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Eight Alumni Honored with 2014 Alumni Awards

The awards are the highest accolades conferred by the Office of Alumni Engagement and have been presented annually to alumni and friends of Elon since 1941.

(l-r) 2014 Alumni Award recipients back row: Tim Johnson ’09, Max Cantor ’10, Louis M. “Mike” Riccio JR. ’85 P’18, The Rev. Erin M. Keys ’05, David L. Morrow II ’07 L’10; front row: T.J. Reynolds-Emwanta ’01, Gail Hettel LaRose ’64 and Kim Spurgeon Hayes ’05.

Lauded as leaders in their professions and communities and loyal Elon supporters, eight outstanding Elon alumni were honored during the 2014 Homecoming Opening Ceremony Oct. 17 in Moseley Center’s Lakeside Meeting Rooms.

Recognized were:

Louis M. “Mike” Riccio JR. ’85 P’18 – Alumnus of the Year
Awarded to an alumnus who has distinguished himself in a profession and in the community and brought honor to Elon.

Since graduating from Elon College in 1985 with a degree in accounting, Louis M. “Mike” Riccio Jr. ’85 P’18 has distinguished himself as a business leader. A seasoned professional with remarkable financial expertise, Mike has spent more than 20 years working in various financial positions within the furniture industry. He currently serves as senior vice president and chief financial officer of La-Z-Boy Incorporated, a New York Stock Exchange-listed company with fiscal revenues of $1.36 billion in 2014. In that position, he is responsible for the company’s internal audit, treasury and risk management and investor relations, as well as the corporate controller function, which includes internal and external reporting.  Mike was named chief financial officer of La-Z-Boy in 2006. Before that appointment, he served as the company’s corporate controller.

Prior to joining La-Z-Boy, Mike worked for LADD Furniture Inc., which was acquired by La-Z-Boy in 2000. He joined LADD in 1990 and worked in a number of increasingly responsible financial management and accounting positions before being named LADD’s corporate controller. Prior to LADD, Mike worked for the public accounting firm Deloitte & Touche in Southern Pines, N.C., for five years. Mike is a certified public accountant and a member of the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation Chief Financial Officers Council and the American Institute of Public Accountants. At Elon University, Mike has remained involved with the Martha and Spencer Love School of Business, where he serves on the school’s Board of Advisors, a role he has fulfilled with pride. He and wife Penny, also a member of the Class of 1985, are loyal supporters of their alma mater and are recognized as part of The Elon Society, the university’s premier annual giving group. Mike and Penny live in Ohio; they have two children, including Hunter, a member of the Class of 2018.

Gail Hettel LaRose ’64 – Alumna of the Year
Awarded to an alumna who has distinguished herself in a profession and in the community and brought honor to Elon.

A former educator, Gail Hettel LaRose ’64 is a strong advocate for making education accessible to all students. As the first member of her family to attend college, Gail arrived at Elon College in the fall of 1960 with the dream of becoming an elementary school teacher. Her goal was to move to her mother’s childhood home in rural Kentucky one day to educate the many underprivileged children who lived in the region. She received her undergraduate degree in elementary education in 1964 and taught second and third grades in both North Carolina and Virginia. She also worked in the fashion industry as a sales associate. During her time at Elon, Gail was an active member of Tau Zeta Phi Sorority Inc., worked on the yearbook committee and wrote for the school newspaper. She was a member of both the Homecoming and May Day courts, and was fortunate to meet her future husband, the late Robert E. LaRose ’66, whom she married in 1965.

Knowing the importance and value of a college education, the LaRoses have been among Elon’s most generous supporters. The LaRose Digital Theatre in the Ernest A. Koury, Sr. Business Center is named in recognition of their $1 million gift to the university. In 2011 their two children, Amy Michelle LaRose and Robert Scott LaRose, established the Gail H. LaRose Scholarship to assist students with financial need in the School of Education and honor Gail’s great passions in life: Elon and teaching. The scholarship was awarded as part of Elon’s Odyssey Scholarship program for the first time in fall 2012 to a deserving student planning to major in elementary education. Gail has lived in Northern Virginia for the past 45 years and volunteered for the Meals on Wheels organization and on various committees at her church. She was also an active volunteer in her children’s schools throughout the years. A longtime Elon supporter, she was a member of Elon’s National Alumni Executive Board from 1998 to 2001 and a member of Elon’s Board of Visitors from 2002 to 2011.

David L. Morrow II ’07 L’10 – Young Alumnus of the Year
Awarded to an alumnus who has graduated within the past 10 years and has distinguished himself in their profession.

David L. Morrow II ’07 L’10 is passionate and committed to the study and application of law. A legal counsel with PayPal Inc., David supports the international e-commerce company’s credit business unit and focuses specifically on consumer credit products. Prior to joining PayPal, he was an attorney with a top law firm in Washington, D.C., where he assisted clients in the financial services industry with transactional, litigation, regulatory and compliance matters. As an Elon University School of Law student, David was a NAACP Legal Defense Fund Earl Warren Scholar. Following law school, he worked for the Hon. Anna Blackburne-Rigsby of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. David is active in the American Bar Association and was selected by the Business Law Section to serve as one of five fellows nationwide from 2013-15 and was a member of the inaugural class of the ABA’s Collaborative Bar Leadership Academy in 2013. He is the chair of the Young Lawyers Division of the Washington Bar Association and the immediate past vice chair of the Young Lawyers Division of the National Bar Association.

His devotion to his profession has earned him numerous awards, including Elon University’s 2013 Top 10 Under 10 Alumni Award, the NBA’s 2013 Junius W. Williams Young Lawyer of the Year Award and being named one of the NBA’s “40 Under 40 Trailblazers.” In addition to his legal practice, David is active in his local community where he volunteers and serves as the treasurer of the Advocates Council of Thurgood Marshall Academy. At his alma mater, he has volunteered on numerous committees and councils. He is a member of the Elon University President’s Young Leaders Council and former member of the Young Alumni Council, where he served as the chair of the programming committee. For three years, he also co-chaired the Elon Black Alumni Network Scholarship Gala, which was created to support black students with financial needs.

Kim Spurgeon Hayes ’05 – Young Alumna of the Year
Awarded to an alumna who has graduated within the past 10 years and has distinguished herself in their profession.

An accomplished production coordinator, Kim Hayes Spurgeon ’05 has helped produce commercials and Web content for clients such as Volkswagen, IHOP, Chipotle, Nike and AT&T. At Elon University, she honed her skills by working in the Office of University Communications and on student productions such as Elon Student Television’s trivia game show “Win Stuff.” After graduating in 2005 with a degree in communications with a concentration in film and a minor in digital art, Kim moved to Las Vegas and landed a job at the production company Big Picture Studios. She was soon promoted to development/production, taking on the responsibility to produce commercials and other productions for clients such as Current TV, ShopRite and a short documentary with Paralympian Amy Purdy. During her time at Big Picture Studios, she also worked as an editor and graphic designer at Rich Little Productions, editing three-camera live shows and promotions and creating promotional and cover art graphics. Kim spent three years as a production coordinator, post-production supervisor and assistant editor at The Golf Network, where she coordinated tournament shoots, edited various golf pieces and created promotional packaging design.

After five years at Big Picture Studios, she transitioned to the freelance market in 2010, contributing to several award-winning productions including feature films, television shows, gaming content and a documentary. Her portfolio of feature films includes the Golden Globe-winner “Behind the Candelabra.” She has worked with Oscar nominees Mark Ruffalo and Woody Harrelson in “Now You See Me,” and Oscar-nominated director Stephen Frears in “Lay the Favorite.” Well-established in the production industry, Kim is now a film office analyst for the Nevada Film Office. She primarily works to promote Nevada as a premiere destination for all production types, and also analyzes the economic impact of filming in the state and processes film tax credit incentive applications. She resides in Las Vegas with her husband, Joel.

The Rev. Erin M. Keys ’05 – Service to Church & Society
Awarded to an alumnus or alumna whose life demonstrates service to church and society.

In the span of 10 years, life has taken Erin M. Keys ’05 from the mountains of Appalachia to service in some of the country’s most renowned Presbyterian churches. As an undergraduate religious studies student at Elon University, she took on important leadership roles as director of chapel and president of Intervarsity, as well as a young adult adviser for the First Presbyterian Church in Burlington. Following her graduation from Elon in 2005, Erin attended the Columbia Theological Seminary in Georgia to pursue a Master of Divinity degree. There she served as student minister at Oakhurst Presbyterian Church, a community organizer for immigrant youth outreach for the Interfaith Children’s Movement and a chaplain resident for the Women’s Center at Northside Hospital in Atlanta. In 2009 she moved to New York where she worked with Interfaith Community addressing the spiritual and communal needs of Jewish/Christian couples and families before beginning her ministerial career at The Brick Presbyterian Church in New York City.

Erin was called to serve as the associate minister of the First Presbyterian Church in Greenwich, Conn., in 2011. For the past three years, she has led her congregation’s mission and inspired them to become fully engaged with the needs of both local and international communities. She instituted a “Day of Faithful Service” where the congregation joins together in volunteering to assist the local community. She has envisioned exciting new means of engaging her congregation in mission work, urging them to avoid “toxic charity” by investing in sustainable outreach efforts. Most recently, during a time of transition for her congregation, Erin served as the acting head of staff at First Presbyterian, overseeing them to their most successful fundraising year. She continues to lead this large congregation comprised of some of the most influential people in the country. Her preaching has been described as “provocative and deeply rooted in the gospel,” and her faith is grounded in devotion to God and service to the life of the community.

T.J. Reynolds-Emwanta ’01 – Alumni Service Award
Presented to an alumnus or alumna who has given extraordinary service to his or her community.

A skilled advocate, lawyer, mentor and volunteer, T.J. Reynolds-Emwanta ’01 has an innate passion for helping marginalized groups. As a student at Elon University, she claimed the titles of resident assistant, Student Union Board officer, teaching assistant, Isabella Cannon Leadership Fellow and member of the Pre-Law Society, Gospel Choir and Black Cultural Society. She also served as a Guardian Ad Litem volunteer. After graduating in 2001 with a degree in philosophy with minors in political science and criminal justice, T.J. went on to pursue a law degree at the University of Tennessee College of Law, where she assisted in creating the school’s Domestic Violence Clinic. Immediately after graduating in 2004, she began her career at a large, corporate law firm and worked there for five years, doing pro bono work for victims of domestic violence and veterans.

Particularly passionate about advocacy and equal rights of others, T.J. was compelled to seek an alternative legal career. Since leaving the law firm setting in 2009, she has dedicated much of her time to assisting the homeless population with obtaining Social Security Administration benefits and currently works at CenterPoint Human services in Winston-Salem, N.C. As the Supplemental Security Income/Social Security Disability Insurance outreach, access and recovery specialist, T.J. works full time with homeless populations in four North Carolina counties. She also volunteers by taking donations to local soup kitchens and is an active member at her church in her hometown of Advance, where she resides with her husband, Felix. Besides her law career, T.J. owns two businesses, a boutique, Cissy’s Closet, and a consulting company, First Empressions. She has received several awards during her academic and professional careers, and is often recognized for her role as a mentor, community advocate and trainer helping others navigate the process used to expedite disability claims for homeless people. As a dedicated Elon alumna, T.J. was active in the formation of the Elon Black Alumni Network, serving on its executive board until 2012. She continues to be a member of EBAN and often mentors Elon students.

Tim Johnson ’09 & Max Cantor ’10 – Distinguished Service to Elon Award
Awarded to an organization, business, foundation or individual who has demonstrated outstanding service that promotes the advancement of Elon.

Gleaning from knowledge gained as undergraduate students in the School of Communications, Tim Johnson ’09 and Max Cantor ’10 have produced two outstanding videos for their alma mater during the past five years. Their first collaboration traces back to 2010, when they were asked to produce and edit a nine-minute video for the Elon University Office of Admissions. The piece features the images and words of about 65 students and faculty, blending their reflections and experiences about what it is like to be a part of the educational experience at Elon. The video, “Experience Elon,” received two national honors at the 27th annual Higher Ed Marketing competition in 2012, including a silver medal in the Video Viewbook category. The video was so well received on campus, the duo was tasked in 2012 with creating a special eight-minute video about the Elon alumni experience that was unveiled as part of the university’s 125th anniversary in 2013-14. The alumni video is now one of the signature experiences for alumni visiting the Martin Alumni Center.

Tim, a broadcast communications major, is a director and editor in Los Angeles, where he serves as president of the Elon alumni chapter. His clients include Fox Sports, FX Network, Gatorade and Epson America, and his work has been featured in USA Today, Grantland, The Huffington Post and Stereogum. He also directed two seasons of a Web series titled “Little Knockers,” a parody of HBO’s “Hard Knocks” NFL training camp series, which starred Jim O’Heir of NBC’s “Parks and Recreation.” Max, a cinema major, is an independent filmmaker and writer who recently moved to Los Angeles from New York City. His work has appeared in Vogue, GQ, NPR, PBS, The Huffington Post and The New York Times. His most recent narrative short film, “Birding,” screened at the Palm Springs International Shortfest this summer. He is currently developing his first narrative feature film based on a script he wrote called “Vultures,” which he plans to direct in 2015.

The awards, formerly known as the Elon Alumni Association Awards, are the highest accolades conferred by the Office of Alumni Engagement and have been presented annually to alumni and friends of Elon since 1941.

Keren Rivas,
10/17/2014 2:55 PM