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Jon K. Rust

Jon K. Rust is publisher of the Southeast Missourian and co-president of Rust Communications.

Uplifting stories about inspiring people who are making a big difference locally

Gayle Unverferth poses for a photo with Kevin Greaser, left, community president of First Midwest Bank in Cape Girardeau, and John N. Thompson, right, community president of First Midwest Bank in Jackson, at the 2019 B Magazine Newsmakers awards reception Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019, at First Midwest Bank in Cape Girardeau.
Ben Matthews ~ Southeast Missourian

Following is an abbreviated version of remarks made by Southeast Missourian publisher Jon K. Rust at the B Magazine Newsmakers Awards reception on Sept. 4 at First Midwest in Cape Girardeau.


We received dozens of nominations from throughout the distribution area of B, and there is a common thread between the honorees tonight.

It is that each one of them has proven to be a doer, someone, who isn't content to sit on the sidelines and watch the status quo continue around them. They are individuals who when they see something that needs doing, they do it. And they do it, often in trail-blazing ways, like no one else, displaying a passion for innovation and service.

What they do is newsworthy, in the most important way, and that's why they've been named a Newsmaker.

We appreciate that First Midwest is the official sponsor of B Magazine Newsmakers.

Doug Austin

Before returning to Cape Girardeau where his life and career had brought him twice before, Doug had a successful career working with more than 100 independent grocery stores. His goal was to retire by age 60.

When that age came -- more than two decades ago -- Doug did leave the career world, but he certainly didn't retire. For more than 20 years he's been a volunteer leader in Cape Girardeau, involving himself in dozens of important projects, including the city and his church, and dedicating his time to helping and encouraging others.

One program he was instrumental in growing was S.A.L.T., which stands for Seniors and Lawmen Together, and is best known for an annual memorial service honoring law enforcement officers from Southeast Missouri who were killed in the line of duty.

Doug told B Magazine, "I think God has a plan for each one of us. But then freedom of choice comes in. God, with his infinite wisdom, turned that over to us. I just sensed that this was what I was supposed to be doing."

Thank you Doug for your commitment in helping where you can, and turning retirement into a heartful time of service and encouragement, under the auspices of God's calling.

Carolyn Bohnert

Carolyn is senior vice president of Drury Southwest, a company where she's worked for nearly half a century, helping it to achieve the J.D. Power Award for 14 consecutive years. Along the way, she's also led many of the philanthropic efforts of Drury Southwest, from helping to found its Relay for Life team to countless other charitable endeavors.

One special focus of her personal energy has been Notre Dame High School. For the last 16 years, she has served on the school's foundation board. And for the past 26 years, she's spent countless hours volunteering with Notre Dame's twice-a-week bingo fundraiser.

Carolyn's service has inspired many others to serve, too, including her daughter Lindsay Bingaman, who is now the charitable giving coordinator at Drury Southwest.

Lindsay told B Magazine, "When my mom puts her mind to something, it's going to get done. And it doesn't matter who says something different; it's going to happen."

Thank you Carolyn for being an example of take-charge service, for loving what you do and for inspiring others to dig deep and give.

Jim Eddleman

Jim is a farmer in Perry County Missouri who more than 50 years ago made a promise to honor his comrades in Vietnam, if he was able to return home from war.

Today, Jim is fulfilling that promise in spectacular ways, each day, along with his wife Charlene, volunteering and talking to veterans at Missouri's National Veterans Memorial, which through his generosity and commitment was built on 47 acres of land, which he donated to the cause.

The memorial already includes a full-scale model of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., a museum, and the Honor the Flag Memorial, which pays tribute to veterans from every war or conflict in which America has been involved.

Jim told B Magazine, "When I was in Vietnam... I had so many young men that was just the same as I was, who came from small communities, small towns, and some of their names are on that wall. [Veterans who come here] can look at some of their friends, sit, reflect and remember, then hopefully they can start a healing process."

Jim, you are part of a long family legacy of those who served our country, from your grandfather and uncles to your own service around Bien Hoa, Saigon, Long Binh and Tay Ninh. You have fulfilled your promise and inspired others by your love and generosity. Thank you for taking care of our veterans -- helping them and their families find peace.

Denise Lincoln

Our nation is struggling right now with a history too often marred by racism and prejudice. And the vestiges of slavery continue to haunt not only our public discourse but our common conscience. Tragically, in this era where honest assessments and kind spirit are needed, arguments have too often turned to violence.

To move forward, into this breach must step the brave and the wise, the visionary and the kind, the honest, the informed and the dedicated. Denise is one of these leaders. Before traveling the country to help her husband, she was the director of a family resource center in South Cape Girardeau. But it was while traveling -- including a stop at the National Archives in Washingon, DC -- that she discovered something powerful, the history of men and women in Cape Girardeau who transitioned from slavery to freedom during and after the Civil War. It was a history -- both cruel and uplifting -- glaringly absent from our city's lore.

One of the histories Denise was able to trace -- and which she has chronicled in the Southeast Missourian -- was that of Harriet and James Ivers, a former slave from Cape Girardeau who enlisted in the Union Army.

In 2017, in large part thanks to Denise, the public square at Common Pleas Courthouse Park was renamed Ivers Square, and just a few months ago a statue representing Ivers and other people who had been slaves was dedicated in the park.

Denise played the central role in this memorial, identifying the statue and raising funds, and today, our community's history is told more completely, thanks to her efforts.

Denise, thank you for researching history, and telling the story of how African Americans struggled and persevered under slavery here in Cape Girardeau, so that in the future we can be stronger, kinder and wiser together.

Marla Mills

Any mention of Ivers Square would not be complete without talking about Marla Mills.

For the past 13 years until recently, Marla was the director of Old Town Cape, and under her leadership in 2018, Ivers Square was renovated with a $127,000 grant from Partners in Preservation, a grant that resulted from her cheerleading a national vote competition.

Ivers Square is also the home to Tunes at Twilight, a popular music performance that in the spring and fall graces our downtown on mild -- and sometimes not so mild -- Friday nights. Tunes at Twilight was another accomplishment of Marla and her team.

Marla's influence on Cape Girardeau has been profound. Full of energy and passion, she has poured herself into all aspects of improving downtown life -- from business issues to lifestyle amenities and economic development.

Above all, she attracted and empowered volunteers to make a difference.

Marla told B Magazine that one of the lessons she learned over the years is that, "What's important is the product or the end result, not who gets credit for it."

Marla, thank you for your passion, your dedication and your hard work for downtown Cape Girardeau. You helped build an organization full of volunteers and like-minded people, which has impacted a community in wonderful ways. You might not seek the credit, but the credit is due. Thank you for your years of service at the head of Old Town Cape.

Patricia Morris

Patricia is a mother and former Division of Youth Services teacher in Sikeston, who after battling bureaucratic red tape, opened a day care center for adults with special needs in 2007.

The facility was a success from the beginning, and by the end of the first year, she was serving 16 clients. When a state worker approached her and encouraged her to expand, she opened a second location in Caruthersville, and for 12 years now, she's been providing loving and empowering care to adults with needs in the two towns.

All those around her marvel at her spirit of service, from taking her clients on field trips to St. Louis and Nashville, to bowling excursions and teaching life skills. Throughout, the message of her actions is that everyone matters.

Patricia told B Magazine, "Our clients give more to us than we give to them. And I enjoy it, because it's never a dull moment. It's something different everyday."

Patricia, when you sought to solve the needs of your own daughter, you tapped into something much greater, valuing and empowering the most precious children of God. Thank you for stepping out, overcoming obstacles, and creating a place of belonging for those who desperately need it.

Lisa Newcomer

Lisa is the service line director for cancer services and pulmonology and sleep medicine at Saint Francis Healthcare in Cape Girardeau. It is a big job, where she impacts hundreds of people daily, guiding medical care and collaborating with frontline service providers.

Under her leadership, Saint Francis has implemented numerous innovations, including her bringing genetic counseling to the hospital so patients no longer needed to drive long distances for service.

This job would be enough to recognize Lisa as an influential person. But she does so much beyond work, too. She volunteers with Greyhound Pet Adoption and Big Brothers Big Sisters, serves on the board of the Southeast Missouri Network Against Sexual Violence and is a marriage counselor at LaCroix Church, to name just a few of her activities.

Lisa told B Magazine, "Working in this role, I feel like I am a servant leader, and I on a daily basis can give back to my community, the community that gave so much to me as I was growing up."

Lisa, thank you for giving back, for loving your family and community, for pouring your talents and intelligence and skills into helping others, in your life-critical day job and in the very many ways outside of it.

Andy Patel

Andy is a family man, entrepreneur and restaurateur, who built a company employing nearly 5,000 people across the Unites States, while giving back to the community where he now lives in innovative and entertaining ways.

He and his wife Anissa own 80 restaurants in 18 states, including the iHOP and Applebees in Cape Girardeau. Together, they are regularly recognized by national publications for their hard work, business acumen and financial success.

Andy told B Magazine, "I like to train people... I like to teach young kids to own a business... I like to see other people's success."

Two of Andy's new projects have garnered quite a bit of local attention recently. The first is Dogwood Social House: a 35,000 square foot restaurant, bar and entertainment venue, which features a video arcade, bowling alley, cigar lounge, ax throwing, live music, colossal video screen and much more.

His second local project is the Cape Catfish baseball team, where he and his wife are donating any profits from the teams' first five years back to the city to fund improvements to the stadium at Capaha Park.

Andy's story is truly remarkable, and it includes him arriving in America as a 20-year old, with $20 in his pocket, from a small farming community in India.

Andy told B Magazine, "My parents said, 'You go work hard, you will make it.' I came, and I really lived the American dream."

Andy, thank you for coming to America, for taking care of your employees and inspiring them to begin their own dreams. Thank you and your family for coming to Southeast Missouri -- and planting yourselves here in exciting and entrepreneurial ways. Your achievements are celebrated.

Alyssa Phares

Alyssa is senior director of Sales and Strategy at Visit Cape. As such, she is responsible for selling Cape Girardeau as a destination to tour groups, helping to attract tens of thousands of dollars into the community each month. It is a role she performs with diligence, style and professionalism.

But it is her role outside of work that gained her attention as a Newsmaker. For many years now, Alyssa has been involved in local historic preservation, currently serving as vice chair of the Cape Girardeau Historic Preservation Commission and president of the Reynolds House Foundation.

The Reynolds House, which was originally built in 1857, is currently under rehabilitation, with a hopeful goal of re-opening this winter.

Alyssa was also instrumental in establishing a Local Endangered Buildings list, which shines a light on historic properties that need attention.

Alyssa, for all your dedicated work drawing visitors to Cape Girardeau, and for your volunteer service around historic projects, so that visitors and residents alike have an even more enchanting place to visit and live, thank you.

Gayle Unverferth

When my first daughter was born, I came across a quote, which I'm not sure who said it or where. But it made me think and I wrote it down:

"Childbirth is an experience in a woman's life that holds the power to transform her forever. Passing through these powerful gates -- in her own way -- remembering all the generations of women who walk with her... She is never alone."

And yet, if a baby is stillborn, or dies from complications, the journey for mother and father, for the whole family, can be hard and heartbreaking.

Gayle has dedicated much of her life to helping families -- and helping women -- find hope when babies are born premature, and to cope and find healing when bereavement strikes.

An OB nurse at SoutheastHealth for 40 years, she helped establish the area's first newborn intensive care unit, and brought a Share Grief Support program to the hospital, which has helped more than 3,000 families heal after a miscarriage, stillbirth or newborn loss.

The program is the longest-running self-sustaining Share program in Missouri and its work has been recognized at the national level for its team approach.

Gayle, who had two miscarriages herself the year she founded the program, told B Magazine, "When you lose a baby, that's probably one of the biggest tragedies in life. It's just so important that these families get some support."

Over the decades, Gayle has witnessed many advancements in health care, which through Southeast's NICU, help save children that would not have survived in earlier generations. Still, tragedies exist.

Gayle, you have touched the lives of families at their most raw and vulnerable, walking alongside them when they needed it the most. Thank you for your dedication and care, bringing healing, support and strength, to generations of women and their families.

Dennis Vinson

Dennis is a successful entrepreneur who founded Signature Packaging in 2003, creating a company that is consistently recognized for its quality, employee development, ecological best practices and success. For the past five years, Signature has been recognized by Black Enterprise magazine as among the nation's top 100 black-owned businesses.

Dennis, who is originally from New Jersey, founded the company in Atlanta and moved it to Jackson in 2007. Ever humble, he credits his more than 60 employees for his success. He told B Magazine, "The basis and success of Signature is all about the employees. My leadership is there, but they make it happen every day."

Besides running a dynamic company and raising a talented family who works with him, Dennis has volunteered his time extensively. He has served on the boards of both area chambers and is the current chairman of the state chamber. He was recently named to Southeast Missouri State's board of regents, and he continues to serve on boards for bank, hospital and various state government economic development organizations.

Dennis is also a change agent for his employees, bringing in a life coach once a month to talk companywide about life and job scenarios with a Biblical basis.

We thank Dennis for investing himself in our community, providing an example of Christ-centered leadership, giving people a second chance, and never stopping to learn and grow.

Kirby Ray

If you don't know Kirby, you're missing out. He's a kind man with a kind word, always ready to celebrate others. He's also, as he was described by the person who nominated him: a hard-core rocker with soft, fuzzy vibes.

Let me read from the story about Kirby in B Magazine.

"River Radio 99.3 Real Rock program director. Radio personality. Founder of the heavy metal band Emaciation. Co-founder of the annual Scoutfest. Judge of the Polar Plunge benefitting Special Olympics. Board member of the Arts Council of Southeast Missouri. And so much more."

I've had the pleasure of watching Kirby over the years as he worked in radio and intermingled with crowds. His is a unique, positive perspective, which elevates the spirit of those around him.

He told B. "You could create enemies everyday; the world is full of people who are just ready for that. So I feel like putting out that positive power and energy and encouraging people ... it's my way of helping... I get just overjoyed everyday thinking about that, you know?"

Kirby, your positive energy is making a difference. Thank you for developing it and disseminating it to all around you, whether over the radio waves, through your volunteering, and everywhere you go. I don't know if it's always easy, but it matters and it works. Thank you for inspiring.

Dennis Vollink

Thirty-seven years ago, Dennis was hired by Bob Drury after 8 years of active service in the United States Air Force, to be a pilot and engineer at Drury Southwest. From there, he rose to president and now chairman of the board, along the way designing Drury properties all around the country.

Among some of his local projects: West Park Mall, Siemers Drive, Lorimont Place, Auburn Place and the Drury Plaza Hotel Cape Girardeau Conference Center. Under his leadership, the company has been recognized with some of the most prestigious awards in the industry, placing it only behind Ritz-Carlton, a luxury brand, in the hospitality category.

Throughout his career, Dennis continued to serve in our armed forces, first with the inactive reserve and then, having missed the camaraderie, joining the 231st Civil Engineering Flight with the Missouri Air National Guard.

Dennis has also been a steady leader on local boards, from the River Campus to Saint Francis Healthcare System, as well as with his church's Catholic Campus ministry campaign. His love of astronomy led him to not only building an observatory at his home, but to spearheading the construction of one at Notre Dame High School.

Dennis told B Magazine, "Sharing astronomy with you is physics, but it's also the theological and philosophical, because it's God's creation that you look at and see taking place in front of you."

Dennis, for your hard work leading a remarkable company with integrity and vision, for your service to country and your steady involvement in local affairs, thank you. Your efforts have made travel happier for those on the road, while opening the heavens to young, impressionable minds.

Ethan Welker

Ethan is the youngest Newsmaker this year, which, along with Doug Austin, makes this the biggest range of ages, more than 60 years, in our honorees ever.

As a student at Perryville High School, Ethan saw a gap in activities for young kids at the city's rec center, and he decided to do something about it. Leveraging his background in music, he created a youth orchestra course geared to elementary-aged children. He then recruited friends and peers to join him in instruction.

This wasn't a seat of the pants operation. Ethan created a full logistical plan that fulfilled state government standards for music education.

He told B Magazine that there were all these resources available -- from facilities to people -- and yet they weren't being tapped into. Quote: "So that's kind of my big take-away from this. You can really do something great; you just have to do it."

For those who learn that greatness starts with simply taking action, the future holds inspiring promise, in music and beyond. Thank you Ethan for being a catalyst and leader. Congratulations.

Cantrell Andrews, Kweku Arkorful, Wyky Jean and Aaron Adeoye

Aaron is playing professional football for the Baltimore Ravens, and Kweku, who was here earlier, had to depart for another obligation. So we're very pleased to have Wyky and Cantrell here representing the group.

For those who read the Southeast Missourian, these four gentlemen are no strangers, because what they're doing in Cape Girardeau is simply transformative.

One-time teammates on the Redhawks football team, in 2016, they became mentors for minority boys via a local Christian Boxing Academy. Their involvement there led them to founding the Honorable Young Men Club at Central Middle School, which is changing the lives of kids at risk.

Kweku told B magazine: "We saw so many kids who just didn't have any role models. Kids that were getting in trouble and labeled. With us being African American males, it just didn't sit well with us." So they devised a program, which touches more than 180 students regularly.

The results show improved attendance, decrease in suspensions and increased standardized test scores, particularly in reading, writing and math.

Cantrell told B Magazine that much of the success is due to relationships built with each individual student.

At the heart of their mission is Christian values. Wyky told B that what influences them is a statement: "Go out into all the world and preach the Gospel without words."

Gentlemen, in your actions you are doing exactly that. Scripture tells us that blessed is the one who is kind to the needy. The generous will themselves be blessed.

Thank you for giving of yourselves in time and spirit, not just individually, but in creating a whole model -- a system that multiplies your talents -- to help broadly. We look to you for the future.

For full stories about each of the recipients, visit bmagazine.io.

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