By Gaby Maxey
The University of Memphis Alumni Association honored five individuals with “True Blue”
spirit at the 2011 Distinguished Alumni Awards in February at The Peabody Hotel.
Four U of M graduates were recognized as Distinguished Alumni: Ken Bennett, founder
and executive director of Streets Ministries Inc.; Carolyn Hardy, president and CEO
of Hardy Bottling Company; Jody Stephens, drummer for the rock band Big Star and studio
manager of Ardent Studio; and Dr. Jan Young, executive director of The Assisi Foundation
of Memphis and major general in the Air National Guard. Dana Gabrion, co-executive
producer of America’s Next Top Model, was named Outstanding Young Alumna.
Bennett (BS ’79, MS ’85) worked as an alcohol and drug therapist at Mid-South Hospital
and Eastwood Hospital, and has been a volunteer youth leader for most of his adult
life. After starting an outreach program at St. Patrick’s Church downtown, the area
captured Bennett’s heart. In 1987 he founded Streets Ministries, a Christian ministry
dedicated to serving the youth of Memphis. Among his many honors, Bennett was named
the 2003 Thomas E. Briggs Community Servant of the Year and received the 1993 Lyndhurst
Prize along with such notables as Maya Angelou and Alice Walker.
Hardy (BBA ’74, MBA ’87) has been a trailblazer in many non-traditional jobs. She
started her career at the J. M. Smucker Company, where she successfully managed finance,
quality and human resources. She also served as vice president of services for Honeywell-POMS
Corp. In addition, Hardy is former vice president for Coors Brewing Company’s Memphis
business unit. In this role, she was responsible for plant operations and management.
She was the first – and only – African-American female vice president of a major brewery.
In 2006 Hardy became the first African-American woman to own a major brewery with
the ability to manufacture more than 100 million cases of both alcoholic and non-alcoholic
Stephens (BBA ’84) is a rarity in the music business. As a drummer, studio manager,
songwriter and producer, he has remained relevant and influential in pop music for
more than 35 years. Stephens enrolled as a student at the U of M in August 1970. It
was around that time that he began his journey as a founding member of Ardent Records’
legendary band Big Star. Artists like R.E.M., the Replacements, The Black Crowes and
Teenage Fanclub cite the band as a major influence. All three of Big Star’s Ardent
Records releases are listed in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Stephens is the sole surviving original member
of the band. In 1997, Stephens joined Golden Smog, a side project that includes members
of Wilco, the Jayhawks and Soul Asylum.
Dr. Jan Young
Young (BSN ’83) has had a distinguished career in education, health care, the military
and philanthropy. As executive director of The Assisi Foundation, Young has overall
accountability for the implementation of the Foundation’s philanthropic activities,
strategic direction, community relations and staff management. Her military service
began with the U.S. Army Nursing Corps Reserves. She transferred to the Air National
Guard, and in 1990 received the Outstanding Air National Guard Nurse award. In 2005
Young was promoted to the rank of brigadier general. In 2009 she was promoted to major
general, the highest rank awarded to a traditional Guard member. She currently serves
as the Air National Guard liaison to Air Education and Training Command.
Gabrion (BA ’98) was born in Jacksonville, Ark., to one of the first female disc jockeys
on FM radio in the Little Rock market. She found her love for the entertainment industry
at a young age, enrolling as a teenager in a radio/TV/film class at the University
of Arkansas-Little Rock. While at the U of M, Gabrion interned at WMC-FM. This opened
up opportunities at WREC, WHBQ and WMC-AM, where she produced several local talk shows.
She also began working on various film and television projects, including Francis
Ford Coppola’s The Rainmaker and MTV’s Sports and Music Festival II. Her varied experience led her to become one of the first people hired to launch
America’s Next Top Model in 2002 for 10x10 Entertainment. She soon was promoted to co-executive producer,
and employs 10 U of M graduates on the show.