The Texas A&M University-Commerce Alumni Association hosted the 2023 Alumni Awards Gala on Saturday, April 29 to honor the university’s new Gold Blazers and Distinguished Alumni. The Event was held in the Sam Rayburn Student Center on the university campus.
In his welcome address, President Mark Rudin emphasized that successful alumni are a reflection of a university’s quality.
“There is a train of thought that says a university is best represented by its alums and their successes,” Rudin said. “That is truly a…reliable reflection on the university, and I think that is so evident tonight… We’re honoring a group of people who demonstrate what success is, what perseverance is, what excellence is and what hard work is, and where that can take you,” he said.
Gold Blazer Awardees
Four new Gold Blazers Award recipients were announced by the Director of Alumni Engagement Derryle Peace. The Gold Blazer Award has been presented annually for the past 39 years to alums for dedicated service to the A&M-Commerce Alumni Association and the university.
The 2023 honorees are as follows:
C. Dewayne Bethea, ’61 and ’70
C. Dewayne Bethea graduated from A&M-Commerce with a bachelor’s in industrial technology in 1961 and a master’s in guidance and counseling in 1970. Bethea is an active member of Silver Leos Writing Guild, a chapter of the A&M-Commerce Alumni Association. From 2014 through 2017, he served as a social chair for the organization. He is a proud member of Tejas Social Club, now Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity.
Betty Koepp Casselberry, ‘63 and ‘65
Betty Koepp Casselberry earned her bachelor’s in business education in 1963 and a master’s in counseling in 1965 from A&M-Commerce. She was inducted into the 2017 Hall of Honor by Lion Athletics. Casselberry has supported Lion Athletics since she and her late husband, Gene, moved to Commerce in 1968.
Dr. Deborah Cuffee, ’75
Deborah Cuffee holds bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in psychology. She attended A&M-Commerce for undergraduate studies. Active in community and university service, Cuffee is involved with Delta Sigma Theta sorority, to which she pledged as an undergraduate. She also serves on the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Access Committee at A&M-Commerce.
Russ Cuffee, ’71
Russ Cuffee received a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Technology in 1971 from A&M-Commerce. A native of New York, Cuffee came to A&M-Commerce as a student-athlete. He became a charter member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. Cuffee is a former member of the A&M-Commerce Alumni Association and an active member of the Theta Theta Alumni Association. Cuffee has also successfully raised funds for the David Talbot Endowment at A&M-Commerce.
Distinguished Alumni Awardees
Following just after the Gold Blazer awards, Peace introduced six new Distinguished Alumni for 2023. The Distinguished Alumni honor has been presented annually for the past 56 years to an “elite few” who exhibit extraordinary distinction in their profession or life’s work. The award also recognizes recipients for excellent service to the university. Each recipient advances the well-being of the university and fosters an appreciation for the university’s rich heritage and its students, faculty, and administration.
The 2023 recipients are as follows:
Daniel Jones, ’88
Daniel L. Jones graduated from A&M-Commerce in 1988 with a degree in general business. A student-athlete, Jones played football during his time at the university. Since 2014, he has served as chairman, president and CEO of Encore Wire in McKinney, Texas. He received the 2016 Mordica Memorial Award at the annual Wire Association International Operations Summit and Wire Expo, honoring his contributions to the wire industry. He was also named the 2016 Copper Man of the Year by The Copper Club for his contributions and influence in the industry. A strong business and community leader, Jones has served on various boards and has supported his children’s activities and school programs through the years.
Larry V. McGill, ’78
Larry V. McGill earned a Bachelor of Science in History from A&M-Commerce in 1978. As a student, Larry was an active member of the Sigma Chi Fraternity. McGill currently serves as CEO of KanPak, a Golden State Foods (GSF) partnership that operates facilities in China, two plants in the U.S., a dispenser division in Connecticut, and a co-pack facility in Mexico. Under McGills’ leadership, GSF has received numerous customer awards and recognitions, including Supplier of the Year awards for Yum! Brands, Zaxby’s, Popeyes and Chick-fil-A, and multiple quality teamwork and target awards for McDonald’s.
Robert Rhoads, ’67
Robert Rhoads enrolled at A&M-Commerce in the fall of 1963 and graduated in 1967. As a college student, he was an active Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity member. Around 1980, Rhoads began a 40-year career in homebuilding, constructing homes in University Park and Preston Hollow with much success. Active in community service, Rhoads served on the zoning ordinance committee for the city of University Park, worked as a Backpack Weekend food provider for Dunbar Elementary School, acted as finance chair at University Park United Methodist Church, and volunteered on State Fair of Texas committees. Rhoads serves as a member of the A&M-Commerce Foundation Board of Directors and actively manages the Tejas Endowment.
Janis Stroope, ’73 and ’80
Janis Stroope earned her bachelor’s degree in education in 1973 and her master’s in education in 1980 from A&M-Commerce. She operates Stroope Apiaries, a commercial beekeeping and honey production business, and Stroope Registered Brangus Cattle Ranch. For 29 years, Stroope served as a K-12 teacher and administrator. She had a particular interest in at-risk students and managed a middle school at-risk program for a few years. Janis and her husband, Ralph, are generous supporters of A&M-Commerce. Among their philanthropic gifts, the Stroopes created the Lift a Lion Endowment and the Janis and Ralph Stroope Endowment. Janis is also a member of the university’s Foundation Board, has served on several ad hoc committees, and is an avid supporter of Lion Athletics.
M.J. “Mick” Trusty, J.D., ‘72
Mick Trusty graduated from A&M-Commerce in 1972. He later earned a Doctor of Jurisprudence from the South Texas College of Law-Houston. Trusty has dedicated 50 years to his work as a federal regulator, corporate trust executive, attorney, and independent consulting contractor with offices in Dallas, Houston, Rockwall and Sulphur Springs. As an adjunct professor for 11 years, Trusty taught undergraduate and graduate classes in business law, estate planning and more. He has served on the boards of several charitable organizations throughout Texas. Trusty has served A&M-Commerce in several capacities, including chairman of the A&M-Commerce Foundation, president of the Alumni Association, and long-term College of Business Advisory Board member. He is also a past Gold Blazer Award recipient.
Tracey Wolfe, ’73 and ’76
Tracey Wolfe earned her bachelor’s degree in social studies in 1973 and her master’s in elementary education in 1976 from A&M-Commerce. As a student, she was active on campus as a member of Kappa Delta Sorority and provided leadership in numerous organizations. Wolfe’s career success began at her family’s business, Wolfe Distributing Company, a beer distributor which later became a real estate development company. She served as secretary and vice president at the company from 1968 to 1990 before becoming president. Wolfe was a board member at Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas and became the organization’s first female president in 2004. Wolfe is a dedicated Lion alumna who has served on the university’s Alumni Association Board and the National Development Board. She has also worked with The Texas A&M University System’s Chancellor’s Century Council and the A&M-Commerce Foundation. In 2002, she was one of 100 women chosen as a member of Leadership Texas.
Learn more about A&M-Commerce Alumni Association and how to join.