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Alumni Association bestows highest honors on five with "True Blue" spirit

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.

Ken Bennett
Ken Bennett

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.




Carolyn Hardy
Carolyn Hardy

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 beverages annually.

Jody Stephens
Jody Stephens

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
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.

Dana Gabrion
Dana Gabrion

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.

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