, a member of the All In Campus Democracy Challenge Committee, and a participant in Model United Nations, state Lobby Day rallies, and the alternative spring break service trip to help needy families in Jamaica. As a political and legislative intern for the United Food and Commercial Workers, he worked on the successful campaign of Illinois State Representative Katie Stuart. During his senior year, Aviles received the prestigious and highly competitive Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship and the Tanaka Educational Trust Technos International Prize.

In 2019 he earned a Master of Arts degree in international relations from the University of San Diego and completed an internship in Budapest, Hungary. He was sworn in as a U.S. Department of State diplomat in last October and is currently assigned to Nouakschoot, Mauritania in northwest Africa.

Sports Hall of Fame

Entering the McKendree Bearcat Sports Hall of Fame in 2020 are Evelyn Bean, former women’s volleyball and softball coach; A.J. Johnson, Class of 2014, bowling; Scott Roberts, Class of 2009, hockey; and Lanece Clarke, Class of 2010, track and field. Read more about the new Hall of Famers here.