McKendree University Honors Outstanding Alumni

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

(LEBANON, Ill., October 18, 2018) — McKendree University will honor several of its accomplished alumni at its annual awards dinner on Oct. 27 at the St. Clair Country Club in Belleville, Ill. Chosen by the alumni board, the 2018 awardees have made their mark in their professions, communities and at their alma mater.

Peter Akers Award

The Reverend Dr. Miley Palmer, of Decatur, Ill., will receive the highest alumni honor, the Peter Akers Award for professional success, outstanding service and loyalty. The 1958 McKendree graduate majored in English with a history minor and was involved in the Philosophian Society, chorus, Chapel Choir, Men’s Quartet, wrestling team, Methodist Student Movement, and school newspaper. He co-founded “Help Week,” which replaced “Hell Week” and began a tradition of student volunteer service in the community.

He earned a master’s degree in Divinity from Garrett Biblical Institute and a doctoral degree in Ministry from Christian Theological Seminary. For 42 years he served as a pastor at a variety of churches in the UMC Illinois Great Rivers Conference (IGRC), including nine years as campus minister at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and six years as superintendent of the Peoria District (93 total churches).

After retiring, he became a full time chaplain at Decatur Memorial Hospital, where he served for 20 years on the Institutional Review Board and Medical Ethics Committee. Palmer is currently Minister of Visitation for First United Methodist Church in Decatur. He is involved in interfaith activities, particularly with a local mosque, and enjoys preaching across denominations, from Unitarian to Roman Catholic. He has composed 18 hymns and written a book to provide a curriculum for use in the church. He has helped recruit 36 men and women to the Methodist ministry.

He has been honored by Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Theta Phi Honors fraternity, and the IGRC. He helps guide Decatur’s Racial Taboo initiative and received the local NAACP chapter’s Joe Slaw Civil Rights Award. A Rotarian for 43 years, he has held every local leadership role in his Rotary Club.

Palmer is a proud alumnus, William McKendree Society donor, McKendree University trustee, Friend of the Hett and Bearcat Booster who visits his alma mater often. He served as president of the Alumni Association Board of Directors and was an Alumni Board member for more than 20 years.

He and his wife Janet have four children: Elizabeth, Mary, Michael, and Patricia; five grandchildren, nine great grandchildren, and one great-great grandchild.

Loyal Service Award

Paul Kettwich, of O’Fallon, Ill., will receive the 2018 Loyal Service Award. He graduated in 1973 with a degree in physical education from McKendree, where he was active in Phi Rho Chi fraternity (also known as Ferox), Student Congress and the Inter-Society Council. He was the sophomore class vice president, McKendree Review editor, resident assistant, and member of the basketball team for one year.

Kettwich worked for many years in the claims department for several insurance companies, including Royal Insurance and Florists’ Mutual Insurance, retiring after 40 years. Originally from Minonk, Ill., he now resides in O’Fallon, where he is active in the First Baptist Church and its mission trip to Cuba. He is affiliated with the Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, Southern Illinois Scottish Rite, Shriners International, and as an Honor Flight Guardian. He is also an avid fan of high school, college and professional sports.

He is a member of the William McKendree Society, Bearcat Booster Club, Sports Hall of Fame Selection Committee and Ferox Alumni. He has volunteered for the university’s Graduation Celebration Dinner and contributes to its Annual Fund.

Academy of Excellence

Three alumni will enter the university’s Academy of Excellence for achievement, leadership and character in social science, community service and the nursing or health profession. Honorees have made exceptional contributions to the honor and prestige of the university and have demonstrated the values imparted by a liberal arts education in their professions or chosen fields.

Social Science

Dr. John Pleas, of Nashville, Tenn., and formerly of East St. Louis, Ill., graduated in 1960 with a degree in biology from McKendree, where he was in the Concert Choir and played basketball. He earned a master’s degree from the University of Illinois and a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Vanderbilt University. Beginning his career as a cancer research technician, he transitioned into counseling and administrative positions at a community-oriented narcotic rehabilitation program and as co-director of the Vanderbilt University weight management program.

In the last two decades of his career, he was a professor at Middle Tennessee State University, where he was the director of the African-American Studies Program and undergraduate coordinator of psychology. The John Pleas Faculty Award, presented annually to an outstanding minority faculty member, was named in his honor in 1996. He received the 1999 Outstanding Teaching Award and upon his retirement in 2004, was designated Emeritus Professor of Psychology.

Dr. Pleas’ obesity research was published in psychological and medical journals. Throughout his career, he gave numerous conference presentations on long-term obesity treatment outcomes, wellness and the physical and psychological benefits of walking.

In 1992, Dr. Pleas and his siblings, all graduates of East St. Louis, Ill., schools, established the Henry and Daisy Pleas Memorial Scholarship in honor of their parents, who lived in the city for more than 70 years. At least 32 graduates of Lincoln and East St. Louis Senior High Schools, including a McKendree student, have received scholarships.

Community Service

Charmaine Savage, of East St. Louis, Ill., graduated from McKendree in 1989 with a business degree and a minor in computer science. She went on earn a master’s degree from Webster University.

The retired U.S. Navy commander (O-5) served as a human resource officer for 21 years. She was deployed to Baghdad for 11 months during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Her military awards and decorations include the Bronze Star, Defense Meritorious Service and Iraq Campaign Medals, and numerous Navy service medals, awards and unit commendations.

Retiring from active duty in 2010, Savage accepted a civil service assignment at the Naval Special Warfare Command, headquarters for the U.S. Navy Seals, in San Diego, Calif. As a military personnel officer (GS-14), she developed innovative products and metrics leading to significant cost savings, greater transparency and improved responsiveness in military human resources programs. She earned the Navy Superior Civilian Service Award, the second highest honor in the Navy’s civilian awards program.

The founder and executive director of the nonprofit corporation I Am East STL is committed to improving the brand and image of her hometown. Savage also serves on the Memorial Hospital board of directors.

Nursing and Health Professions

Dr. Karyle Penelton, of Edwardsville, Ill., majored in psychology with minors in physical education and management, graduating in 2003. As a student she was involved in women’s basketball, track and field, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Psychology Club and the psychology honor society. She volunteered at Second Chance Homeless Shelter and became a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Epsilon Iota chapter. She went on to earn a Doctorate of Physical Therapy from Washington University in St. Louis.

Dr. Penelton is the center manager at SSM Health Physical Therapy in Swansea, Ill., overseeing the clinic’s daily operations, marketing and development, and treating patients of all ages, many of whom have industrial or sports injuries.

She participates in Relay for Life fundraising and SSM Health Physical Therapy’s Run for the Mission, and she volunteers as a high school basketball coach. She loves watching, playing and attending sports, and enjoys connecting with her former teammates. She is an Annual Fund contributor and a McKendree University online ambassador.

Rising Stars

Rising Stars are McKendree University graduates of the past decade who have made significant achievements in their professions or chosen fields, and who have been highly involved with the university or their communities.

Dr. Patrick Sears, of Troy, Ill., graduated in 2008 with a degree in psychology. At McKendree, he participated in New Student Orientation, the Psychology Club and Psi Chi honor society. He studied clinical psychology at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and upon completing his master’s degree, published his thesis on stigma and mental illness in a peer-reviewed journal. He earned a Doctor of Psychology degree in 2015 from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Dr. Sears completed his doctoral internship with the Federal Bureau of Prisons and wrote his dissertation on the use of self-disclosure during the clinical intake process.

He is a licensed clinical psychologist and commissioned officer with the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS), an all-officer branch of service led by the Surgeon General, composed of healthcare providers and public health professionals. During national public health emergencies, USPHS officers deploy to provide emergency healthcare services. Dr. Sears assisted in the Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Florence relief missions.

He teaches part-time at McKendree University and voluntarily participates in community outreach on topics such as substance abuse and suicide prevention. When he is not deployed, Dr. Sears is detailed to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. He is the mental health treatment coordinator of his institution and serves in leadership positions related to diversity enrichment and crisis support services.

Erin Conner, of Belleville, Ill., graduated in 2008 with a degree in biology and political science. She was a standout on McKendree’s speech and debate team, winning four Pi Kappa Delta National Championships and advancing to the finals at the 2008 American Forensic National Individual Events Tournament. She was the 2007-2008 Illinois Student Lincoln Laureate; 2008 Political Science Award winner; and a member of the Student Government Association, Honors Program, Phi Kappa Phi, Pi Gamma Mu and Sigma Zeta honor societies.

Conner graduated in 2011 from Saint Louis University School of Law and worked as a legislative intern for Illinois Congressman Jerry Costello. A licensed attorney in Illinois and Missouri, she was an assistant public defender in St. Clair County from 2011 to 2014. In 2014, she became an assistant state’s attorney, currently assigned to the Violent Crimes Unit. She is the St. Clair Bar Association vice president and a member of the Young Lawyers Committee, East St. Louis Bar Association, Belleville Human Relations Commission and Walnut Hill Cemetery Board. She has taught criminal justice classes at McKendree.

Ashley Garland-Simpson, of Belleville, Ill., studied psychology at McKendree, where she sang in the Concert Choir and was engaged in Greek life as a member of Alpha Omega Sorority. Graduating in 2008, she went on to obtain a master’s degree in criminal justice from Kaplan University. She is currently studying child and adolescent psychology at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology.

Garland-Simpson works in social services, with almost ten years of experience with at risk youth and their families. She serves as a lead adoption foster care case manager, intern task instructor and child protection trainer. She is certified as an Illinois Direct Service Child Welfare Employee.

Braden Posey, of Columbia, Mo., earned a degree in economics and finance. On campus, he participated in debate, men’s soccer and the Student Government Association. He graduated in 2010 and  completed his J.D. from the University Of Missouri School Of Law in 2013.

A franchise owner of Supplement Superstores, he has opened four locations in the last three years. He enjoys soccer and weight lifting and is an avid Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner.

Posey is a member of the McKendree Bearcat Boosters and the Alumni Association Board of Directors, serving on its Personal and Professional Development Committee.

Entering the McKendree Bearcat Sports Hall of Fame in 2018 are Jim Monken, Class of 1960, former football coach; Rory O’Connell, Class of 2000, football; Jenna (Shellenberg) Busler, Class of 2007, women’s soccer; and Brady Stewart, Class of 2005, professional powerlifter. Read more about the new Hall of Famers at