Indiana State University Newsroom

Indiana State University recognizes Distinguished Alumni

November 10, 2015

During Homecoming weekend that kicked off a five-year observance of Indiana State University's sesquicentennial, the ISU Alumni Association recognized four individuals with 2015 Distinguished Alumni Awards in recognition of professional success, leadership and service.

Honorees, who represented a cross section of Indiana State programs, were Sam Dixon, Ava Gore, Frances Reece Kepner and Jerry Reel.

Ron Carpenter, president of the ISU Foundation, described the quartet as "a former chief bailiff turned educator, a retired U.S. Marshal who was the first of many firsts in her field, a librarian who impacted many lives, and a research scientist who has accomplished more in his lifetime than imaginable."

Rex Kendall, executive director of the Alumni Association, said, "All of the honorees were actively involved with Indiana State as students and remained connected to the university as alumni. The recipients had a personal journey with Indiana State, yet share a striking similarity in their enthusiasm for being a part of the Sycamore family."

When Dixon arrived at Indiana State in 1967, the university had a long history of accepting and integrating African-American students, "but of course the culture was far from perfect and Sam was a leading voice for change," Chris Olsen, professor and chair of the history department, said.

As head of the Black Student Union from 1969 to 1971, Dixon was the chief author of a list of demands for the university and his group succeeded in creating an African-American history program, among the first in the Midwest, and an African-American Cultural Center. He also helped lead the Black Student Union and the university through a race riot in April 1970 and "a tumultuous time," Olsen said.

Dixon graduated in 1972 with a bachelor's degree in social science education. He taught high school and middle school and at Indiana University-Bloomington. For 18 years, he was chief bailiff in Marion County Superior Court. He is an ordained minister and associate pastor of Mount Pilgrim Church in his hometown of Anderson and is the founder and president of The Incorporated Gathering, an ISU African-American organization established in 1998 and serves those who graduated before 1976.

"In many ways, I think it's fair to say that (Dixon and his fellow students) created the modern ISU, particularly as African American students experience it today," Olsen.

In accepting the award, Dixon said he has reached the age where he realizes how much he is reliant on others and "how much all of us are relying on each other to make things happen. We cannot do anything if we don't do it together. It's always been that way and I always looked at truth being the way - truth based in love, not hate, everybody recognizing each other for your goodness and your greatness, being able to hold hands and come back and communicate and talk, and discuss and work it out."

Gore said she got a good education at Indiana State and it didn't come just from textbooks.

"The education came from the everyday life experiences that we got from living here on campus and being around kids from all over the state, or all over the United States ... and several different countries from throughout the world," she said. "I learned from each and every one of them. I had experiences that I would never have had anywhere else."

As a student, Gore had an internship with the Terre Haute Police Department and learned from a faculty member who had worked for the Chicago Police Department. She also studied Russian under a teacher from Siberia who had served with the French Foreign Legion.

Gore completed her bachelor's degree in 1974 and a master's degree in 1982. She said she accepted a job with the Marshals Service without knowing exactly what a U.S. Marshal did. One of only nine female marshals at the time, she went on to become the first female instructor, first female inspector and first female gun-carrying chief deputy marshal in the agency's history. She earned recognition from the International Association of Women Police and the Marshals Service for her contributions to the National Asset Seizure and Forfeiture Program and Witness Security Program.

After her retirement from law enforcement, Gore taught music and science at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Catholic School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. She now volunteers much of her time at the school in a substitute and administrative capacity.

Kepner, a 1941 graduate, was librarian at Indiana State's Normal Library when Robin Crumrin, current dean of Cunningham Memorial Library, was a student and Crumrin later worked with Kepner at Cunningham.

Kepner "has always been an inspiration to me, personally and professionally," Crumrin said. "She was a lovely woman with a big heart. Always gracious in spirit, she had an inner strength that carried her through life. Her grace, character and professionalism made her an excellent role model for this young graduate. She helped me realize that a career as a librarian was a worthy choice."

Kepner grew up as part of the Indiana State family. Her parents both attended the teacher's college, where her father taught history. Her children, Lee and Ray, also attended Indiana State. Her family and friends honored her career and that of her father by establishing the Raymond J. Reece and Frances R. Kepner Scholarship, awarded annually to an outstanding student in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Ray Kepner accepted the award on behalf of his late mother.

"Her life was entwined with Indiana State University from her childhood years until her death this past July at age 95," he said. "As a student in the Laboratory School, she literally grew up on this campus. Her career reflected the ultimate value of an Indiana State education. She was a lifelong learner, a very keen observer, a very careful listener and a voracious reader. That interest in learning was unquestionably ignited in her years at the Laboratory School ... and her commitment to learning and to education was deepened and broadened by her teaching professors at Indiana State."

Reel, who graduated in 1960, studied biology and chemistry at State with aspirations to become a teacher. His plans changed when his faculty advisor encouraged him to pursue a Ph.D. He went on to graduate school at the University of Illinois, where earn a master's degree in physiology and biochemistry in 1963 and a Ph.D. in 1966. He completed two years of postdoctoral research at Oakridge National Laboratory.

His education and fellowship experience led him to several positions within prominent research companies, focusing on reproductive health and endocrinology. His research has led to the development of five patents, including the morning after birth control pill.

"Not only has Jerry accomplished all of this in his career but he and Joan have also given back to his alma mater," noted John Murray, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

The couple has established an endowed scholarship fund and is assisting with the development of the Center for Genomic Advocacy and the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience program.

"ISU was my bridge of opportunity, a bridge that allowed me to move from a modest background to an interesting and successful career in biomedical research," Reel said, adding that he is especially pleased that he and his wife were able to fund scholars for students in STEM programs. "I believe that science, technology, engineering and mathematics are crucial for the future of our planet."

University President Dan Bradley said those recognized exemplify the characteristics the university wants its graduates to possess: being an advocate for impactful change, blazing a trail for others, possessing a strong work ethic, overcoming adversity, being innovative, and changing the world.

"It is an honor to recognize these individuals for all they have achieved and for the distinction they have brought upon their alma mater," Bradley said.

Photo: - Sam Dixon

Photo: - Ava Gore

Photo: - Jerry Reel

Writer: Dave Taylor, media relations director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3743 or


Story Highlights

During Homecoming weekend that kicked off a five-year observance of Indiana State University's sesquicentennial, the ISU Alumni Association recognized four individuals as 2015 Distinguished Alumni: Sam Dixon, Ava Gore, Frances Kepner, Jerry Reel.

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