Four Being Honored with Distinguished Service Award

by News Bureau on Monday, Oct. 08, 2012

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., Oct. 8, 2012 — The Alumni Association at Southeast Missouri State University will honor four individuals with Distinguished Service Awards during Homecoming festivities Oct. 20.

Recipients will be Rebecca McDowell Cook of Jackson, Mo., local attorney and former Missouri Secretary of State; Michael K. Harris Sr. of Sikeston, Mo., retired from the Missouri Army National Guard, and a local civic and church volunteer; Robert A. Lipscomb of Jonesboro, Ark., founding member of both the Copper Dome Society and Redhawks Alumni Group; and Jim Mayer of Arlington, Va., administrative officer in the Voluntary Services Office of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Distinguished Service Awards are presented to individuals who have made lasting contributions to their communities and to the University.

The awards will be given at an All Alumni Breakfast to be held at 7:30 a.m. in the Kem Statuary Hall in the Aleen Vogel Wehking Alumni Center at 926 Broadway. Cost of the breakfast is $10 per person. Reservations may be made by calling the Alumni Association at (573) 651-2259 or emailing agrissom@semo.edu.

Rebecca McDowell Cook

Rebecca (“Bekki”) McDowell Cook attended Sweet Briar College in Virginia and Southeast Missouri State University before graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia in 1972 with a degree in political science. She graduated from the University of Missouri School of Law in 1975 and married John Cook the following year. The Cooks have two children, Hunter and Morgan.

After graduating from law school, Cook returned to the Cape Girardeau area and joined the firm of Limbaugh, Limbaugh and Russell and later joined the Oliver, Waltz and Cook firm. She was the first woman to receive the University of Missouri School of Law’s Honorary Order of the Barristers Award for trial practice.

A lifelong advocate of elementary, secondary and post-secondary education, Cook was named to the State Board of Education in 1990. She was appointed Secretary of State in 1994 and was elected to that position in 1996, serving until 2001. She resumed her law practice in 2005 and retired in 2011.

Most recently, she has been instrumental in promoting Read to Succeed, a United Way volunteer tutoring program, in the Cape Girardeau elementary schools.

Cook and her husband have funded two Southeast scholarships, and she has served on the Southeast Missouri University Foundation Board in various capacities since the 1980s.

Michael K. Harris Sr.

Harris is a lifelong resident of Sikeston, Mo., and a 1979 graduate of Sikeston Senior High School. He attended Southeast Missouri University, earning his Bachelor of Science in social work in 1984 and his Master of Science in Administration with a major in human services administration in 2001. As an undergraduate, he served as the membership chair of Student Activities Council and was a 1981 pledge of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.

Upon graduation, Harris enlisted in the Missouri Army National Guard in May 1984 and retired in January 2007, obtaining the rank of Master Sergeant. In 2005, he was called to active duty in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In Iraq, he served as the Noncommissioned Officer in Charge with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at the Logistical Support Area Anaconda located near Balad, Iraq. Harris completed active duty in June 2006, earning a Bronze Star Medal, an Iraqi Freedom Campaign Medal and a Combat Action Badge. Harris is a Life Member of the Veteran’s of Foreign Wars and a member of the American Legion.

Harris sponsors a scholarship to be awarded annually at Southeast to a low-income student from the Department of Social Work in the College of Health and Human Services. Harris is an active participant in advocating for church and other community-based organizations to develop community gardens as a way of empowering people to supplement their incomes and provide their families affordable nutritious food sources.

Harris is well known as a community and civic volunteer who has served multiple terms on a variety of not-for-profit boards and committees aimed at improving the quality of life for Sikeston area residents. He has served three terms as councilman to the City of Sikeston, including as mayor pro tem in 2004. He is a member of the Sikeston Lion’s Club, the Southeast Missouri University Foundation Board and Copper Dome Society. He is chairman of the Martin Luther King Day Planning Committee, the Business Research Institute Housing Development Corporation and Mission Missouri. He is past master of the Peaceful Lodge 181-Prince Hall Affiliate and founding pastor of the Open Door Fellowship Ministries.

Harris is married to the Honorable Councilwoman Dr. Maude Harris, who holds degrees from Southeast from 1985, 1995 and 2001. Family members are Najawa, Brenda, Sloane and Michael “Kellar.” Brenda and Sloane Harris are current Southeast students.

Robert A. Lipscomb

Lipscomb is a charter member of both the Copper Dome Society and Redhawks Alumni Group and has always answered his alma mater’s call to assist in recruitment, alumni events and the Diamond Club. For this year’s Homecoming, he will serve as the Diamond Club’s ambassador.

Lipscomb graduated from Southeast with a double-major in music, and commerce and business. Lipscomb continued his education in music and business at Northwestern University and the University of Colorado.

He is a retired orchestra conductor, band director, teacher, administrator and realtor. He taught music and business in Missouri, Illinois and Arkansas, and influenced the lives of thousands of students, many of whom still stay in regular contact with him. During his over 30 years of service to Blytheville, Ark., public schools, his band was selected as one of the top 100 high school bands in the United States. During this time, he continued to serve his alma mater as a guest faculty member at Southeast summer band camps. He was a guest of the University of Southern California music department and Trojan Marching Band, where he spoke about the operation of band programs in smaller schools, and he served as the Arkansas auditions host for the New England Conservatory of Music. He was also a member of Phi Beta Mu national honor society for band directors.

While in Blytheville, Lipscomb was active in the Blytheville First United Methodist Church; in the Greater Blytheville Chamber of Commerce; as a public service commissioner; in the Blytheville Country Club; and in the Rotary Club of Blytheville, which honored him as a Paul Harris Fellow. In 2009, he was recognized by District 6150 as the Rotarian with the longest period of Rotary Service.

Lipscomb’s passion for Southeast began in 1921 when he enrolled in kindergarten on the University campus. He attended Cape Girardeau public schools and graduated in 1934. He attended Southeast from 1934-1940. His studies were interrupted for a year and a half while he worked in businesses on Main Street in Cape Girardeau so that he could continue his education. During this time he joined the National Guard and served in the Headquarters Company, 140th Infantry, 35th Division, and served in the 140th Infantry Band.

Lipscomb married his college sweetheart, Alice Michie, in 1941, and he and Michie were married for more than 64 years. He still maintains a busy schedule at 96 years old, including playing bridge three times a week. He has three children: Linda Lou Lipscomb Moore, who received her Master of Arts from Southeast; Sarah Lipscomb Blanz; and Robert R. Lipscomb. He also has three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Jim Mayer

Mayer retired from the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) in September, where he had been serving as a warrior outreach coordinator. In this position, Mayer visited and assisted wounded warriors and their families in military hospitals in the local area. From June 2007 thru January 2011 Mayer was the WWP director of peer mentoring. He helped create a continuing, national program to train wounded warriors, spouses and caregivers to be peer mentors for more recently injured service members.

Mayer began his employment with WWP after retiring from the Veterans Administration (VA) in June 2007 where he had been employed in the VA Seamless Transition Office working as an outreach coordinator to returning service members.

He is a native of St. Louis, (Shrewsbury), a 1964 graduate of Affton Senior High School and has two degrees from Southeast Missouri State University: a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a major in marketing management, 1968; and a Bachelor of Science in Business Education, 1972.

Mayer enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1968 and served as an infantryman with the 25th Division in the Republic of Vietnam. In April 1969, he was wounded by a land mine explosion that left him a bilateral below-the-knee amputee.

He served as the executive director of Leadership VA (LVA), VA’s premier executive development program, from March 1998 to February 2005. Almost 500 VA executives graduated from LVA during his tenure.

In 1974, Mayer began his VA career as special assistant for Vietnam Veterans Affairs to the Administrator of Veterans Affairs, Richard Roudebush. In 1977, Administrator Max Cleland appointed Mayer as his executive assistant. While serving as a VA non-career appointee, he became a charter member of the Senior Executive Service. His VA career also includes work with the Communications & Inquiries Staff, Spinal Cord Injury Service, Office of the ACMD for Professional Affairs, Rehabilitation Research & Development Service and the VA Voluntary Service Office.

He has served the veterans service organizations as president of the National Association of Collegiate Veterans and staff administrator of the Paralyzed Veterans of America.

He actively volunteers as a Wounded Warrior Project and Amputee Coalition of America certified amputee peer visitor and trainer at Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC). He and his volunteer work were cited by Garry Trudeau in the comic strip Doonesbury as “Jim, the Milkshake Man.” Mayer also served as treasurer and member of the board of directors of the Human Service Charities of America and previously was the Independent Charities of America’s treasurer and chairperson of its Budget & Finance Committee.

Mayer has received numerous awards, including the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation Courageous Spirit Award; Secretary of the Army Public Service Award; VA Distinguished Career Award; WRAMC Commander’s Award for Public Service; Amputee Coalition of America’s Role Model Award of the Year; Secretary of Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service; ABC World News Tonight Person of the Week; VA Exceptional Service Award; and the VA Secretary’s Award for volunteer service to patients wounded in Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom at WRAMC and the National Naval Medical Center; George Washington Honor Medal from the Freedoms Foundation for work as a volunteer with Desert Shield/Desert Storm wounded at WRAMC; Secretary of Veterans Affairs Outstanding Volunteer; VA Exceptional Service Award; and VA Meritorious Service Award. He also has been named to the Afton Senior High School Hall of Fame and has been named a Daily Point of Light.