SHSU alumni are given ‘highest honor’

Five Sam Houston State University alumni were honored Friday at the Distinguished Alumni Gala for their exceptional contributions to the university and world.

The honorees were introduced and welcomed by about 350 alumni, students, faculty and guests including Susan Lenamon, Ph.D., president of the SHSU Alumni Association, and university President Dana Gibson, Ph.D.

The Distinguished Alumni Award recipient and founder and owner of several restaurants Damian Mandola has established a name as one of the foremost authorities on Italian cuisine in the Southwest.

Mandola graduated in 1977 with a degree in radio and television but pursued his passion for food by opening his first restaurant, Damian’s Fine Italian Food in Huntsville, during his final year at SHSU.

Over the years, Mandola has expanded his cooking empire to include major chains such as Carrabba’s Italian Grill and used his influence to earn more than $400,000 for the Burke Center Home for Boys. He also hosted numerous fundraisers for the Ronald McDonald House and other charities.

Mandola credits his success to his parents, Sicilian immigrants who used their entire life savings to send him and his brother to college.

Jenna Jackson was recognized as the Outstanding Young Alumnus of 2013 for being “an exceptional investigative reporter and overall superb television news producer,” according to Dan Rather, another SHSU alumnus.

After graduating in 1997 with a B.S. in both journalism and political science, Jackson began working for CBS in New York City. From 1997 until 2011, she received numerous media awards including an Emmy.

In 2011 Jackson returned to Texas and founded P&R Productions. She has gone on to work with numerous charity and community organizations in addition to sponsoring several SHSU events, such as “Bearkats in Business”.

Sam Monroe was also honored as a Distinguished Alumni for his dedication and work in the higher education system.

Monroe graduated from SHSU in 1965 with a B.B.A. and went on to earn a master of education and an honorary doctor of law from Lamar University. He served on Lamar’s Board of Regents for five years before he became the longest serving president of an institute of higher education.

According to Brian McCall, chancellor of the Texas State University System, Sam Monroe is almost single-handedly responsible for making Lamar State College the university it is today instead of the technical institute it started as.

Trisha Pollard was also recognized as a Distinguished Alumnus after serving on the TSUS Board of Regents.

“I am thrilled,” Pollard said. “This is the pinnacle of a student’s life, to rise to this honor. It’s all very exciting.”

In 1974, Pollard graduated from SHSU with a B.B.A. and a major in business education. She later received a juris doctorate from South Texas College of Law.

Pollard spent nearly 30 years in the oil and gas industry where she was chair of the Houston Bar Association Oil and Gas Section, before Gov. Rick Perry appointed her to the Texas One-Call Board which she called, “The highlight of her career.”

Pollard volunteered for Lawyers in Public Schools through the Houston Bar Association as well as participating in many other charities, such as Habitat for Humanity. As a member of the SHSU Alumni Board of Directors, she has rewritten the association’s by-laws and helped implement the Tuition Raffle Program.

Gibson agreed with Pollard, saying how high of an honor the award is for all of the recognized.

This is the highest honor we as a university can bestow upon you,” Gibson said. “You have brought honor and distinguish to this grand old university.”

The program awarded Wilfred Dietrich for his work in the Texas education system and community with the 2013 Service Award.

“All the confidence I have in people today came from [SHSU], Blinn and East Texas State University,” Dietrich said.

Dietrich graduated from SHSU in 1948 with a B.A. and M.A. in history and English. He then spent the next 42 years as a professor and department chair at Blinn College, where he also earned a reputation of being a student favorite.

Dietrich went on to found the Brenham Heritage Museum. He also donated to many more community improvement programs throughout Washington County and established several scholarship endowments across the state of Texas.

Now retired from teaching, Dietrich lives in Brenham where he built his home with his wife Bobbie. He frequently has past students stop by because he said “the door is always open.”

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