UNC Honored Alumni
Presenting the 2012 Honorees
More than 150 family, friends and university leaders, including President Kay Norton, gathered to recognize this year’s honorees during the induction ceremony Oct. 5 in the University Center ballrooms. Each year, the UNC Alumni Association recognizes some of its most distinguished alumni and friends at the Honored Alumni and Service Awards celebration during Homecoming Weekend. These awards date to 1947 and are the highest awards the Alumni Association can bestow.
Distinguished Alumna of the Year
Alumna Legendary in Denver Schools for Motivating Hispanic Youth
Fernie Baca Hayes (BA-61) has a passion for helping others.
From being an influential teacher in Denver Public Schools to becoming a tenured professor in the School of Education at the University of Colorado at Denver, where she also served as associate vice Chancellor for Research/Creative Activities, Hayes has made a difference on many levels — for individual students and in academic policy.
She has been recognized for her work encouraging Hispanic youth to stay in school and attend college, with more than 20 awards throughout her career, including the Bernie Valdez Award for Excellence in Education from the Latin American Research and Service Agency (LARASA). The Girl Scouts of Colorado named her a Woman of Distinction in 1999.
After graduating from UNC, Hayes worked in Denver Public Schools. Her mentor, LARASA co-founder Bernie Valdez, suggested she coordinate an Elementary and Secondary Education Act Title I project to motivate Latino youth to complete high school and attend college.
After retiring with emeritus status in 2001, Hayes established the Fernie Baca Scholarship Fund at CU Denver to increase educator effectiveness in supporting the academic learning of English-language learners.
The Baca family has a strong presence in Colorado history. Growing up in Greeley, Hayes’ mother inspired her three daughters to overcome prejudice and go to college. Hayes’ sister Polly was the first Hispanic woman appointed to the Colorado Senate in 1978, and her sister Bettie is a consultant in Washington, D.C.
Distinguished Alumni Service Award
Everything is Possible for Alumnus Who Keeps Giving Back
Theo Holland (BA-61) is no stranger to winning awards. He was inducted into the Athletics Hall of Fame in 2005 for his achievements in basketball and track and field. He has dedicated numerous hours to mentoring at-risk high school and college students.
During his time at UNC, Holland was an all-conference basketball player, and one of the first African-American players to compete in Kentucky’s Memorial Coliseum on a December 1959 road trip led by coach John Dunn.
A Greeley native, Holland was well known in the community before he made history on the basketball court, being named the best player in the state by the Denver newspapers in 1959.
After graduating with a degree in Physical Education/Health Education, Holland worked as a mediator for the U.S. Air Force in England. He went on to be the director of Special Services and later the Recreation Services manager for the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
Following his military career, Holland worked as a counselor in Colorado Springs at Mitchell High School and later the dean of Students at Community Prep School. Today, as a counselor at ComCor Inc., he still mentors and encourages people to improve their lives.
Though his career and family are now in Colorado Springs, Holland still makes time to return to UNC. He served as the UNC Alumni Association president from 2005-2007. He also has served on the UNC Foundation Board, and on an Athletics Strategic Planning committee that resulted in UNC’s admission to the NCAA Division I Big Sky Conference.
Alumni Spirit Award
Young Alumna’s Spirit Captured on Broadway
Autumn Hurlbert (BA-02) is another graduate of UNC’s College of Performing and Visual Arts who has found the spotlight.
Hurlbert’s success as a performer just 10 years after graduation, paired with her genuine character, has earned her another accolade — the UNC Alumni Spirit Award.
Best known for landing the first runnerup position on the MTV reality series Legally Blonde: The Search for the New Elle Woods, Hurlbert earned a part in the ensemble and was the understudy for the lead role in the Broadway production. Hurlbert’s career has included numerous performances on and off Broadway, with national touring companies, in regional theater, film and television.
And she credits her UNC education as the foundation upon which she continues to build her work.
Moving from Greeley to New York City was one of her biggest challenges, but she knew she would find a supportive alumni family there.
“There are so many UNC alumni thriving in New York City,” she says. “I’ve always had a family here and felt a strong sense of support all the way across the country.”
Legally Blonde – The Musical; Legally Blonde – The Musical: The Search for Elle Woods; Little Women; Beauty & the Beast; Les Misérables; Evita; every tongue confess; Tomorrow Morning; Private Lives
Sudden Death!; Research
Distinguished Service Award
Alumnus Opened Doors for Journalism Students
From the time he set foot on UNC’s campus as a graduate student, Wayne Melanson (EdS-75) was poised to give back to the university and to the program that helped him achieve his academic and career goals.
As a Journalism professor and later chair of the department at UNC, Melanson became known for encouraging students to follow their dreams and then supporting them with resources and opportunities.
Melanson established UNC’s chapters of the National Association of Black Journalists, the Society of Professional Journalists and the Association of Women in Communications. During a career that spanned more than three decades, Melanson treasured his time interacting with students and helping them find their way to the careers they desired. And it’s the resulting personal relationships that he values most, keeping in touch with many of them today.
“He transformed my life. But he didn’t only have an impact on my life, he affected many lives over the course of many years,” says Anita Fleming-Rife (BA-79, MA-90), now the special assistant to the President for Diversity and Equity at UNC.
As a faculty member, Melanson’s dedication to helping students reflected his student experience at UNC. “My fondest memory as a UNC student was the incredible, supportive faculty from the moment I walked in the door,” he says.
He walked in and out of UNC’s doors several times, leaving his tenured position to complete doctoral coursework in Tennessee and later to teach in Nebraska and Texas. Melanson returned to Greeley after four years and again earned tenure at UNC. He retired in spring 2011.
Distinguished Honorary Alumni
Honorary Alums Shaping the Future of Education and Greeley
The Tointon Institute for Educational Change, which has provided leadership training for K-12 educators since 1995, is just one of many examples of Bob and Betty Tointon’s impact on today’s students.
“I’ve had the privilege of knowing Bob and Betty for decades, and I knew them first as philanthropists and community leaders,” says UNC President Kay Norton.
The Tointons not only enhance UNC’s mission of translating theory into practice with the institute, but they also support many other programs that benefit students and the community. From world-class entertainment at the School of Performing and Visual Arts to enriching athletic programs to award-winning academics at the Monfort College of Business and all of the other educational opportunities available to UNC students, the Tointons believe in UNC’s vision.
Well known at UNC and throughout northern Colorado, Bob is a past chairman of the UNC Board of Trustees and holds an honorary doctorate from UNC. Betty has received the United Way Humanitarian award and was a co-founder of the Weld County Women’s Fund endowment.
“The main reason we support UNC, in addition to it being in Greeley, is how important we feel higher education is,” Bob says. “Higher education is the hand up, rather than the handout.” NV
—Profiles by Amy Dressel-Martin