Southeast Alumni, Faculty to be Honored with 2020 Merit Awards


Four Southeast Missouri State University alumni and a faculty member will receive Merit Awards presented by the Southeast Alumni Association Oct. 29 at the Copper Dome Celebration virtual event during the University’s Spirit Week festivities.

The virtual event will begin at 5:30 p.m. with the option to log in as early as 5:15 p.m. Registration is required here.

Alumni Merit Awards have been presented annually since 1958 to Southeast alumni who have brought distinction to themselves and the University.

This year’s Alumni Merit Award recipients are: J. David Blakemore, of Campbell, Missouri, president of Blakemore Cotton & Grain, LLC; Debra Reid, of Dearborn, Michigan, curator of agriculture and the environment at The Henry Ford museum in Dearborn, Michigan, and an adjunct faculty member at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana; Roy Thomas, of St. Matthews, South Carolina, former Marvel editor and comic book writer and current editor of comics-history magazine “Alter Ego” and comic strips writer for the Edgar Rice Burroughs website; and Mirza Nadeem Zafar of Chicago, Illinois, division president for Chartwells at Compass Group USA.

Receiving the Faculty Merit Award will be Dr. Michelle Lyn Brune, Southeast professor of interior design. The Faculty Merit Award is presented for excellence in teaching.

J. David Blakemore

J. David Blakemore

 Blakemore who graduated from Southeast with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, double majoring in accounting and management information systems in 2010, and a Master of Business Administration with an emphasis in finance in 2015, is president of Blakemore Cotton & Grain, LLC.

He has served the ginning industry in a number of capacities including a term as president of the National Cotton Ginners Association from 2017 to 2018, during which time he also served as an executive committee member of the National Cotton Council (NCC).

Blakemore also served as chair of the NCC’s Cotton Flow Committee, which sets policy for the raw cotton supply chain throughout the United States and enhances the industry’s ability to deliver U.S. cotton globally. Blakemore also serves on the Cotton Trust Protocol, a sustainability arm of the NCC which opens markets for raw cotton throughout the world.

In 2018, Blakemore was elected president of the Missouri Cotton Growers Organization and was reappointed to the same organization by Gov. Mike Parson. The Missouri Cotton Growers Organization is the quasi-governmental entity responsible for Boll Weevil eradication in Missouri, which is instrumental in reducing pesticide use on cotton.

He has served nationally and internationally on the Boards of Directors for Ducks Unlimited, Ducks Unlimited Canada and Ducks Unlimited de México. Along with his wife, Carolyn, Blakemore works with Ducks Unlimited de México’s human dimension projects to improve the quality and longevity of life to those living in rural Mexico by providing clean water.

Blakemore and his wife have established scholarships for undergraduate and graduate students at Southeast. They have enjoyed the opportunity to meet and help students.

“One student was having trouble arranging his finances for returning to school to finish his undergraduate degree,” Blakemore said. “It was very rewarding when the student was awarded the scholarship and wrote a note about how important it was and how much he appreciated the scholarship being available.”

Blakemore and his wife Carolyn live in Campbell, Missouri, and have three daughters and one son. They are active members in the Holcomb United Methodist Church, where he serves as a Lay Speaker and is the Chairman of the Church Administrative Council.

Debra Reid

Debra Reid

Reid, who graduated from Southeast in 1982 with a Bachelor of Science in historic preservation, is the curator of agriculture and the environment at The Henry Ford museum in Dearborn, Michigan, and an adjunct faculty member at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. She has appeared on The Henry Ford’s Emmy Award-winning Saturday morning television program “Innovation Nation” to talk about hay and agricultural innovators like George Washington Carver.

She grew up on a family farm in southern Illinois and began pursuing a career in public history when Southeast Missouri State University launched a historic preservation program for undergraduates. Since leaving Southeast, Reid has been an interpreter and operations manager at historic sites and open-air museums in Maine, Wisconsin and New York, and a curator in Texas and Michigan. While working in museums between 1988 and 1997, she also taught in museum studies programs as an adjunct faculty member.

Southeast faculty played an important role in guiding Reid’s early career in historic preservation. She credits Michael Roark, Southeast professor emeritus of foreign languages and anthropology, who taught cultural geography, as someone who informed her approach from the beginning. And through the University’s historic preservation program and the influence of Dr. Arthur Mattingly, professor emeritus of history, Reid attended her first professional conference, the Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums (ALHFAM), in April 1981. Since 1986, she hasn’t missed a conference.

After graduating from Southeast, she was accepted into a highly regarded summer program for undergraduate students at the Historic Deerfield museum in Deerfield, Massachusetts. There, she studied ocean travel and trade documents in the museum collections. The next summer, she assisted with dismantling a historic log cabin in Sikeston, Missouri, that had been donated to Southeast. She later presented her first paper presentation at a professional conference, the Pioneer America Society conference.

Reid describes her nearly 40 years since leaving Southeast as a series of “reading, writing, working, reflecting and starting all over again.” She went on to earn a Master of Arts from the Cooperstown Graduate Program in History Museum Studies, a Master of Arts from Baylor University, and a doctorate from Texas A&M University. From 1999 to 2017, she taught history and historical administration at Eastern Illinois University.

Since 2005, she has taught a course on the history of Illinois agriculture as an adjunct faculty member with the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. During these years she wrote the award-winning “Reaping a Greater Harvest: African Americans and the Agricultural Extension Service in Jim Crow Texas” (2007) and “Interpreting Agriculture at Museums and Historic Sites” (2017). Additionally, she co-edited “Beyond Forty-Acres and a Mule: African American Landowners since Reconstruction (with Evan Bennett,” 2012), and co-wrote “Interpreting the Environment at Museums and Historic Sites” (with David D. Vail, 2019).

Reid is a past president and fellow of the Agricultural History Society. She is also a past president of the Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums (ALHFAM) and a recipient of ALHFAM’s Schlebecker Award for service to ALHFAM. She has been active with the Association for International Agricultural Museums since 1998, including serving as a representative from the United States, a vice president and webmaster.

Through it all, Reid tries to support others as she has been supported by helping the public recognize the practical concerns in a place that can distract people from their potential, and how reaching across boundaries and beyond places can help them find common ground.

Roy Thomas

Roy Thomas

Before Thomas became a celebrated comic book writer who would eventually work on heroic tales such as “The Avengers” and “Amazing Spider-Man,” he spent his early years living in Jackson, Missouri. After graduating from Jackson High School, Thomas, in 1958, attended Southeast Missouri State College, as it was then known, studying history and social sciences with minors in English and education. He graduated with magna cum laude honors in 1961. Thomas briefly taught high school English in Missouri and took a pair of graduate classes at Southeast before beginning in 1965 what would become an illustrious career in comics.

His work was primarily for Marvel and DC Comics, for which he co-created characters such as Wolverine, Carol Danvers (Captain Marvel), the Vision, Ultron, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, The Defenders and countless others. Thomas has written thousands of comics including runs on “The Avengers,” “The X-Men,” “Amazing Spider-Man,” “Fantastic Four,” “Dr. Strange,” “Daredevil,” “The Incredible Hulk,” “Wonder Woman,” “Shazam!” “Xena: Warrior Princess,” “The X-Files: Season One,” “Batman,” “Superman,” and more.

Thomas served as a Marvel editor from 1965 to 1980, during which time he spent two years as editor-in-chief. From 1983 to 1986, he served as a DC editor and co-created — mostly with his wife and fellow comic book writer, Dann — characters such as Artemis, Hazard, Obsidian, Deathbolt, Atom-Smasher and others that have appeared on The CW Television Network and animated television.

Graphic novels he has authored star fictional favorites such as Spider-Man, Conan, Dracula, Frankenstein, Superman, Justice League of America and others. In the 1980s, he co-wrote screenplays for the films “Fire and Ice” and “Conan the Destroyer.”

Today, Thomas edits the award-winning comics-history magazine “Alter Ego” and writes three online adventure comic strips for the Edgar Rice Burroughs website. From 2000 through 2019, he also ghost-wrote the “Spider-Man” newspaper comic strip for his mentor, Stan Lee. In 2014 and 2018, respectively, he authored the books “75 Years of Marvel: From the Golden Age to the Silver Screen” and “The Stan Lee Story.” Thomas has also written and selected material for a number of other volumes related to comics, including for PS Artbooks, Titan Books, Chartwell Books, Abrams and the Folio Society.

Thomas has appeared in television and film documentaries and can be spotted in a cameo as a prison inmate in the Marvel/Netflix series “Daredevil.” Over the years, he has received a number of fan and professional awards in the United States, Britain, Spain, France and Italy. At San Diego Comic-Con International in 2011, he was inducted into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame, and in recent years, has been one of the highest-profile guests on the comics convention circuit.

Thomas lives in rural South Carolina with his wife and fellow creator, Dann Thomas, and their “menagerie of animals.”

Mirza Nadeem Zafar

Mirza Nadeem Zafar

Zafar, who graduated from Southeast in 1999 with a Bachelor of Science in chemistry and again in 2002 with a Bachelor of Science in Hospitality, is the division president for Chartwells at Compass Group USA. He is responsible for comprehensive dining programs at more than 100 universities in 22 states, with a managed volume of $600 million.

When he first arrived at Southeast, Zafar was an international student from Doha, Qatar, and began his hospitality career by washing dishes at Towers Cafe. Since his time at Southeast, he has worked on various campuses between the United States and Canada before assuming his role as division president.

Zafar serves on the Southwest Minnesota State University Culinology and Hospitality Board and has been a “Big Brother” in the Ozarks chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.

Zafar led a Chartwells team in partnership with Northwestern University to develop tools to support food insecurity programs for students. Additionally, Zafar’s team has won several awards nationally some of which include best campus for innovation by Food Management Magazine and sustainability by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).

As a leader in hospitality, Zafar said he is passionate about helping students secure meaningful internships and successful placement in great careers. In fact, his commitment to student success is demonstrated by the fact that he has helped 278 students complete internships at Chartwells.

“Redhawks are resilient,” Zafar said, “and I have learned that outside the classroom at Southeast.”

He credits Southeast for providing him “the best experiential learning” and said some of his best memories as a Redhawk were studying on the lawns near Academic Hall and participating in intramural games. It was at Southeast that Zafar said he made lifelong friends, and he wants future graduates to take every advantage to engage and get connected while on campus.

Zafar is a recent father, likes to travel and enjoys a great game of tennis. He is currently pursuing a Master of Business degree from Rhode Island-based Johnson & Wales University.

Dr. Michelle Lyn Brune

Dr. Michelle Lyn Brune

Brune, a native of New Athens, Illinois, teaches interior design in Southeast’s Department of Art and Design. She earned a Bachelor of Science in home economics: housing and interior design and a Master of Science in Public Administration from Southeast in 1994 and 1998, respectively. She went on to earn a Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Missouri-St. Louis in 2010.

She began teaching in 2003, when she was hired as an assistant professor in Southeast’s interior design program. Brune developed a passion for sharing her professional interior design experiences with students and bringing into the classroom real-world, hands-on experiences.  Along with a team of faculty members, Brune has transformed the interior design curriculum and facilities to meet national accreditation standards over the past 10 years.

She served as a team member in Southeast’s efforts to seek accreditation through the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA) and the National Association of Schools of Art & Design (NASAD). In 2016, Brune served as the leader and program coordinator for the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA).

Brune’s passion for health, safety and welfare in interior environments led her to pursue several professional certifications. In 2015, she earned a certification from the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) and the Evidence-Based Design Accreditation and Certification (EDAC) credential in 2018. Brune is also pursuing the WELL Accredited Professional credential, which focuses on creating interior environments that promote human health and wellness for building occupants.

As a faculty member, Brune continues to serve on and chair several campus committees. As part of her service on the Catapult Creative House development/operations committee from 2011 through 2020, Brune successfully launched an interior design business that provides residential and commercial experiential learning opportunities for students. In 2018-2019, Brune showcased her leadership and administrative experience while serving as the interim chair of the newly formed Department of Art and Design.

She has been a full-time employee of Southeast for 23 years. After serving as a graduate assistant and temporary employee in the Annual Giving division of University Advancement, Brune was hired as associate director of development and special programs in 1997. Two years later, she became a project manager for Facilities Management, and in 2001, she was promoted to building maintenance manager for construction and service. She became a faculty member and program coordinator of Southeast’s interior design program in 2003.

Brune resides in Cape Girardeau with her children and husband Brian, who is also a graduate of Southeast. They are parents to Brady, a sophomore at Cape Central High School, and Brock, a fourth grader at Alma Schrader Elementary School.