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 2021 recipients of the Distinguished Alumni Award are Ese Ighedosa of the class of 2005 and Dr. Mark Kahler of the class of 1970. The awards will be presented during the "Center-Day Night Live" broadcast on the evening of April 10, 2021.
Nominations are now open for the 2022 Distinguished Alumni Award. Click here to download the form. Nominations are due by October 15, 2021.
Ese Ighedosa, J.D. (class of 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.
After graduation from Center, Ese attended Hampton University. She lettered for four years in volleyball and earned a B.A. in Political Science. She was accepted into the Florida A&M School of Law, earning her J.D. in 2013. 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 (class of 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 VML, Jon has led the company to significant international growth. During Jon's tenure at VML, the company has grown from 30 employees in Kansas City to over 1,900 spread over six continents
- 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, click here
to download the nomination form.