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Delta State graduates over 420, Freeman conferred with honorary degree

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Delta State University President John Hilpert (at right) presents Dr. Morgan Freeman with a framed honorary degree from Delta State UniversityNASA CFO Gwen Sykes (at right) visits with Delta State students Tarishan Winder-Esters (at left), of Greenville, and Andrea Tatum, of Southaven. Both students received a bachelor’s degree in Speech Communication & Theatre Arts.

It had all the trimmings traditionally associated with a graduation ceremony – camera flashes popping; loud thunderous applause; standing ovations; and proud, beaming, barely containable smiles from graduates, friends and families.

But Delta State University’s 79th Spring Commencement, held this morning inside Walter Sillers Coliseum on the campus, had one additional element that only elevated and intensified the camera flashes popping; the loud thunderous applause; the standing ovations; and the proud, beaming, barely containable smiles from graduates, friends and families – Hollywood icon, Morgan Freeman.

Delta State conferred Freeman for the degree, Doctor of Arts and Letters, honoris causa (“for the sake of honor”) in front of a filled-to-capacity coliseum. “Mr. Freeman’s commitment to the Delta has been steadfast and solid. He has never forgotten his roots and we appreciate him for that,” Delta State President, Dr. John M. Hilpert, lauded. “We are privileged to honor Morgan Freeman, an outstanding Mississippian whose long and distinguished career has brought great pride to everyone in his home state and particularly to all of us who live in the Delta.”

Freeman, amidst countless cameras flashes and an extended standing ovation, accepted his large framed degree, smiled brightly and acknowledged, “I had two pages of remarks written, but for the sake of being shorter, I will simply express my appreciation, my gratitude and say, ‘Thank you.’”

Later at a reception following the commencement services, Freeman acknowledged Leola Gregory Williams, an elementary teacher in his native Greenwood. “She was a magician, a true magician.” Williams inspired Freeman and challenged him “to make something of my life, to do good.”

Williams would become the first African-American instructor in English at Delta State. Annually the University awards The Leola Gregory Williams Award to students who have written outstanding papers in general education classes.

Freeman becomes the third recipient of an honorary degree from Delta State, joining alumnus Elbert R. Hilliard, Director Emeritus, Mississippi Department of Archives and History; and Charles W. (Charlie) Capps, a native of Cleveland, and former District 28 Representative in the Mississippi House of Representatives.

In 2004, he appeared in “Million Dollar Baby,” for which his on-screen performance as ex-prize fighter Eddie “Scrap Iron” Dupris, was critically acclaimed and won Freeman his first Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

On the day, Delta State also welcomed Gwen Sykes, Chief Financial Officer for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), to campus, as she delivered an uplifting and inspiring keynote address.

Sykes joined NASA in November 2002 when she was selected as the Deputy Chief Financial Officer for Financial Management. Since that time, she has made significant strides towards improving agency-wide financial integrity. She has launched several management initiatives, aligned with principles of the Federal Government’s Joint Financial Management Improvement Program (JFMIP), designed to improve NASA’s financial health and performance. Her leadership and resourcefulness are invaluable assets to the NASA community.

In 2003, Sykes was awarded the NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal for outstanding budgetary and financial management leadership of the NASA financial community.

From the lectern, she urged graduates, “to dream and dream big. Be hopeful and optimistic. Be inspired to reach for something you would have thought could never have happened.

“Be resilient. See the opportunities in life, remembering opportunity may disguise itself as a challenge, at first,” she continued. “Stay true to your family and friends, always.”

“I am awed by what you will achieve. You carry the torch of discovery with you now and I ask you to remember, education is a gift that can’t be taken away,” Sykes offered, repeating again for emphasis and clarity. “Education is definitely a gift that can not be taken away.”

Delta State graduated over 425 graduates, all of which were able to shake, both Sykes and Freeman’s hands, before collecting their conferred degrees. Some graduates even asked for hugs, to which Freeman agreed cordially.

Two doctor of education degrees and six educational specialist degrees were conferred during the commencement exercise, while numerous master’s and bachelor’s degrees were awarded through the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Business, the College of Education and the School of Nursing.

 

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Morganti honored with President’s Award at BPAC

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Monday, May 08, 2006

David Dallas (left), Executive Director of the Bologna Performing Arts Center, with Dr. Leroy Morganti.

Given annually in recognition of outstanding service to the Bologna Performing Arts Center, Dr. Leroy Morganti of Benoit, was recently named the 2006 President’s Award Winner.

“This recognition is long overdue,” David Dallas, Executive Director of the Bologna Performing Arts Center, offered. “This award honors the vision and dedication of Dr. Morganti.”

As the Center neared completion in spring 1995, then Delta State University President, Dr. Kent Wyatt, decided he wanted the grand opening to be help in September. He, further, decided Morganti would direct the event and the operations of the Center, in addition to his role as Vice-President of Executive Affairs.

“It was in addition to all of his other duties,” Wyatt said. “Leroy had a vision of what the Performing Arts Center could become and do, not only for Delta State, but for the entire Delta region. He, more than anyone else, is responsible for the many successes of the Bologna Performing Arts Center.”

Morganti worked closely with Pat Halloran of The Orpheum Theatre in Memphis in developing a box office management strategy, a technical team and a plan for selecting an Executive Director. Additionally, he formed an Advisory Board consisting of campus and community leaders.

The BPAC would become the centerpiece of the Delta State Foundation’s then capital campaign, with Morganti determined to raise $2 million as an endowment to support BPAC programming.  Roger Malkin, of Delta and Pine Land, gave $500,000 toward the campaign, while seats were sponsored at $1,000 each.

Most significant, though, still remains the call placed by Dr. Nino Bologna of Greenville, to Wyatt. Bologna inquired about the building, and soon after pledged $2 million to name the performing arts center in memory of his children.

Morganti served at the helm of the BPAC from its inception in 1995 until his retirement in 2002. He was instrumental in securing famed composer and songwriter Marvin Hamlisch as the BPAC’s inaugural performer.  

Currently, Morganti is enjoying retirement and writes occasionally for The Delta Democrat Times.

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Delta State hails new student chief

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Delta State University Student Government Association outgoing President Valerie Orcutt (at left), a junior nursing major of Lorman, presents the president’s gavel to recently elected Student Government President, Emily Jennings, a junior political science major of Clinton. The presentation of the gavel and the inauguration of elected Student Government Association officers was held this past week at the Lena Roberts Sillers Chapel on the Delta State campus.

 

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Delta State dedicates Ada Swindle Mitchell Foods Laboratory

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Ada Swindle Mitchell 

Dr. Lynn House, Dean of the College of Education at Delta State University, visits with members of the Mitchell family, Irene Swindle, Ricky Mitchell and Mary Ann Stinson.

Delta State University, as part of its on-going “Year of Cleveland” celebration, recently dedicated its renovated foods laboratory in the Division of Family & Consumer Sciences in memory of Ada Swindle Mitchell, a long-time employee of Viking Range Corporation. 

The Viking Range Corporation generously donated all new appliances for the foods lab, according to Dr. Jan Haynes, Chair of the Division of Family & Consumer Sciences at Delta State.

As part of the dedication ceremony held Tuesday, March 28, the program included a demonstration of “Elegant Hors d’oeuvres,” presented by Elizabeth Heiskell of the Viking Cooking School. Delta State President Dr. John M. Hilpert delivered dedicatory remarks with Dale Persons, Vice President of Public Affairs for Viking Range Corporation, offering a response, followed by a tour of the facilities.

Mitchell, an employee of Viking Range Corporation from 1988-2003, first served as administrative assistant to Fred Carl, Jr., and handled all personnel issues. She would be promoted to Viking Range’s first full-time human resources manager before earning the title Director of Human Resources. Prior to her work with Viking, she worked 19 years at WABG-TV in Greenville.

One of her most notable contributions to Viking Range was her single-handed initiation of an “education assistance program,” which allowed Viking Range employees to earn college degrees. “Ada felt very strongly about education and the value it had, not only for one’s company and career, but to the individual as a personal accomplishment,” said Viking President Fred Carl.

Mitchell pursued her own college education and was scheduled to graduate in May 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Delta State. The degree was awarded posthumously to her husband, Ricky Mitchell. She was recognized as a member of the President’s List as a result of maintaining a 4.0 GPA while at Delta State.

A member of the Society for Human Resources Management and the American Management Association, Mitchell was a Personnel Decisions, Inc., certified interviewer and a Birkman International, Inc., certified assessment user.  She was an alumna of the Walt Disney World Approach to Human Resources Management and was named by the Delta Business Journal as one of the “The Delta’s Top 75 Women in Business.”

Ada Swindle Mitchell passed Tuesday, April 1, 2003 at the age of 49. She was survived by her husband, Ricky and a son, Jared.

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Local rice pioneers honored with scholarship at Delta State

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James and Jessie Simmons

Decades after revolutionizing rice drying procedures in the Mississippi Delta, James and Jessie Simmons, of Cleveland, will be recognized for their agricultural ambition and innovative spirit. A scholarship fund in honor of the couple has been established by the Delta State University Foundation, Inc.

“The James and Jessie Lee Simmons Scholarship will assist children and dependents of rice farmers in attending Delta State University. This is a fitting way to pay tribute to the couple who were so instrumental in transforming the rice industry,” said Keith Fulcher, Executive Director, Delta State University Foundation, Inc.

After returning from service as a Navy pilot in World War II, James Simmons received a degree from Mississippi State University. In 1949, he joined the staff of the Bolivar County Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service (ASCS).

While working for the ASCS office, Simmons aided in the evolution from sack drying rice to the more lucrative method of bin drying and in turn stimulated the rising rice economy that led to farmer-owned bins rather than those purchased through ASCS loans.

After taking a position with H.O. Ward Lumber Co, Simmons managed grain bins for ten years, formed friendships with local farmers and gained a vast knowledge of the rice business.

In the early 1950’s the standard procedure for storing and drying rice included the use of bins with concrete floors and manifolds that ran the length of the bin itself. After researching the rice industries in surrounding states, Simmons began to experiment with perforated floors and the use of horse powered fans. The process involved pulling air down through the rice, inverting the rice, discharging the air under the perforated floors and forcing it up through the grain bin.

Simmons led the rice industry of the Delta in the use of scaffolding on both the interior and exterior of the bin, as well as the method of using rising ratchet jacks. By raising each ring individually, the time and cost of labor and construction was reduced by half.

Five years later, the innovative Simmons perfected the use of large 6,000-bushel grain bins and large centrifugal fans. In 1962, with the encouragement of his wife, Simmons partnered with J.C. Belk and developed the Simmons-Belk Company.

Throughout his career, Simmons’ wife, Jessie, remained the driving force behind his inspiration. She encouraged his development in the rice industry and held the position of secretary at his company. 

Though he left the company in 1970, Simmons produced $10 million of agricultural bins by 1979 and within five years averaged $8 million in sales. Simmons maintained his stake in the company until 1988, when he began the process of allowing his employees to purchase the business.  

“The Simmons’ have left a legacy in the rice industry and the scholarship in their name will allow future generations to continue to benefit from their lives,” said Fulcher. “The Delta State University Foundation invites all friends and business associates of the Simmons to make a gift in their honor.”

Gifts can be mailed to the Delta State Foundation, Box 3141, Cleveland, MS 38733. For more information, please contact the Foundation Office at (662) 846-4708 or e-mail at development@deltastate.edu