Three to be Honored with Distinguished Service Award


CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., Oct.13, 2008 – The Alumni Association of Southeast Missouri State University will honor three individuals with Distinguished Service Awards during Homecoming festivities Oct. 25.

Recipients will be Gene Bess of Poplar Bluff, Mo., director and head basketball coach at Three Rivers Community College (TRCC); Neal Boyd of Sikeston, Mo., recent winner of NBC’s “America’s Got Talent;” and Dr. Jerry Waddle of Cape Girardeau, Mo., retired long-time educator.

The 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. Oct. 25 in the Wehking Alumni Center, 926 Broadway. Bess and Waddle are expected to be on hand to accept their awards. Boyd is not expected to attend due to circumstances surrounding his recent winning of “America’s Got Talent.”

Breakfast tickets are $10 per person.  To purchase a ticket or for more information on the awards, call (573) 651-2259.

Gene Bess

Gene Bess is in his 39th season as athletic director and head basketball coach at Three Rivers Community College (TRCC) in Poplar Bluff, Mo. His career record entering the 2008-2009 season is 1,056-278. His winning percentage is 79.2 percent. Before Bess came to Three Rivers, he had a very successful high school coaching career. He won 250 games over a 12-year stint at Lesterville High School, Anniston High School and Oran High School. In his last season at Oran, his squad lost to Dixon 76-74 in the Missouri Class M high school championship. He served one year as an assistant coach for Bob Cradic’s 1970 TRCC team.

Bess has led the TRCC Raiders to 15 tournament appearances in the NJCAA tournament, where his career mark is 37-22. The Raiders have reached the “final four” eight times. He has led the Raiders to two national championships in 1979 and 1992. The 1979 TRCC team defeated Mercer Co., N.J., 60-59 in overtime and the 1992 TRCC team beat Butler Co., Kan., 78-77.

Bess has been recognized as NJCAA National Coach of the Year twice, Regional Coach of the Year 19 times, and MCCAC Conference Coach of the Year 17 times. He is a member of the Poplar Bluff Sports Hall of Fame, Missouri Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame, Missouri Sports Hall of Fame and National Junior College Hall of Fame. He is the all time most winning junior college coach. The new biography titled Gene Bess: College Basketball’s Winningest Coach is available at

Bess, a deacon at the First Baptist Church in Poplar Bluff, is a 1957 graduate of Southeast Missouri State University. He and his wife, Nelda, have two children, Janell Hartmann and Brian, Raiders’ assistant coach, and four grandchildren, Taylor Hartmann, Kolby Bess, Kiley Bess and Bryelle Hartmann.

Neal Boyd

This month, Neal E. Boyd was declared the “Best New Act in America,” winning the NBC hit television series “America’s Got Talent” and becoming the winner of a $1 million prize.  Boyd has since headlined his first Las Vegas show at the MGM Grand Arena.

Since this year’s season of America’s Got Talent started, Boyd has been a star of the NBC ratings blockbuster, which is produced by “American Idol” producers Fremantle Media North America and Simon Cowell’s SYCO Television.  From the beginning, the Sikeston native was a standout in the pool of more than 200,000 people who tried out for the show.  He began appearing in national commercials weeks before the season premiere in June, and was featured in an emotional 10-minute segment that closed that premiere.  NBC had the #1 ratings hit on television from that point forward.

Upon being declared the winner during the live season finale earlier this month, Boyd thanked his mother, Esther; Sikeston; the State of Missouri; and America.  Neal was celebrated by his idol, the world renowned tenor Placido Domingo, who said to him, “Congratulations Neal.  By participating in America’s Got Talent, you have brought to America’s ears opera, so be proud of it.  And I’m sure from today on that you are starting a brilliant career.”

Boyd was an active student leader at Southeast Missouri State University, where he was a speech communication major, with minors in music and political science.  In addition to his Southeast degree, Boyd also holds a degree in music from the University of Missouri – Columbia, and a master’s degree in management from the University of Phoenix.

Boyd was a frequent soloist for Southeast’s University Choir and performed many lead roles with the Opera All-Stars.  Those included scenes as “Alfredo” in Verdi’s “La Traviata,” “Nemorino” in Donizetti’s “L’Elisir d’amore” and “The Duke” in Verdi’s “Rigoletto.”  His full-scale collegiate performances included roles as “Ferrando” in Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutti,” “Eisenstein” in “Die Fledermaus” and “The Negro” in “The Roar of the Greasepaint, The Smell of the Crowd.”  He performed numerous roles with the University of Missouri’s Show-Me Opera scenes program, including “Fenton” in Verdi’s “Falstaff,” and “Lennie” in Floyd’s “Of Mice and Men.”

Along with his academic and musical activities at Southeast, Boyd also was very active in his fraternity, Lambda Chi Alpha, and in Student Government.  He was also a member of the Interfraternity Council, the Residence Hall Association, and the Student Activities Council.  Boyd served as a Presidential Ambassador, and spent a semester in Jefferson City as a Southeast Intern in the Missouri House of Representatives, where he was elected Speaker of the entire Intern Caucus.

Boyd’s reputation as a talented artist grew while he was at Southeast.  He gained local attention for a number of appearances while he was a student, including a memorable solo performance at the Show Me Center at President Dale Nitzschke’s inauguration, where he stepped in at the last minute in place of Maya Angelou.

He began to gain more attention in 2000 when he became the National Young Artist Vocal Champion.  He was the winner of the 2000 National Collegiate Artist Voice Competition of the Music Teachers National Association (MTNA); a frequent winner at the National Association of Teachers of Singing competition; a guest soloist for the 2001 Missouri All-State Choir; and a member of the 1996 Missouri All-Collegiate Choir.

Boyd has become known for appearances throughout Missouri, including solo performances at the memorial service for the late Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan, the Inaugural Ball for former Gov. Bob Holden, the dedication of the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge, the opening of the 2004 Missouri Senate General Session, and the inauguration of Gov. Matt Blunt.  He has performed at world-class national venues including Carnegie Hall in New York and at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

When Boyd began his involvement with America’s Got Talent earlier this year, he was working in St. Louis as a district sales coordinator for Aflac (American Family Life Assurance Company of Columbus).  His title as “Insurance Salesman Opera Singer” would stick throughout the “America’s Got Talent” season.     Although Hollywood and Las Vegas have demanded much of his time lately, Boyd has maintained his Missouri residency and looks forward to the opportunity to spend some more time “back home.”  He is proud of his continued involvement with the State of Missouri, where he was appointed by Gov. Blunt to the Missouri Training and Employment Council (MTEC) in April 2007.  Earlier this year, he was appointed to the Missouri Workforce Investment Board (MoWIB) for a four-year term.

Boyd, who is referred to as “The Voice of Missouri,” is thankful to Southeast for the opportunities he had as a student that have allowed him the opportunity to realize his dream of becoming an international opera star.

Dr. Jerry Waddle

Retired educator Dr. Jerry Waddle of Cape Girardeau formerly served as superintendent, principal and science teacher with the Delta R-V, Scott County R-IV, Dexter R-XI and North St. Francois County R-I school districts. Later, he was employed by Southeast Missouri State University as interim dean of the College of Education, Southeast coordinator of the Cooperative Doctoral Program with the University of Missouri-Columbia, director of the Regional Professional Development Center and associate professor, teaching educational leadership. Waddle, who retired last year after 41 years in education, continues to teach introductory education courses part time in the Department of Middle and Secondary Education at Southeast.

Waddle was honored in summer 2008 as a “Pioneer in Education” at the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s 47th Cooperative Conference for School Administrators in Osage Beach, Mo. The award honored classroom teachers, school administrators, legislators and citizens for their distinguished service and leadership to Missouri public education.

“Jerry Waddle has had a distinguished career as an educator in Southeastern Missouri and an outstanding public servant in the truest sense of the term,” said Dr. Margaret Noe, dean of Southeast’s College of Education and professor of educational leadership. “Dr. Waddle is a respected teacher-scholar who has brought national prominence to the University. He is an asset to the college, and we are pleased that our current students who are aspiring teachers are able to benefit from the depth and breadth of his educational experience.”

Over the years, Waddle has assisted several Missouri school districts in their search for a superintendent, and he has served as president and a member of the executive and nominating committees of the Southeast Missouri District Superintendents. He has served as president of the Board of Directors of the Missouri State High School Activities Association and co-chair of the Missouri Association of School Administrators Program Committee, president of the Missouri Professors of Educational Administration and treasurer of the Missouri Association of School Administrators.

He has been nominated twice for the Missouri State Teachers Association District Level Administrator of the Year award and has received the Outstanding Scholarship Award and the Outstanding Teaching Award from the Southeast College of Education. Waddle also has received the Distinguished Service Award and the Irvin A. Keller Award from the Missouri State High School Activities Association, the Meritorious Service to Education Award from the Missouri State Teachers Association Southeast District and the Outstanding Emeritus Educator award from the Missouri Association of School Administrators Southeast District.

He has been active in his community as well, having served as a Sunday School teacher for more than 20 years, former member and past president of the Delta Rotary Club, Dexter Kiwanis Club and the Benton Chamber of Commerce and a former member of the Dexter Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.

Waddle is a 1966 graduate of Southeast Missouri State University, where he earned a bachelor of science in education degree. He holds a master’s degree in education from the University of Mississippi and a doctoral degree in education administration from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Neal Boyd

Dr. Jerry Waddle

Gene Bess