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WCU Stories



Chuck Holmes ’61 is the author of “The Sing,” a novel released by Deeds Publishing of Athens, Georgia. The book, set in the 1950s in a segregated small town, tells the story of a woman’s efforts to get her church’s black choir entered into a local singing competition. 


Former Super Bowl official Gerald Austin ’64 MAEd ’69 has become a consultant for the Oakland Raiders. Austin and Jon Gruden, the Raiders’ head coach, previously worked together when Austin was ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” officiating expert and Gruden served as an analyst. When Gruden returned to coaching in 2018, he chose Austin to help with officiating. Austin also spent 18 seasons in the NFL as a referee, retiring after the 2007 season. He has officiated in three Super Bowls – one as a side judge and two as a referee.  


When James “J.B.” Trotter Jr. ’70, former president of the Catamount Club, retired from his 40-year career in the marine industry, he wasn’t ready to sit back and relax. Trotter soon started doing substitute teaching, found he enjoyed the work and decided to become a lateral-entry teacher. At the age of 70, he is in his third year on the faculty at E. Lawson Brown Middle School in Thomasville, where he serves as the career and technical education synergistics teacher. Trotter and wife Marie Ann Parker ’71 (left) recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. 


Actor, musician and historian Kurt Sutton MAEd ’71 performs nationally as Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, the American writer and humorist. Sutton’s two-act interactive show of Twain witticisms and wisdom has pleased audiences all over the U.S. A former middle school and high school teacher and coach, Sutton sees his performances as a way to keep Twain, his literary idol, present in the world. He gave a performance at WCU’s Bardo Arts Center in 2013. 


Clay artist Richard Heiser ’74 and wife Marilyn have opened a new ceramics studio, Edenton Bay Clayworks. Heiser makes porcelain ceramics and stoneware in the studio, which is located in the downstairs portion of the couple’s Edenton home. He is a member of the Albemarle Craftsman’s Guild, an adjunct instructor at the College of The Albemarle and instructor of ceramics at Pocosin Arts School of Fine Craft in Columbia. 


Ed Holland ’75 has been elected president of the WCU Alumni Association. Holland recently retired from Friendship Missionary Baptist Church of Charlotte, where he held the position of church administrator since 2001. He was named recipient of the national Saucedo Award as church administrator of the year in 2015. Holland previously was an executive with Bank of America in Charlotte for 25 years. He and his wife, Debbie, live in Huntersville.


After more than 40 years as a football coach, Dan Brooks ’76 has retired. The defensive tackles coach at Clemson University for 10 years, Brooks was serving in 2017 when the Tigers defeated Alabama’s Crimson Tide to win the NCAA’s Division 1 championship. At Clemson, he coached several defensive tackles who went on to play in the NFL. Brooks is a recipient of the Football Bowl Subdivision Assistant of the Year Award from the American Football Coaches Association.

The Will & Deni McIntyre Foundation received a $15,000 grant from the Perry N. Rudnick Endowment of the Community Foundation of Henderson County to help fund the fourth season of the PBS television series “David Holt’s State of Music.” Will McIntyre ’76 and wife Deni Gladieux McIntyre, documentary filmmakers and photographers, established the foundation in 2009 to raise the profile of the arts and related nonprofit organizations through videos, books and photography. 


Brenda Kay Ledford MA ’79 is the author of a book of poetry, “Red Plank House,” published in October 2018 by Kelsay Books of American Fork, Utah. Ledford is an award-winning poet whose work is evocative of life in Appalachia. 


Carol Jean Bryne ’83 MAEd ’84 has retired after a 32-year career in teaching and coaching. Bryne began her career as a teacher in Gaston County Schools, serving as the women’s volleyball and basketball coach at North Gaston School. She taught physical education in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools for 22 years, completing her career as the school district’s physical education curriculum specialist.

Jeffrey Ryan ’83, professor of geology at the University of South Florida, has been elected to a one-year term on the executive board of the Council on Undergraduate Research of Washington, D.C. Ryan, who has served as a member of the council’s geosciences division for more than 20 years, is a former chair of the division. His teaching and research interests include geoscience education, marine petrology and geochemistry. Ryan received the WCU Alumni Association’s Academic Achievement Award in 2009.


Katherine Hefner ’84 MSN ’04 is chief nursing officer for St. Luke’s Hospital of Columbus. Hefner previously was chief nursing officer for eight years at Mission Hospital-McDowell in Marion. At St. Luke’s, she is responsible for nursing services, perioperative services, respiratory and rehabilitation services and hospital-based centers for pain treatment and chemotherapy.

Joel C. Reese ’84, librarian at the Iredell County Public Library in Statesville, has received a North Carolina Preservation Consortium award for preservation excellence. Now in his 25th year at the library, Reese has published more than 400 articles on history, genealogy and libraries.


Kenny Messer ’86, president of Sartomer Americas, a specialty chemical company located in the greater Philadelphia area, received the WCU Alumni Association’s Professional Achievement Award at Homecoming. A native of Haywood County, Messer is a member of the WCU Board of Trustees.


Neal Andrews ’87 is president-elect of the WCU Alumni Association and will take office next year. A member of the association’s board of directors, Andrews is a fifth-grade teacher at Northern Elementary School in Greensboro. He is a former Teacher of the Year for Guilford County Schools and the North Carolina central region’s Teacher of the Year.

After graduating from WCU, psychology major Teresa McKenzie ’87 joined the Air Force and became an inpatient psychiatry technician at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California. From there, she was assigned to Wiesbaden, Germany, during Operation Desert Storm to care for patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other traumas. She also served at Andrews Air Force Base in Washington, D.C., during her five-year career in the Air Force. McKenzie continues to serve veterans and other college-bound adults as accessibility coordinator and veteran’s service coordinator at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. She and husband Paul live in Ashland, Kentucky.


Windsteam, a telecommunications company based in Concord, promoted Debbie Gallagher ’90 to consultant for operations support. Gallagher, who joined the company in 2012, is responsible for local marketing campaigns and provides support for the company’s business in North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi. 


Zeta Tau Alpha, the national women’s fraternity, has re-elected Franlyna Charles Barrett ’94 to membership on its nine-member council. The council is elected every biennium to lead the organization. Barrett serves as secretary-treasurer.


John “J.C.” Connolly ’95 has been named president and CEO of NAC Semi Inc., a global company headquartered in Saint Petersburg, Florida. Connolly recently led a company team that successfully completed a management buyout. NAC Semi Inc. designs and distributes electronic parts. The company provides audio, lighting, embedded, networking and wireless communication equipment, supporting customers in high-power applications, military-aerospace, industrial automation, electric vehicles and alternative energy.  


“The Female Gaze,” a photographic exhibit by Jamie McCoy Azevedo ’96 of Williston, North Dakota, has been picked up by several art galleries for display through 2020 in North Dakota and Montana. For each piece sold at the exhibit, Azevedo mades a contribution to scholarships for female students in North Dakota. 


Tracy McLamb ’97 has been named general manager of The Daily Record and Sunbelt Press in Dunn. McLamb previously was the newspaper’s production manager and plant manager for Sunbelt, which was founded in 1983 as an outgrowth of The Daily Record. He has been a member of the staff for more than 19 years and has served as the paper’s deputy managing editor and staff photographer. McLamb was formerly a student photographer in WCU’s Office of Public Information.

J. Steven Roten ’97, director of theatre and performance studies at Meredith College in Raleigh, appeared in the television series “To Catch a Killer” on the Investigation Discovery network. Roten played a detective trying to solve a real-life murder for the episode. He has acted in numerous film and television productions, including “Ashby,” “Nashville,” “Dawson’s Creek” and others.


Wilmer Caraballo ’99 was inducted in August 2018 into the Greater Akron (Ohio) Baseball Hall of Fame. Caraballo, who moved to Akron after he graduated from WCU, has been a coach and teacher there for more than 15 years. Born in Puerto Rico, he played baseball in the minor leagues for eight seasons for teams affiliated with the New York Yankees, the New York Mets and the Chicago White Sox. 


K.C. Culler ’00 has been named assistant athletic director for athletic communications at Pfeiffer University in Misenheimer. Culler joins the Falcons staff after serving for four years as sports information director at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte. He was named the John Holley-Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association Sports Information Director of the Year for 2018.  


Jason Brown ’01 MPA ’08 has been named city manager of Claremont. Brown previously worked in law enforcement for more than 20 years, serving as chief deputy of the Henderson County Sheriff’s Office. He was responsible for a $20 million annual budget and more than 210 employees in Henderson County. 

Robert A. “Bobby” Cooper MPA ’01 has been named the city of Brevard’s first full-time fire chief. A fire fighter, engineer and emergency medical technician for the Brevard Fire Department for the past 10 years, Cooper also has served as Transylvania County’s emergency medical services director. He was formerly chief of Lake Toxaway Fire Rescue.

Kam A. McDonald ’01, social worker for Anson County Schools for the past 12 years, received the 2018 Gary L. Shaffer Award as North Carolina’s School Social Worker of the Year. McDonald was recognized for the support she provides to her community as well as her work in the schools. She serves on the board of directors of Toys for Tots, Shop With a Cop, the Homes of Hope traditional housing committee and the Community Care Network committee. She also is a member of several leadership teams for her school and district. 

Former standout basketball player Neil Rasnake ’01 is still in the game at age 41. Rasnake and a small group of friends from Council, Virginia, have formed a team called Showtime that has performed for a national audience for the past four summers in ESPN’s “The Basketball Tournament.” The single-elimination tournament features a winner-take-all prize of $2 million. Rasnake’s team has yet to take home the cash award, but did win one game in the challenging competition. Showtime defeated Wake the Nation, 68-55, in the early rounds of play in the 2018 tournament, then was beaten by Louisiana United, 88-61. 


Cathy James Adams ’04 has written her second novel, “A Body’s Just as Dead.” The book was published by Southern Fried Karma Press of Newnan, Georgia. Adams’ debut novel, “This Is What It Smells Like,” was published by New Libri Press of Mercer Island, Washington. Her work has appeared internationally in numerous journals. She lives in Liaoning, China. 

Matthew Hollar ’04 ME ’07, an operating partner of Oklahoma Joe’s Bar-B-Cue, has worked his way up in the restaurant business in the years since graduating. Hollar, former student intern at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, was responsible for opening Oklahoma Joe’s new $2.4 million restaurant at Daytona International Speedway in November 2018. Hollar is currently working to bring the Ace Café London brand to Florida. He previously was employed by Bloomin’ Brands company, known for Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Bonefish Grill and Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar.

The YMCA of Greenville, South Carolina, has promoted Cameron McDowell ’04 to executive director of its Eastside Family YMCA in Taylors, South Carolina. McDowell was formerly the operations director for the GHS Family YMCA in Simpsonville, South Carolina. In the new position, he has returned to the same YMCA

where he started his career as sports director in 2007.

Brantley Smith ’04, who worked at Motion Makers Bicycle Shop in Sylva while he was attending WCU, now owns his own bicycle shop, Ride-A-Bike of Gastonia. It is the same shop where Smith spent his spare time learning about bicycle maintenance and repair as a teenager growing up in Gastonia.

Cataldo Perrone ’05 has been named communications director for Buncombe County. Perrone joined county government more than seven years ago as a multimedia specialist and social media manager. Since that time, he has produced 24 award-winning projects for various county departments. One of the projects, a documentary titled “Slave Deeds of Buncombe County,” won seven national awards and a Silver Telly award. A campaign he helped develop, “Project Still Standing,” has attracted widespread community support. Its goal is to increase public awareness of resources available for people looking to leave abusive relationships.


Artist Heidi Leitzke MFA ’06 is an assistant professor of art at Millersville (Pennsylvania) University. Leitzke also serves as director of the Eckert Art Gallery there. Her recent work, which makes use of thread and embroidery to create landscapes, plants, gardens and imaginary worlds, has been exhibited in galleries in Philadelphia and New York. She is the former manager of public art in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.


Sylva native Julia Cody Utke ’08 and her team at NASCAR Productions won a 2018 Sports Emmy in the outstanding social television media category. The award is the second Emmy award in the same category for Utke, the team’s production manager. She also has assisted with a feature-length documentary about the life of NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt and worked for three seasons on the Nickelodeon show “Hammer Down.” Utke lives in Denver, north of Charlotte.


Kyle Perkins ’09 and Keat Perkins ’14 own and operate a high-technology garment-decorating retail store, Big Front Customer T-Shirts & More, of Raleigh. The franchise, which opened in October 2018, has more than 90 locations nationwide. The husband-and-wife team owned a web-design business before opening the franchise operation. 


Jake Allen ’10 and Bart Roberts, who met in an entrepreneur class at WCU, are owners of a new brewery, Southern Strain Brewing Company, in Concord. The brewery, which opened in late 2018, is located in an older downtown building once occupied by the textile plant Cannon Mills.

Matthew Hoagland ’10 is Caswell County’s new planner. Hoagland, who joined county government in July 2018, was formerly an executive recruiter in the construction and development industries. A native of Rutherford County, he also serves on the Economic Development Commission and the Caswell Historical Association. 

Daniel Wright MSA ’10 has been named principal of Bunn High School in Franklin County. Wright has served public education in Franklin County for 21 years. He previously was a social studies teacher at Bunn Middle School and Bunn High School, where he most recently was assistant principal. Wright was honored as the county’s Assistant Principal of the Year in 2014. 


Logan Sherrill ’11, television anchor at WDBJ7 in Roanoke, Virginia, received an Emmy award from the National Capital Chesapeake Bay Chapter of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Sherrill won the award for his business and consumer reporting in a November 2017 segment about the return of Amtrak passenger train service from Roanoke to Washington, D.C. Sherrill previously was a reporter at WJZY, the Fox television station in Charlotte, for three years. In his work, Sherrill has traveled all over the U.S. to cover stories, including major storms, NASCAR races, football and basketball playoffs, and more.  As a WCU student, he served as general manager of WWCU, the campus FM radio station, and was a commentator for Catamount football and basketball games. 


Amber Anderson ’12 and Justin Radford of Forest City were married Sept. 22, 2018.  Anderson is a special education teacher in Shelby. Radford teaches music in the elementary schools of Rutherford County. 

Abi Aparajithan MAEd ’12 and Whit France-Kelly MAEd ’11 were married on July 5, 2018, in Waynesville. They shared the day with many former WCU classmates, along with Paws, the official Catamount mascot.

Joey Blake ’12 is head team dietitian for the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams, based in Thousand Oaks, California. Blake joined the Rams’ staff in 2017, after serving as the director of football nutrition for the University of South Carolina’s Gamecocks. He previously was a sports dietitian assistant at the University of Tennessee. Blake, a licensed dietitian, is a member of the Collegiate Professional Sports Dietitian Association.

Anissa Davina Studley ’12  serves as program director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency’s 4Kids program. Studley takes programs to children in kindergarten through grade five in schools all over the state. The goal of MEMA 4Kids is to help children be prepared early in life for disasters that might happen in their state, while teaching them about geography and increasing literacy. The program has served more than 10,000 students in schools and more than 15,000 at community events.


David Battaly ’13 serves as the area coordinator for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency in Pearl, Mississippi. Battaly is the MEMA liaison for all emergency management activities in his region. He joined the agency in the spring of 2017.


Alex Hairston ’14 is a member of the cast of the Tony Award-winning show “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” on Broadway in New York City. Hairston has two roles, playing a member of the Shirelles vocal group and a character named Janelle Woods. The production is based on the life and music of the famous singer-songwriter and composer.

Jeremy Wilson ’14, an Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Tribal Council representative, has been appointed to the advisory board of WCU’s Cherokee Center. Wilson has worked for the Eastern Band as a fitness trainer and an executive administrator for the tribal Public Health and Human Services Division. He also owns a photography business.


Gariann Yochym MSW ’15 is serving as case worker for the Waynesville Police Department’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program. The program allows low-level drug offenders to undergo a course of treatment in lieu of prosecution. Yochym is employed by the nonprofit group Harm Reduction Coalition. 


The Tryon community has come together to pledge full support for Trevor Arrowood ’17, son of their longtime police chief Jeff Arrowood and his wife, Kerry. Trevor Arrowood is undergoing chemotherapy after being diagnosed with a cancerous sarcoma in his heart in July 2018. Shops and other businesses hosted a fundraising barbecue for young Arrowood, a graduate of Polk County High School who recently finished his first year as a police officer in Rock Hill, South Carolina. 

Catherine Linton ’17 completed an internship at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. While there, Linton developed a plan for rotating artifacts in and out of a major exhibit that was selected for presentation at the Southeastern Museum Conference’s Student Work in Museums awards program. The conference was held in October 2018 in Jackson, Mississippi. Linton is studying for a master’s degree in public history at N.C. State University. 


Emily Bledsoe ’18 has been hired as special events coordinator for the city of Abbeville, South Carolina. As a WCU student, Bledsoe often assisted with local festivals, including Mountain Heritage Day and the Dillsboro Festival of Lights and Luminaries. In her new full-time position, Bledsoe works in the town’s city hall inside the historic Abbeville Opera House. 

Kelly McCarty ’18 has joined Circuit Playhouse Inc., one of Tennessee’s resident professional theatre companies. McCarty is among 16 recent college graduates hired as associate members to assist in all phases of production. A native of Peachtree City, Georgia, she recently performed in “Little Women: The Broadway Musical.” Circuit Playhouse Inc. has two theatres – Playhouse on the Square and The Circuit Playhouse – both in Memphis.

CORRECTION: An actor working with R. Keith Harris ’92 in “The Walking Dead” was misidentified as Lennie Jones in the fall 2018 edition of this magazine. The actor pictured with Harris is Seth Gilliam.

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