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The Center Education Foundation Distinguished Alumni Award recognizes graduates whose deeds and character exemplify outstanding achievement in their life's work and/or service to their communities. The honorees' spirit and leadership are worthy of recognition and have inspired praise and gratitude among their peers.

Recipients of the Distinguished Alumni Award must be graduates of Center High School and must have graduated at least 10 years prior to their induction.

The award was started in 2012 and recipients are recognized annually at the Foundation Gala. The 2022 recipients of the Distinguished Alumni Award are Joe Carr of the class of 2000 and Mark Garrett of the class of 1985. The awards will be presented during the "A Center Celebration" on the evening of April 9, 2022.

2022 Recipients:

Joe Carr (2000) - Joe is an entrepreneur and advocate for children. He began his career working with high school youth in the special education department of Lawrence High School, where he also co-led a club focused on student leadership and another on Hip Hop where students wrote and produced original albums. In Austin, TX he worked for a variety of nonprofits serving underprivileged youth including Communities in Schools, Southwest Key, Williamson County Hope Alliance, and LifeWorks where he created and led curriculum that taught healthy communication and relationship skills to at-risk teenagers. He then started his own nonprofit, Growin’ Together Hands-On Afterschool and Summer Program teaching social skills, communication, cooperation, and hands-on learning to kids ages 5-14, including many children with special needs. He also founded, an educational and coaching resource to help autistic people and their families harness the gifts of their autism.

When he and his wife, Serenity, began family planning, they discovered the lack of quality nutritious baby foods and decided to create their own. In 2016 they founded Serenity Kids Baby Food, which creates foods for babies that are low in sugar and high in healthy fats, made from pasture raised meats and organic vegetables. They now have 25 employees and are one of the country’s top-selling baby food brands found in nearly every grocery store nation-wide. At just 5 years old, their company is ranked among the best baby food in dozens of prominent publications and has won numerous industry awards for being innovators in children’s health. As Co-Founder and President, Joe oversees all sales, marketing, PR, and fundraising; and assists with product development, strategic planning, and company culture. He also started and manages their onsite preschool that provides an enriching childcare opportunity for their staff.

Joe is autistic and was not diagnosed as a child, so he had very difficult social issues. That experience is what inspires him to change the world for children and be an out-spoken advocate for autistic acceptance. He credits Center High School as instrumental in instilling in him a love of diversity and leadership. His teachers actively fostered his creativity and vision; and encouraged him to follow his dreams.

Mark Garrett (1985) – Mark is a business leader with a focus on building systems to recruit talent and develop strong career paths for employees. He is also a leader in the community, providing wisdom and guidance to numerous organizations in the Kansas City area. Mark works as the Vice President, Chief Human Resources Officer at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City. He oversees all of HR, Real Estate, and Community Investments for Blue KC and has initiated the deepening of diversity and inclusion throughout the company. Prior to Blue KC, Mark held senior HR leadership positions at Smithfield Foods, Kansas City Public School District, and Hallmark Cards. In these roles, his various responsibilities included leading human resources, manufacturing, operations, logistics, and supply chain.

Mark is the Chair-Elect for the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce (he will become the Chair of the Chamber in November 2022). In addition, Mark is the Vice Chair of Phoenix Family Housing, a non-profit who empowers people living in low-income housing communities to gain stability and step towards self-sufficiency. He is a board member on Rose Brooks Center and has previously served on the boards of Baptist News Global, Feed the Children, and Children’s International.While Mark is one of the most respected voices in the business community in Kansas City, he is also an active member of Holmeswood Baptist Church, located in the Center School District. He has been a Deacon at Holmeswood since 2014 and served as the Chair of Deacons in 2016.

Past Recipients


  • Ese Ighedosa, J.D. (2005) is an attorney who has built a stellar career in and around professional sports, especially the NFL. As a black woman, she has made significant inroads in the white male dominated world of sports executives. . She began her legal career with NFL films, followed by five years working in legal and business affairs for the National Football League. While at the NFL Ese helped to start the Black Engagement Network (BEN), providing support and resources for black professionals working in pro sports in a variety of roles. Under Ese’s leadership the BEN advocated for the NFL to respond more strongly to racial injustice, laying the groundwork for the public statements finally made by the NFL this past summer in response to the George Floyd killing. In 2018 Ese left the NFL to become Associate Counsel for the Carolina Panthers football team. In that role she worked in sponsorship sales, events, workers compensation, employment matters, and marketing. She also advised current and former Panthers players on social justice and community engagement by leading the team’s Player Impact Committee. In May 2020 Ese branched into an entrepreneurial career, founding and leading House of Athlete, a Florida based company focusing on wellness, performance, and social involvement for high level athletes. She continues her roles in promoting diversity in the ranks of sports executives as a founding Advisory Committee member of the Pro Sports Assembly, a national organization of executives committed to diversity, equity, and social responsibility for professional sports organizations.
  • Dr. Mark Kahler (1970) has impacted the health care infrastructure in Kansas City as a co-founder of one of the largest family care practices in the metro area, College Park Family Care. With over 90 physicians, the practice has provided compassionate and effective care for multiple generations of families. Dr. Kahler received his medical degree from the University of Missouri with further training at Baptist Medical Center. In 1980 Dr. Kahler, along with one partner, founded College Park, pioneering the concept of a large practice focused on family medical care.  In addition to serving thousands of families, Dr. Kahler and the staff at College Park have devoted countless hours of service in international health missions. Living his faith through medical service is a hallmark of Mark's career and life.


  • Carol DiRaimo (1979) is an award-winning corporate investor relations professional with over 30 years of experience in the restaurant industry including Applebee’s International, Inc. and Jack in the Box, Inc. and six years of public accounting experience at Deloitte where she practiced as a CPA. She has been named to Institutional Investor’s ALL-AMERICA EXECUTIVE TEAM for the last 10 years, and is a six-time winner of Best Investor Relations Officer for a small to mid-cap company in the United States by IR Magazine. In addition to her corporate work, Carol has served on the Board of Trustees for Rockhurst University since 2010 where she earned an Executive MBA. In 2019, Carol received the Robert J. Trulaske, Sr. College of Business Citation of Merit from the University of Missouri – Columbia, where she graduated summa cum laude and has an endowed scholarship supporting women from the Kansas City area
  • Dr. William Baskin (1964) is a leading physician, researcher, and clinical professor of medicine at the University of Illinois, Rockford Campus. After receiving his medical degree with honors from the University of Missouri, he practiced as a Gastroenterologist for many years in Rockford, Illinois, leading a flourishing medical practice. He has taught at the University of Illinois since 1983, receiving numerous awards for teaching from both faculty and student groups. He has participated in numerous research studies in the field of gastroenterology, with a long list of publications to his credit.
  • Tom Apel (1972). Tom was a member of the Center Education Foundation Board of Directors, serving as Treasurer, until his untimely passing in August of 2019. In addition to a stellar career as a finance executive, Tom served people in many ways, including co-founding and leading Gracious Promise Ministry, helping those impacted by incarceration to rebuild their lives.  Tom also served on the selection committee for the Center Athletic Hall of Fame and did many hours of research to uncover strong candidates for selection. He was also an active volunteer and supporter of the Center Museum. Tom loved his Center family and dedicated many hours to bringing friends together to share memories at reunions and other events.
  • Lori Borgman, CHS class of 1972, is a newspaper columnist, author and speaker. Her newspaper column touches on a wide array of topics ranging from the truth about nagging to the hazards of upper arm flab. She is also the author of the popular essay, “The Death of Common Sense” which has gone viral, having been published in the U.S., Canada, Great Britain, Australia, Ireland, Finland, Iceland, Portugal, Spain, the Philippines and Greece.
  • Patrick Caffrey, Ph.D., CHS Class of 1973, is a licensed psychologist with almost 40 years experience as a rehabilitation psychologist and neuropsychologist. Dr. Caffrey provides direct patient care in brain injury hospitals and acute hospital settings, serving patients with neurologic conditions and diseases such as: M.S., spinal cord injury, stroke, traumatic brain injury, blind and low vision, and brain tumors. He has additional extensive experience as a vocational specialist, a regional manager in private sector rehabilitation, in a university-based technical assistance project to Missouri educators modifying curriculum for disabled students, as a site supervisor of psychological services, as a visiting university lecturer and in hospital settings.


  • Dr. Stephen Smalley (1973) - Dr. Smalley is a renowned Radiation Oncologist who has practiced medicine since his graduation from the UMKC School of Medicine in 1979. He did his internship and residency at the Mayo Clinic before returning to Kansas City in 1986 to practice, teach, and engage in research at the University of Kansas Medical Center. He is currently a Clinical Professor at KU and continues to practice in the Kansas City area.
  • Dr. Steven Currall (1977) - Dr. Currall is the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Prior to joining SMU, Dr. Currall held executive leadership positions at the University of California Global Health Institute, UC Davis, and the University College of London, and Rice University. His research area is Organizational Psychology and he has published numerous articles and books. His PhD is from Cornell University following a Masters from the London School of Economics & Politics and a BA from Baylor University. 


  • John Cassidy (1951) - John is the founder of the Winter Sports Program for Special Olympics of Kansas. As President of the Kansas City Ski Club, John got involved with the fledging Winter Sports Program in 1984. It became his passion. Working with volunteers and staff from the Ski Club and Special Olympics Kansas, John created the program that has been named in his honor, the John L Cassidy Heartland Winter Games. The competition includes over 350 athletes each year competing in Alpine and Cross Country Skiing, Snowshoe Racing, Speed & Figure Skating and Floor Hockey at venues including Snow Creek in Weston, MO.
  • Bob Beltz (1968) - Bob Beltz is a minister, teacher, author and film producer. Bob was founder and then Teaching Pastor of Cherry Hills Community Church in Denver, and Senior Pastor of High Street Community Church in Santa Cruz, California. Bob joined the Anschutz Corporation of Denver, Colorado as a special advisor to Philip Anschutz, Chairman of the Board. In this role Bob helped develop, produce, and market films for the Anschutz Film Group, parent company of Walden Media (Holes, Because of Winn-Dixie, Around the World in 80 Days, I Am David, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) and Bristol Bay Productions (Ray, Sahara). Bob was the co-producer of Crusader Entertainment's film Joshua, based on Joseph Girzone's best-selling novel, and helped develop and produce Amazing Grace: the William Wilberforce Story.
  • John Kenneth Adams (1952) - John is a world renowned concert pianist and music professor. After graduation from Center, he received his bachelors degree from UMKC, his masters from Yale University followed by his appointment as a Fulbright Scholar and three years of study at the Royal Academy of Music in London. He has been a professor of music for over 50 years at the University of Texas and the University of South Carolina. He has performed in 22 countries worldwide and was recently named as a Steinway Artist.
  • Todd Dicus (1972) -Since 1993 Todd has worked at the American Academy of Family Physicians, one of the largest medical associations, with over 120,000 members, a budget of nearly $100 million, and a staff of over 400. He currently serves as the Chief Operating Officer and Deputy Executive Vice President, and has overall responsibility for development and implementation of operational strategy, including oversight of budgetary, information technology, human resources, legal and compliance functions.  Prior to assuming his current position, Todd practiced law in Kansas City and served as the AAFP’s General Counsel. Todd received his undergraduate degree at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri and his law degree from UMKC.


  • Gary Neal Johnson (1968) - Gary is a long time presence on the theatrical stages of Kansas City as well as other cities. Perhaps his best known role is Ebeneezer Scrooge in the Kansas City Repertory production of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.
  • Jon Cook (1989) - As the CEO of Kansas City based advertising agency VMLY&R, Jon has led the company to significant international growth. During Jon's tenure at VMLY&R, the company has grown from 30 employees in Kansas City to over 13,000 spread over 100 locations.


  • Steven Koltai (1972) - As a social entrepreneur, Steven has done pioneering work in using entrepreneurial practices to help low income communities in the US and abroad to dramatically improve their circumstances.  
  • Ben Schafer (1989) - Chairman of the Department of Civil Engineering at Johns Hopkins University and a leading international researcher on the use of thin walled structures for more cost effective buildings.


  • Jerome Pearson (1956) - Space scientist and aerospace engineer, inventor of many technologies used in space exploration
  • Judge Lisa Hardwick (1978) - Attorney, legislator and judge.  First African American woman to serve on Missouri Court of Appeals
  • Julie Mattson (1966) - School Board members, volunteer and community leader.  Advocate for kids for many years


  • Dr. Cindy Frewen Wuellner (1974) - Architect and Futurist focused on the future of urban living
  • Dr. Loren Berenbom (1971) - Cardiac Electrophysiologist, pioneer in treating heart rhythm disease

If you would like to nominate a recipient for the Distinguished Alumni Award, download this form Nomination Form.docx.

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