Alumni Award Recipients: 2013

Columbia College honored several outstanding alumni with distinguished, community and professional achievement awards at the annual Alumni Awards Dinner and Presentation, Friday, April 26, 2013. The awards recognize the exemplary accomplishments of Christian College and Columbia College alumni.

Distinguished Alumni Award

For attaining outstanding regional and national recognition in one’s chosen career field

Penny Rafferty Hamilton, Ph.D. ’76

Dr. Penny Rafferty Hamilton is an award-winning aviation writer, historian and educator who, after earning her doctorate, decided she would learn to fly. Penny is the co-holder of a world aviation speed record recognized by the National Aeronautic Association and by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, set October 22, 1991. But Penny knew early on that she was driven to do more than just fly: she is an aviation educator, researcher, writer, historian, and mentor to the hundreds of women she encourages to pursue careers in aviation.

Discovering that only six percent of America’s pilot population are women, Penny saw a niche and filled it with her Teaching Women to Fly Project, a two-year study that advocates for women to become licensed pilots. The project outlines the obstacles women often face and offers ways to overcome them. “I see myself as a mentor to all women who are interested in pursuing a career in aviation,” says Dr. Hamilton. “Airplanes are equal-opportunity machines. Airplanes don’t care if you are male or female.”

Penny’s interest in aviation began while flying with her husband on his business trips. “When I saw, first-hand, the efficiency and utility of general aviation aircraft, I realized that aviation can provide women with fulfilling and well-paid careers. Or, aviation can provide the joy and satisfaction of doing something that only a tiny minority—men or women—are licensed to do.”

In addition to her Teaching Women to Fly Project, Penny also advocates for the preservation and promotion of aviation heritage, particularly in her home state of Colorado, where she founded the Colorado Airport History Preservation Project. In addition, she is the author of two histories which feature Colorado aviation. She is also the co-author of a series of espionage novels. Aviation plays a prominent role in each of them.

She is a member of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and is the Airport Support Network Volunteer for her home airport in Granby, Colo. She is the recipient of many awards and honors, including the Greater Granby Area Chamber of Commerce Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Association of State Aviation Officials (NASAO) 2012 National Journalism Award, ABC TVDenver 7 Every Day Hero Award, and the Colorado Association of Realtors Good Neighbor Award. For her many achievements, the Federal Aviation Administration named an aerial navigation intersection over Colorado in her honor. In 2011, Penny was inducted to the Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame.

Penny holds degrees from the University of Nebraska, Columbia College–Lincoln and Temple University. Penny and her husband, Dr. William A. Hamilton, reside in Granby, Colo. Her stepson, Matt, resides in Texas.

Professional Achievement Award

For attaining outstanding success in one’s chosen career field within the last 10 years

Tobbie L. May ’10

Master Sergeant Tobbie May emanates leadership, loyalty and experience in his role as civil engineer for the United States Military—and after seven deployments, it’s easy to understand why.

Tobbie began his career in the military in 1996, when he entered the U.S. Air Force. “I liked the idea of having the stability of being in the military,” he says of his decision to enlist. “It offered me a way to both learn a skill and pay for college.”

His first assignment was at Hurlburt Field, Fla., where he was deployed three times: twice to the Middle East and a third time to the Balkans. He was then stationed in Korea for a year, where he completed several construction projects including a $15 million dollar radio tower. He then returned to Hurlburt Field where he was deployed twice more: to Baghdad, Iraq and Djibouti, Africa.

During his deployment to Djibouti in 2005, he was assigned as crew leader on a 35 km road project built for local access during the flood season, designing and building a 45-foot concrete bridge in the process. While there he was one of four people who rescued three United Nations workers trapped in a vehicle during a flash flood, pulling them to safety.

Tobbie returned to the U.S., completed an assignment at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., and was then stationed at Dyess, Texas. There, he served his sixth deployment to Afghanistan and was selected as the Dyess Air Force Base Senior Non Commissioned Officer of the Year and as the Air Combat Command 2010 Larry Daniels Superintendent of the Year, both in 2010.

In 2011, he was the sole Airman selected out of 200 candidates to participate in the Engineering Exchange program with the Navy Seabees at Gulfport, Miss., where he completed his seventh deployment in Afghanistan in early 2013.

His Air Force medals include several Achievement and Commendation Medals, as well as two Meritorious Service Medals.

“It’s an honor to serve in the Armed Forces,” Tobbie says. “I am very thankful for having the opportunity.”

Tobbie graduated with a bachelor of arts in history from Columbia College–Fort Leonard Wood in 2010. He is currently working on his master’s degree in management through Liberty University, and hopes to begin a career in teaching after his military retirement.

Tobbie and his wife, Rachel, reside in Gulfport, Miss. They have one daughter, Roxanne.

Columbia College Service Award

For significant contributions and service to Columbia College

Jared P. Vessell ’00

As the founder of the Columbia, Mo., law firm Vessell, Bridges and Murphy, Jared Vessell spends a lot of time in another type of court: with Columbia College’s Mock Trial Team.

As an undergraduate at Columbia College, Jared became one of the founding members of the Mock Trial Team. “It helped me get a jump start on understanding the legal process and terminology,” Jared says of his experience with the program, crediting Columbia College professors and Mock Trial coaches Dr. Barry Langford and Dr. David Roebuck on their instruction.

Eleven years later, his involvement with the program hasn’t ceased. He serves as volunteer, coach, chaperone and tournament judging director, and has recruited over 100 mock trial judges during his involvement with the team.

“I always appreciated the time and effort given by Dr. Langford and Dr. Roebuck when I was in the program,” Jared says, noting that their efforts have helped make the Columbia College team a nationally known organization. Annually, invitational tournaments or regional tournaments are held in Columbia.

His interest in nurturing the students’ passion in law is evident. Jared has served as coach to the team, and he aides in career mentoring. He also has hired Columbia College students as interns at his firm.

“I have enjoyed seeing team members learn legal principles and how to adjust arguments and think on their feet,” he says.

Jared graduated from Columbia College in 2000 with a degree in political science and a minor in history. He earned his law degree from the University of Missouri in 2003, and obtained licenses to practice in the state of Missouri as well as the United States District Court in the Western District of Missouri. He founded his law office in 2011, where he represents employers and insurers in Missouri workers’ compensation matters. His speaking engagements include the Missouri Division of Workers’ Compensation Annual Conference in 2012. He also is a member of the Boone County Commission’s Judicial and Law Enforcement Task Force, and an active member of Missouri United Methodist Church.

Jared lives in Columbia, Mo., with his wife, Liana. They have two children, Lucas and Anna.

Community Service Award

For demonstrating outstanding leadership and service to the citizens of one’s community

Ruth A. Hickox Litchfield ’65

Of the varied pursuits Ruth A. Hickox Litchfield has taken in life, one theme remains constant: her passion for helping others.

It’s no surprise, then, that Ruth balances a career in education with her nonprofit project, Dolls for Zambia. Aided by sponsors and local organizations, Ruth has traveled to Zambia, Africa the past five years to teach and deliver hundreds of handmade dolls to orphans and vulnerable children.

“I had been wanting to do something for children in Africa for many years and I often said, ‘I don’t have a gazillion dollars and that wouldn’t even help,” Ruth explains. “I figured if I could just go and hold an orphan and let them know somebody cared, that might help.”

Ruth did more than that. When she brought hand-knitted dolls to a Zambian orphanage and saw the children’s reactions, she was inspired to do something more.

“It’s just the biggest treasure,” she says. “It’s the only thing these children have. They hug them like they’re hugging us to say thank you.”

When she returned home, Ruth dedicated her spare time to knitting more dolls. It wasn’t long before members of her community began helping her knit. “I knit and knitters seem to appear from everywhere,” she said. “When I’m knitting, I think of the children, and how they might have some comfort.” Due to overwhelming support from her community in 2012, Ruth had enough dolls to give to every child at the Kasisi Orphanage and enough left over for her to visit seven additional orphanages. In all, she handed out over 550 dolls.

When she’s not knitting, Ruth teaches at Bridge Elementary School in Lexington, Mass. She holds four degrees relating to her field: an associate degree from Christian College, a bachelor of science in elementary education and French from the University of Missouri, a master’s of education in reading from the University of Hawaii-Honolulu and a certificate of advanced graduate study in language, literacy and counseling from Boston University in Boston, Mass.

As with her work serving communities, her role as educator extends far beyond home. Ruth has taught in St. Crois, USVI, Paris, France, Honolulu, Hawaii and participated in teaching mission work in New Orleans, La., Santa Domingo, North Dakota and at community schools in Lusaka, Zambia.

Ruth is the recipient of the Communities Without Borders Chiyembekezo (Hope) Award, which she received in November 2012 for her work with Dolls for Zambia. She also chairs the Outstanding Youth Award in Lexington, Mass., and she is involved with her church, Pilgrim Congregational Church, which has supported her work consistently. In addition, she helped raise $10,000 toward renovating the foyer of Launer Auditorium at Columbia College in Columbia, Mo., and she established the Kittie Williams Robertson ’65 box office at the auditorium, dedicated in 2010.

A resident of Lexington, Mass., Ruth has two children: daughter Katherine and son Robert. She considers them her greatest source of pride.