Indiana State University Newsroom

2013 Distinguished Alumni Award recipients recognized

October 10, 2013

They are an attorney and federal magistrate, a businessman, an educator and a nurse.

They come from a small town, a big city and Indiana State University's own backyard.

Indiana State's 2013 Distinguished Alumni Award recipients "demonstrate the diversity of careers that our graduates can pursue. They have all achieved great success and all are engaged in helping their communities," Randy Minas, president of the university's board of trustees, said during the Homecoming weekend recognition ceremony.

The Indiana State University Alumni Association honored four alumni during its 56th annual Distinguished Alumni Awards ceremony. This year's recipients were selected among 40 nominations, said Keary Dye, president of the association's board of directors.

"Indiana State University has a tradition of strong undergraduate and graduate education with a focus on community and public service," Dye said. "The 2013 class of Distinguished Alumni honorees have embraced and carried out the university's mission to the fullest.They have taken their experiences as students at Indiana State and have positively impacted the communities they live. They have shared knowledge and skills they learned and have excelled in their careers. They are.... without a doubt...exceptional and well-deserving of the Distinguished Alumni Award."

Craig McKee, ‘79, followed his parents and grandfather to Indiana State and has gone on to become an attorney and federal magistrate.

"Mr. McKee is an exceptional individual and his diligent efforts have made both Terre Haute and the Indiana State community a better place to work and live," ISU Foundation President Ron Carpenter said. "He's been a true Sycamore his whole life. He wears his blue properly and broadly."

McKee holds a bachelor's degree in speech communication and journalism from Indiana State and a law degree from Indiana University. He has practiced law since 1985 and is a part-time federal magistrate judge for the court's Terre Haute division. He has been active in a number of civic organizations and on various non-profit boards, including the ISU Foundation, and has been an Indiana Historical Society board member since 2010. He was the first person from outside greater Washington, D.C. to serve as president of the Washington National Cathedral Association and is a serving officer in the Most Venerable Order of St. John, a British order of chivalry.

As a youngster, McKee recalled, he would walk by the portraits of Distinguished Alumni Award recipients on his way to his dad's office. His dad, Dale McKee, served as director of alumni affairs.

"Over time, I came to know many of those persons. This week I have been remembering my own journey," he said. "My professors, particularly in speech communication and journalism, were devoted to students and particularly encouraging to me."

In 1976, months before Larry Bird played his first basketball game for the Sycamores, McKee took a student job that he describes now as being central to his college experience. That job was as assistant director of sports information.

"I had just turned 18 years old. By accepting, I received the most improbable athletic scholarship in the history of this institution - maybe anywhere," he said. "For three years ... I observed at close range not only great success but also the real life world of egos and agendas that sometimes clash and if I was described then as 20 going on 50, it's true, and it's because I was introduced to that world perhaps before my time. That experience has influenced, however, every day of my life since."

McKee is "grateful for the teaching, encouragement and support from family and friends and faculty that enriched me then, and is part of me now," he said. "For today's students and for generations we will not see or know, I am confident that a journey across this quad, the march through the arch and to the commencement stage will lead to a rewarding and productive life. It has been so for me."

George Pillow, '71, came to Indiana State on a basketball scholarship and excelled both on and off the court while completing a degree in environmental health, Carmen Tillery, vice president for student affairs and dean of students, said.

Pillow set a number of records as a Sycamore, was a Converse All-American and is a member of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame and Indiana State's Athletics Hall of Fame. Following graduation from Indiana State, he served as a senior account manager for Xerox, then as a cabinet member for former Indiana Gov. Robert Orr. He has been active in numerous not-for-profit organizations, served with the committee that landed the NCAA headquarters for Indianapolis, was on the state's Interstate 69 Committee, and is a member of the university's board of trustees.

"Since the first time I met Mr. Pillow, I have admired him for all his professionalism, pride for his alma mater and his personal commitment to the success of ISU students," Tillery said. "He is a proud Sycamore and works tirelessly to promote Indiana State in Indianapolis and everywhere he goes. On several occasions, in the midst of one's personal crises, Mr. Pillow has assisted an ISU student in need. Mr. Pillow's character, demeanor, and enthusiasm represent Indiana State University at the highest level."

Pillow said he is humbled by the recognition from his alma mater.

"I've received a lot of awards in my time but this is where it all started, Indiana State University. It's been a great journey," he said, repeating a story he has heard other Distinguished Alumni tell.

"I've heard this story so many times that a professor cared about a student so much that he or she would come and make a difference in a student's life," he said.

As 18 year olds sometimes do when away from home without mom or dad to get them up in the morning, Pillow told of "blowing off" an 8 a.m. class only to have his professor knock on the door of his room one morning.

"George, you can't always be a basketball player, but what you can do is be a good student, graduate from college, get a degree and go out in the world and make something of yourself," he recalled the professor saying.

"I never missed that man's class again and I've heard this story so many times from people," Pillow said. "Indiana State University means so much to me because it's a great university. It puts pride in people and makes you feel like you can go out and conquer the world."

Danny Tanoos, '79, MS '83, Ed.S. '97, a first-generation college graduate, never thought of going anyplace other than Indiana State and now serves as superintendent of the sixth largest public school system in Indiana.

In introducing Tanoos, Kandi Hill-Clarke, dean of the Bayh College of Education, said he "has influenced not only thousands of young people in his career but also greatly influenced the teaching profession."

Like most recent graduates of the Bayh College, "Danny started his career as a classroom teacher, was motivated to become an elementary and middle school principal and to eventually endure the position of superintendent - yes, endure. He is a true supporter of education in every sense and is well known in the community for his commitment to the school corporation and improving education," she said. "Danny is a walking billboard advertisement, reflecting all that is good and positive when it comes to serving the needs of all children."

A bachelor's degree in elementary education is one of four Indiana State degrees and certificates Tanoos holds. He has been Vigo County schools superintendent since 1998 and has served on the Indiana State Board of Education, the Indiana Education Roundtable and on several local, state and national educational, non-profit and governmental panels. He founded Vigo County's first school/business partnership. Tanoos has received numerous professional and community honors, including district superintendent and principal of the year awards, an Indiana Department of Education award for integration of students with special needs and an NAACP Leadership Award.

Tanoos noted that his wife, son, brothers and cousins all attended Indiana State and never considered any other university.

"We were born to bleed blue," he said. "My uncle Dick, ISU's biggest fan, who died last year, always stated, ‘In the end, all you have is your name. Make it proud.' I know he is looking down on us tonight, proud of the Tanoos name."

Tanoos said his Distinguished Alumni Award is a reflection of the hundreds of teachers and administrators - many of whom are also Indiana State graduates - who work in 28 Vigo County schools and the school corporation's central office.

"This honor tonight comes about due to your love of our children and your dedication to our community," he said. "You all model the saying, ‘It's not what may be poured into a student's mind, but what is planted for a lifetime that counts.' You have planted so many seeds in our students and you are making them grow into fine young leaders and our leaders of tomorrow."

Sara Rich Wheeler, '70, of Covington, is co-founder of Resolve through Sharing, a national program for families that have experienced loss through miscarriage, stillbirth or newborn death. She has conducted groundbreaking research in understanding the responses and needs of women experiencing miscarriage.

During her 43 years as a professional nurse, she has worked as a staff nurse, clinical nurse specialist, nurse educator, dean of nursing and national dean of nursing. While at Gunderssen-Lutheran Hosptial in LaCrosse, Wis., she developed a network of support and education for physicians and nurses who cared for childbearing families and received the 1982 March of Dimes Maternal Nurse of the Year Award for her efforts to improve the standard of care for babies and their families in Wisconsin. For 33 years, Wheeler has been involved in the education of nurses, including as an Indiana State faculty member.In introducing Wheeler, Lea Hall, executive director of nursing at Indiana State, described her as "a fellow nursing professional who many students, faculty, alumni and especially her patients admire. (She) is compassionate, driven and caring. All of these qualities make her an exceptional person and nursing professional."

Wheeler said she knew since fifth grade that she wanted to be a nurse.

"When I was 12, I remember starting my prayer for my life to be used in the way that it should be and as I look back on my career ... it has been," she said.

Wheeler said she is "thrilled" to receive the Distinguished Alumni Award.

She noted that her father had to turn down a full scholarship to Indiana State Teachers College in 1939 because his family needed him to work. It was her dad who encouraged her to enroll at Indiana State following the launch of the university's nursing program, which is marking its 50th anniversary this year.

Resolve through Sharing "would not be where it is today," she said, had it not been for Leah Ramer, professor emeritus of nursing, who recommended her as a national speaker on adolescent pregnancy, which was the subject of her research while at Indiana State.

"(Co-founder) Rana (Linbo) and I were speakers that year and we had people surrounding our table 10 feet deep," she said. "They wanted the program, they wanted the slides, they wanted to know how to take pictures of babies when they died. That would not have happened had it not been for the mentorship of Leah Ramer and I want to thank her tonight."

Wheeler said her husband and daughter are also Indiana State alumni and they, together with her nursing classmates and students, are proud of the education they received.

"We learned how to think, and I'm telling you if you go into the hospital these days you want to have a nurse with you and you want to have a good nurse with you - one who can think and one who understands the system, because if you're there alone you're vulnerable," she said. "We were taught how to stand on our feet. "ISU provides a legacy for its nursing graduates to go out there and make a difference."

Wheeler said she is grateful to the community of Terre Haute for supporting Indiana State and thankful for those who work on behalf of the university and its alumni.

"I thank you so much for the award," she said, as tears began to fill her eyes, "but I just have to say, ‘Daddy, this is for you.'"

Photo: - Craig McKee

Photo: - George Pillow

Photo: - Danny Tanoos

Photo: - Sarah Rich Wheeler

Contact: Hilary Duncan, assistant director, Indiana State University Alumni Association, 812-514-8453 or

Writer: Dave Taylor, media relations director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3743 or