Members of the class of 2017 from National Park College walked across the stage on Saturday and followed in the footsteps of many notable officials and public figures.
More than 400 students completed the requirements for graduation ahead of Saturday's commencement ceremony at Bank of the Ozarks Arena. The college honored faculty, staff and the recipient of the 2017 Outstanding Alumni award, Nancy Anderson, Thursday during the annual Employee Recognition Day in the NPC Wellness Center gymnasium.
"I have had a lot of friends here and a lot of great memories here," Anderson said. "I could talk about them all day, but it was a fun experience and it did lead me to my love of education."
Anderson attended the college as a nontraditional student and a working wife and mother. She later earned her bachelor's and master's degrees from Henderson State University, an education specialist from Harding University and recently completed her doctorate in educational leadership from Lamar University in her 19th year in education. Anderson is in her fifth year as superintendent of the Cutter Morning Star School District after helping the district escape financial distress in her first year.
"You truly do make a difference," Anderson said to the faculty and staff. "You made me feel like I could do this, be in education and continue my degrees, but I built personal relationships with everyone and that's really what it is all about."
Personal relationships and educational boosts have been staples in the college's appeal since it opened in 1973. The college continues to recognize notable graduates every year.
Otto Thorwarth received the 2013 Outstanding Alumni award. The former jockey was featured in a role in the 2010 movie, "Secretariat."
Jeff Crow, director of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, received the 2016 award. He earned a degree in criminal justice from NPC, a bachelor's degree from John Brown University and a master's at Arkansas State University.
"My time at National Park College really sparked my desire to become a lifelong learner," Crow said. "Academically, my most enjoyable memory was the Criminal Law class that I took under Garland County District Judge Ralph Ohm.
"I don't remember enjoying a class as much as I did that one during all my higher learning experiences. Most importantly, the best thing that happened to me at NPC was meeting my wife Susanna, in a psychology class in 1989."
Crow was a combat veteran in the U.S. Marine Corps in Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom II. He retired from active and reservist duty and joined the Arkansas State Police, where he worked in highway patrol, criminal investigations and SWAT. He was also a criminal justice instructor for the University of Arkansas.
"My college experience has been the difference in my professional career," Crow said. "I believe someone's desire to learn, improve and expand their capabilities is often the difference when opportunities present themselves.
"I began pursuing my college education in 1989 and completed my master's degree in 2014. While I would not recommend young students to take that long, each of those educational experiences have equipped me for the next step in my career."
The 2015 recipient was Brittany Esquibel-Ratkovic, owner of Picture Perfect Imaging, a professionally owned and operated ultrasound imaging studio. She graduated from NPC in 2010, earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith in 2012, obtained a license with the American Society of Radiologic Technology, became a registered diagnostic medical sonographer and worked full-time before she opened Picture Perfect with her husband in 2013.
A member of the 2015 class is now featured on the show, "Counting On," on TLC. The show follows the lives of the children of the Duggar family, which was previously chronicled on the TLC show, "19 Kids and Counting."
The 2015 ceremony was filmed for a planned episode of "19 Kids and Counting" as Ben Seewald, who married Jessa Duggar, graduated with an associate degree in political science. He is the oldest of seven children of Michael and Guinn Seewald, of Hot Springs.
The episode did not air before the show was canceled, but the couple are now featured on the follow-up show with other members of the Duggar family. They welcomed their second child in February.
Mike Dugan, general manager of Merritt Wholesale Distributors, received the 2014 alumni award. He served as the 2016 chairman of The Greater Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce board.
Dugan taught tennis classes at the college and helped start its tennis program while he also lived on campus, attended gates and handled maintenance duties. He earned his bachelor's degree from Henderson, where he worked for nine years in the athletic department. Henderson presented Dugan the "H" Award from the HSU Alumni Association in 1989 for Meritorious Service to the University.
Laryssa Blunt, recipient of the 2012 alumni award, was recently inducted into The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi at Arkansas State University, where she is pursuing a master's degree in the nurse practitioner program. She is currently a nurse for the Garland County Health Unit.
"I tell everybody that I run into, it is like a diamond in the rough," Blunt said of the college. "It really is. It has evolved now."
"It offered me an entrance into higher ed to become what I wanted to become," she added.
Blunt was first credentialed from Quapaw Technical Institute as a licensed practical nurse in 1992. She said the college allowed her to continue caring for her daughter and pursue her education locally.
Blunt previously received the National Park Medical Center Maternal Child Unit Rising Star Award, Arkansas Community Colleges Outstanding Alumnus Award, and The Sentinel-Record's People's Choice Award third place for "Nurse of the Year Award." She returned to school and earned a registered nurse associate degree in 2007 with support from multiple scholarships despite applying for none of them. She did not learn of the awards until she attended Nursing Honors Day because attendance was mandatory.
"It blew me away," Blunt said. "I said from that point on, I will always give back to that program."
Blunt partnered with fellow LPN-to-RN graduate, Krystle Welch, to provide the Blunt/ Welch Caring Scholarship every year for the past decade to other LPN-to-RN students. Welch works as a nurse in Texas.
"When I say I am thankful, you just really don't know how thankful I am," Blunt said. "That money helped me finish, it paid for my boards and it was just wonderful."
Other award recipients include Martin White, former chief of Hot Springs Police Department; Donna Wright, associate director of Arkansas Council on Economic Education; and Forrest Spicher, who chaired the NPC Foundation, the Chamber board in 2015 and now the NPC Board of Trustees.
NPC alum Eileen Sotomora recently celebrated the 20th year of the American Heart Association's Arkansas Sweetheart program, which she helped found with her husband. Sotomora is a native of Washington, graduated from Lake Hamilton High School, earned an associate degree in nursing from NPC, continued her education at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and compiled an extensive record of volunteer service in the Little Rock community. The board of Women & Children First of Arkansas named her 2014's Woman of the Year.Local on 05/14/2017
Print Headline: National Park College owns legacy of jumpstarting careers