University of South Alabama, Office of Public Relations
 

January 13, 2006
Contact: Carol Kittrell, USA Office of Alumni Relations, (251) 460-7084

USA National Alumni Association to Honor Distinguished Alumni and Service Award Recipients at Feb. 3 Gala

The University of South Alabama National Alumni Association will honor five distinguished alumni, a retired member of the U.S. House of Representatives and one service organization at its annual awards gala on Friday, February 3, 2006, at the Mitchell Center. The event, part of Homecoming weekend 2006, recognizes the achievements and contributions of alumni and advocates for USA.

This year’s recipients of the Distinguished Alumni Award are Dr. Joseph N. Benoit Jr., Dr. Eugene de Juan Jr., John “Jack” R. Donovan Jr., Luis E. Gonzalez, and Mobile County Circuit Judge Herman Y. Thomas. Distinguished Service Award Recipients include former U.S. Rep. Herbert Leon “Sonny” Callahan and the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce.

“These award recipients have at least one thing in common, each of their relationships with the University of South Alabama have been life-changing either for themselves or others whose lives they have touched,” said Carol Mann, USA National Alumni Association board member and chair for the Distinguished Alumni and Service Awards event. “As we plan this gala and anticipate an exciting evening of recognition for lives well lived, we hope that focusing on these exceptional people will encourage and motivate others to excel.”

The gala will take place on the campus of the University of South Alabama in the Mitchell Center; cocktails will be at 6 p.m., with dinner being served at 6:45 p.m. Tables and individual tickets are available for purchase. For more information or to make a reservation, contact Carol Kittrell in the Office of Alumni Relations at (251) 460-7084.
 
Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients
     
Dr. Joseph N. Benoit Jr.  
Dr. Joseph N. Benoit Jr., ’82, ’86, was one of the early graduates from the University of South Alabama’s doctoral program in basic medical science. Currently the dean of the graduate school at the University of North Dakota, Benoit is the first USA doctoral graduate to reach this rank at an academic institution. An expert in physiology, he has published over 63 papers, 15 book chapters and 105 abstracts. Along with his duties as dean, he serves as a professor in the pharmacology, physiology and therapeutics department at the University of North Dakota. From September 1998 to August 2001, Benoit worked as a professor in the physiology department at the USA College of Medicine. A native of Louisiana, he received both his bachelor of science and doctoral degrees from USA in basic medical sciences.
     
Dr. Eugene de Juan Jr.  
Dr. Eugene de Juan Jr., ‘79, founded the Mobile-based company InnoRx, which develops products to help treat diseases of the retina and was recently acquired by SurModics. He now serves as The Jean Kelly Stock Distinguished Professor of ophthalmology at the University of California San Francisco. He has invented numerous surgical techniques and currently holds over 30 patents and has over 200 peer-reviewed publications. De Juan received his bachelor of arts in chemistry in 1973 from Emory University and his master's in biochemistry at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 1976 before returning to his native Mobile to attend the USA College of Medicine. He completed his residency at Johns Hopkins University and a fellowship at Duke University. He is the past recipient of the "Best Ophthalmologists in America" by Ophthalmology Times.
In his 20 years in academic medicine, he has headed the Retina units at Johns Hopkins and University of Southern California. He is currently the President of the American Society of Retinal Specialists.
     
John Jack Donovan Jr.  
John “Jack” Donovan Jr., ’85, serves as senior vice president for ARAMARK Corporation and president of ARAMARK Business, Sports and Entertainment Group, which provides food and hospitality services to businesses, correctional facilities, parks and conference centers. Donovan’s division had 2004 revenue of over $3 billion. Last year, he returned to USA to serve as the Mitchell College of Business spring semester Executive-in-Residence and Fall Commencement speaker. Donovan and his wife, Lorri, have donated $100,000 to endow a management scholarship at the Mitchell College of Business in honor of his former professor and mentor, Dr. Paul Pietri. Donovan received his master’s in business administration from the Mitchell College of Business.
     
Luis E. Gonzalez  
Luis E. Gonzalez is an outstanding left fielder for Major League Baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks. In 2001, he made the game-winning hit for the Diamondbacks in game seven of a memorable World Series against the New York Yankees. His stellar play and clutch hitting led the Diamondbacks to their first World Series victory. As a student at USA, he lettered for three seasons. In 1988, his final season, Gonzalez was named an All-American. In November 2005, Gonzalez received the Branch Rickey Award, a nationally prestigious and coveted honor that recognizes professionals in Major League Baseball for exceptional community service. Since becoming a Diamondback in 1999, Gonzalez has generated more than $1,000,000 for Arizona’s charitable groups and volunteered more than 1,000 hours.
Gonzalez’s service to the University has been as generous. He returns to USA annually to participate in the Hall of Fame Game and was a major contributor to the renovation of USA’s Stanky Field. During his time at USA, Gonzalez studied communications in the College of Arts and Sciences.
     
Herman Y. Thomas  
The Honorable Herman Y. Thomas, ’83, is the first USA alumnus to serve as a State Court Judge. Thomas is a former member of the USA Board of Trustees and is currently a member of the USA Foundation. As a member of the USA Board of Trustees, Thomas served as secretary and as vice-president of the executive committee. Thomas’s commitment to USA extends to the classroom, where he served as an adjunct faculty member in the political science and criminal justice department from 1991 to 1997. His community involvement is tremendous, with service on 50 to 60 nonprofit boards in the area. His volunteer work ranges from the Boy Scouts to local museums and from the Mobile Drug Education Council to the Mobile Touchdown Club.
A past president of the USA National Alumni Association, Thomas received his bachelor’s degree in political science in the College of Arts and Sciences in 1983. He received his law degree from Florida State University in 1985.

Distinguished Service Award Recipients
     
Leon Sonny Callahan  
The Honorable Herbert Leon “Sonny” Callahan has been a friend of USA from its infancy. A native of Mobile, Callahan served in the U.S. Navy from 1950 to 1954. After his years in the Navy, he returned to Mobile to become a successful businessman. In 1970, he was elected to his first term in the Alabama House of Representatives, a position he held until his 1978 election to the Alabama Senate.

Throughout his 12-year tenure in the Alabama State Legislature, Callahan ensured that USA received its fair share of the state’s education budget. In 1984, Callahan was elected to the first of his eight terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. As a member of the U.S. House he worked to gain tens of millions of dollars for USA’s Cancer Research Institute. During his years in Congress, he worked on many important committees, including serving as
chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water and vice chairman of the Foreign Operations subcommittee.
     
Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce  
Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce has worked as a constant, steadfast ally with USA to improve the economic development and educational levels of the Mobile region. Through a close, synergistic relationship, the Chamber has assisted USA in its legislative and economic development goals, including the development of the USA Technology and Research Park and the USA Cancer Research Institute.

The Chamber and USA have worked hand-in-hand on these important initiatives, as well as many other issues across the community. Bolstered by the Chamber's support, USA has raised private and public funds for the USA Cancer Research Institute.
The Chamber is a strong ally in recruiting top physicians and researchers to the USA Cancer Research Institute as well as new partners to the USA Technology and Research Park. Chamber leaders also work collaboratively with the Mitchell College of Business to improve communications between the University and the Gulf Coast business community.
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