Alumni Association to honor 7 graduates for achievement, service at Homecoming banquet
09/29/2004

Three alumni of Fort Hays State University have been selected as recipients of this year's Alumni Association Achievement Award for outstanding, unselfish contributions in service to community, state or nation, both as citizens in their chosen careers and through philanthropy.

Three others will be awarded the Young Alumni Award, which recognizes 10- through 15-year graduates for professional and educational achievement, community activities, honors and awards or other accomplishments since graduation.

And Eli Boucher, Hays, a 1943 graduate and longtime volunteer and FHSU advocate, will receive the Nita M. Landrum Award for alumni or friends who have provided sustained volunteer service for the betterment of the Alumni Association, or the university, in their communities.

The awards will be presented at the annual Alumni and Endowment Awards Reception and Banquet Oct. 8, during Homecoming celebrations at FHSU.

The 2004 Alumni Achievement Award recipients are Charles G. Comeau, class of 1978, chairman of the board, president and creative director of DFC Holdings, Plainville; Fred P. Unruh, Rochester Hills, MI, who earned degrees from FHSU in 1941 and '47, retired manager of academic affairs for the Chrysler Corporation; and C. Robert Wetzel, Johnson City, TN, who earned a master's degree in 1958 from FHSU, president of Emmanuel School of Religion and president of the World Convention of Churches of Christ.

The Young Alumni Award recipients are Richard J. Baier, class of 1987, Lincoln, NE, director of the Nebraska Department of Economic Development; Dustin D. Smith, San Francisco, CA, class of 1994, creative director and head of art for DDB Worldwide Communications Group Inc.-San Francisco, Calif.; and Gerard J. Wellbrock, a 1990 graduate, Hays, sports director for Eagle Radio and "voice of the Tigers."

The FHSU Alumni Association, established in 1916, is dedicated to identifying and serving the needs of more than 37,000 graduates living throughout the United States and 61 foreign countries.

Charles G. "Chuck" Comeau
Petroleum geologist to designer and manufacturer of up-market furnishings is not a leap that you would expect in the ordinary course of things. But that is precisely the jump that Charles "Chuck" Comeau made back in 1992-93.

"I worked for 10 years as a petroleum geologist," he said. "My love of design and beautiful things led me to begin a custom furniture manufacturing company, Dessin Fournir."

The business he started then, the Dessin Fournir Companies, with headquarters in Plainville, has grown from three employees to almost 120 in seven related businesses. The business operates in 15 cities across the United States and in nine European countries, and has a clientele with names such as Sir Elton John, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Bill Clinton.

His latest project is the renovation of Hays' historic downtown, for which he formed the Liberty Group to turn the Chestnut Street District into "a unique retail and entertainment district."

Comeau was graduated from FHSU in 1978 with a bachelor of science in earth science. He was executive vice president and exploration manager for Liberty Enterprises Inc., Plainville, until 1987, when he became president and chairman of the board for Rooks County Savings, a position he filled until 1989, when he returned to Liberty Enterprises as its executive VP and exploration manager.

" Hays, Plainville, western Kansas and Fort Hays State University are all fortunate to have an association with Chuck and to be the recipients of his talents and projects, both economically and aesthetically," said Nancy Curtis, of Curtis Construction, Hays.

Thanks to his excellent business skills, she said, he has become a major contributor to Plainville with the employment numbers and the attention that have come from national recognition and design awards. Dessin Fournir was named one of the top three furniture design firms in the United States by 300 of the country's top interior designers.

Comeau also serves his community. He has served on the board of Sacred Heart Church, on the Plainville Memorial Library Board and on the Kansas Inc. Board. He still serves on the Rooks County Health Center Board; the Plainville Community Foundation Board; the Plainville High School Educational Advisory Board; and the Kansas State University Textile and Interior Design Advisory Board.

In 1999, he was a winner of the Platinum Award from Awards for Design Excellence, the awards program for product design of furniture, fixtures and finishes marketed to the design trade. In 2000, he received the Hometown Community Pride Award from Plainville State Bank, and in 2001 the Award of Merit from the Kansas Department of Commerce and Housing. In 2003 he was named Leader of the Year by the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development and was selected for a KDOCH Kansas Business Appreciation Month Regional Award.

For 2004, he has been named to House and Garden Magazine's Best of the Best -- Top 3 Furniture to the Trade.

For Plainville, Comeau said, the successes of Dessin Fournir "has re-energized our local economy and stands as a testament of the potential that exists for rural communities throughout Kansas."

" It is my belief that for small towns in rural Kansas to survive, we have to address rural economic development and quality-of-life issues. I have consistently strived, both through business and personally, to promote these ideas."

Fred P. Unruh
" He always typified the definition of a gentleman -- courteous, gracious, and honorable," Max W. Johnson writes about his former colleague at Chrysler Corp., Fred Unruh. Johnson and Unruh were together at Chrysler for 20 years, both retiring in 1975. Johnson, at the time of retirement, was director of the Chrysler Institute of Engineering and Unruh was manager of Academic Affairs.

" As the developer and administrator of Chrysler's Management Trainee Program, he had the opportunity to guide and develop young college graduates, many of whom advanced to levels of responsibility in relatively few years," said Johnson.

Unruh graduated from FHSU in 1941 with a bachelor's degree in social science, and the next spring went to war, serving with the U.S. Army Air Corps Weather Service at air fields in Arizona and California as well as in Saipan, Guam and Okinawa, where he was awarded a Bronze Star and three Battle Stars.

After returning from war, he earned a master of science degree in history and educational administration at FHSU and a year later began using his education as a teacher of social studies at Minneapolis High School, Minneapolis, Kan. From 1948-50 he taught undergraduate American and European history courses at Fort Hays Kansas State College.

In 1953 he earned a Ph.D. in European history and educational administration from the University of Missouri, Columbia, and then went to work as a historian for the U.S. Ordnance Tank-Automotive Command in Detroit, Mich.

His career with Chrysler started in 1955, during which he developed and presented corporate management training programs, supervised and coordinated various educational and training programs, served on advisory committees to the University of Detroit, Wayne State University and local community colleges and high schools.

When he retired from Chrysler, Unruh went to Wayne State's Business School as associate professor of management and director of professional development programs. A Wayne State colleague, John G. Maurer, dean for business administration, said that Unruh immediately headed up the Business School's drive to achieve national accreditation from the American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business Administration, which was achieved in 1976. Unruh was instrumental in gaining accreditation for the school's MBA program.

Unruh has also worked with the United Foundation, University Without Walls, the Sloan Fellowship, Merit Scholarship Award Winners, University Night Schools, college recruiting, junior achievement, foreign interns and MBA programs for executives. Since retiring from Wayne State in 1984, he has served as a guest lecturer and speaker on World War II for students visiting at the Older Persons' Center in Rochester, Mich., and as a consultant to numerous non-profit agencies as a member of the Detroit Executive Service Corps.

Maurer noted his dedication to higher education. Unruh, he said, was involved in the start-up of Wayne County Community College in Detroit and the Michigan State University Management Education Center in Troy.

C. Robert Wetzel
" I shall always be grateful for the opportunity to do graduate studies there from 1956-58," writes C. Robert Wetzel of what was then Fort Hays Kansas State College. Wetzel went on to earn a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Nebraska, studying there on the basis of his academic work at FHSU, and is now president of Emmanuel School of Religion in Johnson City, Tenn. In July, he took on the post of president of the World Convention of Churches of Christ, a body serving Christian Churches, Disciples of Christ and Churches of Christ.

Before coming to FHSU to earn an M.S. in literature and philosophy, Wetzel had earned a bachelor of arts in ministries from Midwest Christian College in Oklahoma City and had taken his first pastorate in Oakley. He did not then plan on graduate studies, he says,"and, given the nature of my undergraduate degree, my opportunities for graduate study were limited. Fort Hays provided that opportunity."

" What I found at Fort Hays was not only a quality academic program, but also an advisor in Dr. Sam Hamilton who was to become one of the decisive influences in my life."

Wetzel's career since includes 19 years at Milligan College, Tennessee, serving as an assistant professor, associate professor and professor of philosophy, chair of the Area of Humane Learning, director of the Summer School, director of Self-Study, academic dean and director of the Humanities Program. At Milligan, he developed a philosophy major and led a major revision of the general education requirement resulting in the Humanities Program -- a 24-semester-hour core "for all students in which history, literature, philosophy and the fine arts were taught as an integrated whole."

When he left Milligan, he received the Fide et Amore Award for distinguished service.

For 11 years, beginning in 1980, he was founding principal of Springdale College (now, after merging with Birmingham Bible Institute, Birmingham Christian College) in Birmingham, England. Springdale, he said, was funded by the American Christian Churches to help sister churches in England to re-establish their theological training college. He was, during this same time, a recognized lecturer at the University of Birmingham.

He returned to the United States in 1991 to join Emmanuel School of Religion as professor of philosophical theology and ethics. Wetzel was also the first director of the Doctor of Ministry Degree Program, dean of the seminary and, in 1994, president.

Richard E. Bertrand, a retired brigadier general of the U.S. Air Force, met Wetzel at Oakley Christian Church when Bertrand was an elder and chair of the Church Board and Wetzel was just beginning his career as a minister. Wetzel, said Bertrand, wanted to commute to Hays for graduate study, and proposed a schedule which allowed him a full 40-hour work week and two or three days of classes each week.

Wetzel, looking back over his career as a minister and educator, said, "It was a decisive moment in my life when Fort Hays Kansas State College gave me the opportunity to begin a graduate degree."

Wetzel is a member of the Society of Christian Philosophers, Phi Sigma Tau, Phi Kappa Phi and Theta Phi. In addition to his academic work, he has ministered to congregations in Oklahoma, Kansas and North Carolina and, since 1986, has conducted regular two-week teaching sessions in Central and Eastern Europe.

Richard J. Baier
It has been only a dozen years since Richard Baier began his career in public administration as the assistant to the city administrator for LaVista, Neb. This was a few short years after graduating from FHSU in 1991 with a bachelor of arts in political science.

In August 2003, Baier was appointed by Nebraska's governor to direct the Nebraska Department of Economic Development.

" Richard is recognized as a leader by his peers, is respected by business and community leaders across the state, and has now been recognized by our governor and given the opportunity to lead the state of Nebraska's development efforts," said Roger Christianson, manager of economic development of the Omaha Public Power District. He has worked with Baier for more than 10 years on economic development. "Richard," he said, "soaks up information like a sponge and then takes everything to the next level."

Christianson said, "As one of his former board presidents told me in a conversation regarding Richard, 'He gets it!' "

Baier earned a master of public administration degree from the University of Nebraska at Omaha in 1994, the same year he took his second career step, to executive vice president of the York Area Chamber and Development Corporation, York, Neb. In February 1999 he became executive director of the Development Corporation of North Platte, a position he held until getting the governor's call last year. He was an intern for former Kansas U.S. Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum.

He earned his rating as a Certified Economic Developer (CEcD) from the International Economic Development Council in 2002, graduated from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute of Management in 2000 and from the Economic Development Institute at the University of Oklahoma in 1997.

His civic activities include coaching youth in Little League baseball, YMCA Little League football and AYSO soccer. He volunteers for the United Way. In addition, he is a member of the North American Martyrs School PTO, the Knights of Columbus and the Fraternal Order of Eagles. He has also served on the FHSU Alumni Association Board of Directors.

Baier is active in several statewide business and professional organizations, including the Nebraska Investment Finance Authority, of which he is the chair, the Nebraska Rural Development Commission and the Nebraska Workforce Investment Board.

" Citizens and business men and women across the state held Richard's work in such high regard that appointing him as director was really an easy choice," wrote Nebraska Gov. Mike Johanns.

Baier himself attributes a great deal of the credit for his success to date to FHSU and the people here. "Fortunately for me," said Baier, "the strong educational and professional foundation I received at FHSU has allowed me to excel both personally and professionally. I only hope that some day I can positively impact the lives of young people I contact, just as people like Dr. Larry Gould, Don Slechta and Dr. Larry Miller have impacted my life."

Dustin D. Smith
Dustin D. Smith's career in advertising since graduating from FHSU in 1994 with a bachelor of fine arts in graphic design can almost be told by the awards he's won for his advertising work in every medium, and it would still be an incomplete listing.

Along the way, he has worked up from his first job through creative director and vice president of Leo Burnett USA, to his current position as creative director and head of art for DDB Worldwide Communications Group Inc. -- San Francisco, Calif.

" Over the years, Dustin has been recognized by several prestigious award shows throughout the advertising world, from Bronze Lions at Cannes to the One Show Pencil," said Mark Tutssel, deputy chief creative officer and vice chairman of Leo Burnett USA.

His work and the awards he has won, said Tutssel, have earned Smith "the respect of not only the creative department here at Leo Burnett, but also the respect of the creative advertising community."

Smith has won awards from what are widely regarded at the three top award shows in the advertising business, the Cannes International Advertising Festival, the One Show and the Communication Arts Advertising Annual. His wins include a Bronze Lion and four short lists at Cannes; his work has been published in Communication Arts and has been a finalist in the One Show several times. He has been a finalist for the national Kelly Award for print excellence, which sifts thousands of entries for the 10 finalists. The Addy Award, which begins at the local level and progresses through district, regional and national competitions, has awarded Smith two Gold Awards and one Silver. He has made the Addy national four years running, including this year.

Awards for his work also include honors from the London International Ad Awards, the New York Festivals, the Chicago International Film and TV Awards and the OBIE Awards.

Equally impressive is the list of clients for whom he has worked: Chicago Botanic Garden, Kraft, Kellogg's, Altoids, Hallmark, McDonald's, Pillsbury, Crayola, Nintendo, Polaroid and Proctor and Gamble, to name a few.

" Dustin Smith is quick to give credit for his professional success to his design professors in the FHSU Department of Art," said Leland Powers, chair of the Department of Art at FHSU. "He is, no doubt, one of the best examples of the high quality graduate produced by Fort Hays State University."

During his term at Burnett, Smith said, he worked long term on accounts and was "called in to consult and/or rescue troubled accounts."

In his position as creative director, said Smith, "I work with junior creatives, film directors, photographers, digital artists, illustrators, editors and many others to achieve the end product. My job is to be the constant from start to finish in the creative process and to be its shepherd from synapses to cathode ray tube, plasma screen billboard or the printed page."

Gerard J. Wellbrock
In his position as Eagle Radio's sports director, Gerard Wellbrock is -- in addition to providing play-by-play announcing for Tiger athletics -- responsible for overseeing sports programming on five radio stations. He also broadcasts the sports news for KBSH-TV; prepares the FHSU coach's show, "Tiger's Den", and teaches the sports broadcasting class at Fort Hays State.

His broadcasting career actually began with KFHS Radio and TV while he was earning his bachelor of arts in communications from FHSU, which he received in 1990.

A former professor, Lance Lippert '83, '89, now at Illinois State University, said, "Gerard was constantly looking for ways to improve. He considered everything an opportunity to learn and grow regardless of how difficult it was. Gerard was the kind of student that made me want to continue teaching."

After graduating FHSU, he worked for two years as an on-air announcer at KKAN/KQMA Radio, Phillipsburg, before joining Eagle Radio in 1992 as assistant sports and news director. In 2002 he became sports director and "voice of the Tigers."

" Not only is he an outstanding professional broadcaster, but he is also a great representative of the university and a wonderful example of the many successful individuals who are graduates of Fort Hays State University," said Gary Shorman, president and CEO of Eagle Communications.

He has won nearly every top honor in the state for sportscasting and play-by-play. The list of awards and honors includes: three Oscar Stauffer Awards from the Kansas State High School Activities Association as Sportscaster of the Year (1996, 1997 and 2000); the Kansas Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association Sportscaster of the Year in 1999; and a first-place award for complete sportscast in 1999 from the Kansas Association of Broadcasters.

Wellbrock's extremely full work schedule does not keep him from volunteering extensively in the community. He is a member of the Tiger Club, the Victoria High School Alumni Association Scholarship Committee and Teaming up for Tots (formerly the Hays Jaycees), and is a former member of the FHSU Sports Hall of Fame Election Committee.

He has served as a class host at FHSU's Homecoming and as emcee of the Hays High School Athletic Banquet. Every year he mentors area high school students in shadow programs, serves as a guest book reader at the Hays Public Library and at area grade schools and helps local Cub Scout troops to reach achievement goals. He is also an annual supporter of the FHSU Endowment Association, the United Way, CASA of the High Plains (which he also served as a board member), the American Heart Association, the American Diabetes Association, Kansas Shrine Circus and Big Brothers/Big Sisters.

Eli Boucher
After graduating from FHSU in 1943 with a bachelor of arts with majors in both math and science, Eli Boucher embarked on a career in education that spanned 39 years. After that came four years in computer sales.

" After that venture in the business world, I then retired from anything that paid in July 1986," said Boucher. "That was also the beginning of my volunteer work."

And the volunteer work has been extensive. Much of it has been in the free, AARP Tax-Aide Program, which he helped initiate in the Hays area and in surrounding counties in 1987. That expanded to all of western Kansas in 1991 and the program now has more than 60 volunteers serving about 4,000 people in western Kansas each year.

Boucher taught four tax schools each year, four days in Hays, three days each in Great Bend, Dodge City and Colby, and he also does about 240 returns each year from Feb. 1 through April 15.

Boucher's career in education included eight years as a teacher and 31 as an administrator. Two of it was earning a master of arts in public school administration from the University of Kansas, during which he also taught two classes of college math each semester.

Boucher, who earned a pilot's license and taught primary ground school before graduating from FHSU, also taught physics. In January 1944 he was called to active duty in the U.S. Army Air Corps and served two and a half years.

His volunteer work did not just begin in 1986. During his education career he served as president of the Hays area's Kansas State Teachers Association and was president of the FHSU Alumni Association from 1969-70. Boucher has been a member of the Half-Century Club since 1992, serving on its Board of Directors and serving a term as vice president and two terms as president. He is still active in the Half-Century Club. He is also still an active member of the Lewis Field Club, a group he also has twice served as president.

For 10 years, he has served on the Ellis County Council on Aging. He has been president for the last four years and on its board for the last 10. Since 1991 he has worked with the Senior Health Insurance Counseling in Kansas, working with individuals and groups on health insurance for seniors. In 1994 he was asked to represent western Kansas on the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Advisory Council. He was president of that council from 2002 to 2003.

" Because of his wisdom, personal values and progressive philosophy," said Jolene Niernberger, director of the Foster Grandparents/Senior Companions programs in western Kansas, "senior service opportunities have been enhanced and expanded throughout western Kansas."


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