July 28, 2023–The Missouri Western State University Alumni Association has announced the names of those who will be honored at the annual Alumni Award Banquet on Sept. 29 during Homecoming Week. For more information and to purchase tickets to the banquet, visit griff.vn/AlumHC

Honorees are:

Distinguished Alumni Awards

The Distinguished Alumni Award is the highest award given to a Missouri Western alum. It recognizes living alumni for their career/professional achievements; civic contributions within their local community, state or nation; service to Missouri Western State University, and other qualities which elicit pride from others who attended Missouri Western. 

LaVell Rucker ’03, Social Worker

As a non-traditional student, Rucker received her bachelor’s degree in social work from MWSU in 2003 followed by her master’s degree from the University of Kansas in 2004. She has been employed by St. Joseph School District as a school social worker addressing mental health needs and providing services to middle and high school students for 20 years. 

Caring for others’ needs and seeing the value in all walks of life, Rucker has served on numerous boards making decisions to better families and the community. She currently serves on Mosaic Life Care’s Board of Directors, is a Black Archives Museum board member, an EMPAC (a political action committee) board member and a United Way Allocations committee member.

Kimberly Warren ’92, CEO of MidCity Excellence 

Warren graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in psychology, and went on to earn a master’s degree in education from Northwest Missouri State. A passionate and dedicated leader in St. Joseph, she has served as CEO at MidCity Excellence (MCE) Community Learning Center for 22 years, engaging hundreds of youth and their families annually, organizing city-wide expos and events that celebrate diverse cultures and promote value and exposure.

Warren is also the driving force behind The American Grant Writing Services, a consultation firm that has secured nearly 600 501(c)(3) non-profit designations in 43 different states. She has been selected four times as a state arts council grant reviewer, and volunteers as an assistant pastor at Faith Family Worship Center.

GOLD (Graduate of the Last Decade) 

The GOLD Award recognizes those early in their career who have had outstanding achievements and accomplishments. The award is based upon professional and educational achievements, community activities, honors and awards received and other noteworthy items of merit since graduation no more than 10 years ago. 

Michael Sewell ’19, Mannix Law Firm

Sewell graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Communication from Missouri Western State University, and graduated from law school in 2022. He currently works for a law firm in Salem, Oregon, that specializes in helping businesses and nonprofits. Sewell also spent the 2023 legislative session in Oregon working as a staffer for a state representative. Sewell volunteers his time by serving as a commissioner for a housing authority in Polk County, Oregon, as a national committeeman for the Young Republicans of Oregon, as a Rotarian, and while in law school, served as a volunteer firefighter. In his free time, Sewell plays saxophone in the Salem Symphonic Winds, is a licensed parachutist and an avid motorcyclist.

Herb ’35 and Peggy Iffert Award for Outstanding Service to the University

The Iffert Award recognizes an alum, retiree or other friend of the University who has shown outstanding and continuous commitment to Missouri Western’s mission, vision and legacy.

Dennis Rosonke, CFO of Meierhoffer Funeral Home

Rosonke earned a degree in accounting from the University of Northern Iowa and became a licensed Certified Public Accountant. In 1997, Rosonke accepted the opportunity to move to St. Joseph while working for the accounting firm Clifton Gunderson. In 1999, he began his current position as chief financial officer for Meierhoffer Funeral Home & Crematory.

Rosonke served on the Missouri Western Foundation Board of Directors for 10 years and is a former chairman of the board. In addition, Dennis is a former chairman of the board of the United Way, an active volunteer in the St. Joseph School District, a member of the Mosaic Life Care Finance Committee and a board member of both LifeLine Foods and the St. Joseph Youth Soccer Association.

Distinguished Faculty Award

The Distinguished Faculty Award is given to a current faculty member in recognition of one’s lasting influences on students, excellence in teaching, professional/career accomplishments and professional and ethical standards.

Dr. Elissa Zorn ’12/’17, RN to BSN Coordinator and Assistant Professor

Dr. Zorn received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Missouri Western and entered the nursing profession as a critical care nurse working in ICU and Burn. After guest lecturing on burn care at her alma mater, she discovered a passion for teaching. Dr. Zorn returned to MWSU to obtain a Master of Science in Nursing with a Nursing Education focus. Upon graduating she worked as a nursing professional development specialist at Liberty Hospital, and returned to Missouri Western in 2019 as the RN-BSN coordinator, helping fellow nurses in the profession reach their goals. 

Great Griffon Awards

The Great Griffon Awards recognize alumni from each college and school who exhibit outstanding contributions to the workforce, society or the University. Nominees do not have to currently work in the area in which they studied and can be recognized for career achievement, service to local communities, states, nations or the University.

College of Liberal Arts – LaTonya Williams ’03

Williams graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English/Journalism and a Bachelor of Arts in English/Public Relations. She obtained a Master of Business Administration in October 2022 from the University of Phoenix and is currently pursuing a Doctor of Management degree. Since October 2020, Williams has been the executive director of Bartlett Center, a nonprofit community center that specializes in child care and community outreach. She also serves as the current president of the St. Joseph School District Board of Education. Williams is the proud mother of three daughters, Arianna (MWSU class of 2022), Lyric and Jaydaci.

College of Business & Professional Studies – David Jordan ’74

Jordan is a St. Joseph native, a retired business teacher with the St. Joseph School District and a former adjunct professor at MWSU. He has always guided students in the classroom learning process, but he believes building relationships with students enhances the learning process and leads to successful outcomes. One of his most memorable experiences as a teacher was being selected by the 2016 senior class to be their graduation speaker. Today, Jordan continues to teach part time for the St. Joseph Adult Education and Literacy program, is a St. Joseph Public Library Board Trustee and is an active member of the Cotillion for Achievement and the Buchanan County University of Missouri Extension Council. 

College of Science & Health – Jeff Stubblefield ’83

Stubblefield graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Leisure Management (Recreation Management). His mother was also a student at that time; classmates in one biology section included both his mother and his future wife, Jolene. Stubblefield is the director of parks and recreation for the City of Maryville and is president of the Missouri Parks and Recreation Association. He helped his family establish the Sandra J. Stubblefield Memorial Scholarship in honor of their mother at Missouri Western. Stubblefield is the proud father of two children, Jared and Julia. Sadly, they lost Jared in 2003. 

Student Leadership Awards

The Alumni Student Leadership Awards recognize graduating students (December or May of the current academic year) who have made a significant impact on the life of the University during their tenure through leadership, volunteerism, or humanitarianism.

Graduating Senior of the Year – Taylor Edwards ’23

Edwards, originally from Lansing, Kansas, graduated Magna Cum Laude with degrees in music education and music performance. She has been recognized for her outstanding contributions to the University with the 2023 Graduating Student of the Year Award and the Dean Hoff Outstanding Achievement Award. During her time as a Griffon, Edwards was an orientation leader, student ambassador and resident assistant. Edwards was the drum major in the Golden Griffon Marching Band and was a leader in the Jazz and Wind Ensembles. She is the principal trombonist in the Fountain City Academy Brass Band and has had overwhelming success in brass banding both nationally and internationally.

Clifford Hughes ’55 Award – Briana Ward ’23

Briana Ward, originally from Sparta, Illinois, will graduate with a degree in business management and a concentration in entrepreneurship. As a student, she was involved in Western Activities Council, cheer, Missouri Western Dance Company, Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and was a Griffon Edge Ambassador. Ward was selected as the 2022 Ms. Black and Gold hosted by Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. She is currently part of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Incorporated. In her free time as a student, she assisted teachers at elementary schools in the St. Joseph School District, dedicated time to help at soup kitchens, walked and fed dogs at the shelter and volunteered time at Second Harvest.

Missouri Western State University is a student-centered learning community preparing individuals for lives of excellence through applied learning. Missouri Western is located in St. Joseph, Mo., and is committed to the educational, economic, cultural and social development of the region it serves. Visit missouriwestern.edu