USA National Alumni Association Honors Seven at 16th Annual Distinguished Alumni & Service Awards

Posted on March 5, 2020
Julie Jackson

The USA National Alumni Association honored alumni and supporters at the 16th annual Distinguished Alumni & Service Awards. Those recognized were, from left, William J. “Happy” Fulford III, Dr. Joseph F. Busta Jr., Brian J. Cuccias, Merceria Ludgood, John T. Crowder Jr., William B. Burnsed Jr. and James J. “Jake” Gosa.  data-lightbox='featured'
The USA National Alumni Association honored alumni and supporters at the 16th annual Distinguished Alumni & Service Awards. Those recognized were, from left, William J. “Happy” Fulford III, Dr. Joseph F. Busta Jr., Brian J. Cuccias, Merceria Ludgood, John T. Crowder Jr., William B. Burnsed Jr. and James J. “Jake” Gosa.

The University of South Alabama National Alumni Association honored five alumni, a retired University employee and a Mobile County commissioner for their outstanding accomplishments during the 16th annual Distinguished Alumni & Service Awards this evening at USA’s MacQueen Alumni Center.

“We are delighted to have the opportunity to recognize the achievements of our alumni, friends and supporters,” said Margaret Sullivan, vice president for development and alumni relations. “These individuals have shown outstanding leadership in their respective career fields, to the University and in their communities.”

Distinguished Service Award

This year’s recipient of the Distinguished Service Award is James J. “Jake” Gosa. After graduating from the University of South Alabama in 1973, Gosa built a business career that saw him rise to become CEO and chairman of the board of the American Woodmark Corporation.

At USA’s Mitchell College of Business, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing, Gosa has participated in the “Senior Seminar, From the Boardroom” series and has served as the college’s executive in residence. He was named a Mitchell College Alumni Fellow and received the Mitchell College Impact Award.

During his time as CEO of American Woodmark, the bath and kitchen cabinet manufacturer grew from $220 million to $838 million in annual revenue. It was named to Forbes magazine’s 200 Best Small Companies list and Business Week’s list of 100 Hot Growth Companies.

He and his wife, Pat, who now live in Amelia Island, Fla., have endowed scholarships in the USA Mitchell College of Business and USA College of Nursing.

V. Gordon Moulton Distinguished Service Award

The recipient of the V. Gordon Moulton Distinguished Service Award is Dr. Joseph F. Busta Jr. As the University of South Alabama’s vice president for development and alumni relations, Busta led the institution in its first comprehensive fundraising campaign with a goal of $75 million. Before retiring in 2017, he began the University’s second comprehensive campaign, Upward & Onward, with a goal of $150 million.

Under Busta’s leadership, the USA National Alumni Association grew into an organization with chapters across the country, 5,000 members and financial resources in excess of $1 million.

One of his final projects at South was leading the campaign for a new alumni center on campus. In 2013, Busta successfully secured the lead gift to name the MacQueen Alumni Center, which enabled the project to move forward.

Busta and his wife, Jackie, reside in Orange Beach.

Inspirational Achievement Award

The recipient of the Inspirational Achievement Award is William J. “Happy” Fulford III.

In 1973, Fulford graduated with a bachelor’s degree in marketing from USA’s Mitchell College of Business. In 1991, he was awarded a master’s degree in educational leadership from the College of Education and Professional Studies.

In 1981, Fulford returned to South as director of alumni affairs, then director of development and alumni affairs and, finally, as executive director of governmental relations, a position he held until his retirement in 2019.

In 2019, the Alabama House and Senate passed a resolution recognizing Fulford as an exceptional administrator who served others and distinguished himself through his professional contributions.

He served in the Army Reserve for many years and received several unit awards. He also served in the Middle East during Operation Desert Storm before retiring from the Reserve in 2002 with the rank of colonel.

Established in 2020, the award has been named in Fulford’s honor and will now be known as the William J. “Happy” Fulford III Inspirational Achievement Award.

Community Partner Award

The recipient of the Community Partner Award is Merceria Ludgood. A Mobile native, Ludgood built a law career before becoming a Mobile County commissioner and supporter of the University of South Alabama.

She has been selected for programs such as Leadership Mobile, Leadership Alabama and the Kellogg National Leadership Fellowship.

Ludgood earned a law degree from the Antioch School of Law in Washington, D.C., and holds a master of divinity degree from the Alabama Interdenominational Seminary. She served as assistant county attorney before being elected to the county commission from the 1st District in 2007.

She’s a member of the Alabama Lawyers Association Hall of Fame and received a Trailblazer Award from the Mobile Bar Association and an A.F. Delchamps Award from the Mobile United Way. She donates her time to organizations such as the United Way, Leadership Alabama and the Alabama Appleseed Center of Law and Justice.

Recipients of the 2020 Distinguished Alumni Awards are:

William B. Burnsed Jr. ’72

After graduating from the University of South Alabama in 1972, Burnsed worked as an engineer for 20 years before starting his own oil company.

Burnsed worked for South Central Bell and BellSouth for two decades. He then started the Burnsed Oil Co., which bought property where major oil companies had abandoned production. After his initial success, Burnsed taught himself petroleum geology and studied seismographic data to decide where to drill new wells.

At South, he started scholarships for undergraduate and graduate students in the College of Engineering. He also contributed to the MacQueen Alumni Center and Hancock Whitney Stadium and made a transformational gift to the department of mechanical engineering that now bears his name.

John T. Crowder Jr. ’69

Crowder, a 1969 graduate of the University of South Alabama, practiced law in Mobile for more than 35 years.

Crowder grew up in the Eight Mile community north of Mobile. After earning an undergraduate degree from South, he was awarded his Juris Doctorate from the University of Alabama. He returned to Mobile and began his career as a trial lawyer.

In the late 1990s, he represented the state of Alabama against Exxon and obtained a $3.5 billion verdict for the state of Alabama. The National Law Journal named him lawyer of the year.

Crowder served as a charter member of “Pioneers for Justice” in the Alabama Civil Justice Foundation. At South, he has established a scholarship fund for pre-law students.

He and his wife, Karen, live in Fairhope.

Brian J. Cuccias ‘79

Cuccias, president of Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss., graduated from the University of South Alabama in 1979 with a degree in accounting.

Cuccias began his career as a financial analyst on Navy shipbuilding programs. At Ingalls, he has led the construction of Coast Guard vessels, amphibious assault ships and Burke-class destroyers.

The governor of Mississippi, Phil Bryant, praised Cuccias as “a people-first leader fiercely loyal to his fellow shipbuilders and tirelessly supporting the communities in which those employees live, work and play. In doing so, Brian brings great honor and recognition to the state of Alabama and to his alma mater, the University of South Alabama.”

In 2018, Cuccias was honored as one of the “Top CEOs in Mississippi” by the Mississippi Business Journal. Cuccias lives in Mobile with his wife, Helen, who graduated from South in 1982.

“These seven individuals represent the significant contributions our alumni and friends are making in our region and throughout the world,” said Karen Edwards, executive director of the USA National Alumni Association. “We are honored to recognize them through these awards and grateful to call them part of the South family.”

The USA National Alumni Association was founded in 1974 to support and positively influence the goals of the University through an active relationship with students, alumni and friends.

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