Founded in 1951, the Distinguished Alumni Awards recognize individuals who have achieved professional and personal successes, and demonstrated exemplary service to their community.
Nominations are accepted throughout the year. On December 31, the nomination cycle closes to allow selection of honorees for the upcoming year.
Nominations received after December 31 will be saved for the next year of selection. Final selections will be made in February of each year. Award recipients and nominators will be notified, in most cases, by April and the ceremony and event takes place in the Fall each year.
The nomination cycle for the 2021 Distinguished Alumni awards is now closed. However, we are taking nominations for the 2023 Distinguished Alumni Awards and encourage you to submit your nominations by December 31, 2022.
Distinguished Alumni Award for Lifetime Achievement
Dr. Earl Hackett ’53
Bachelor of Science in Chemistry
Editor’s note: This past summer, Earl Hackett sat down with us to talk about his incredible life story. Before he could accept his award, Earl passed away on Oct. 7, 2021. To honor that time together, we’ve kept his words just as he spoke them.
If Dr. Earl Hackett made a difference in one single person, he would have considered his life a success. But Hackett did more.
From practicing medicine in a leper colony to funding a clinic in Burma to teaching the next generation of neurologists for more than 30 years, Hackett did much, much more.
“I’ve always had the desire, it was something my parents instilled in me,” says Hackett, who was born in 1932 Paul ’20 and Martha Jane, in Burma. “The goal is to live your life so the world is better after you die than before you came.”
For Hackett, that meant continuing his father’s work on leprosy. The goal led him to Case Western Reserve University where he graduated with a medical degree in 1957. Studying neurology, Hackett went to Carville, Louisiana to consult with the U.S. Public Health Service at The National Leprosarium of the United States, later renamed Gillis W. Long Hansen’s Disease Center. Leprosy is also known as Hansen’s Disease, a name given to leprosy in 1932 to help reduce the stigma.
Working in the hospital there for nearly 20 years starting in 1962, Hackett also taught at nearby Louisiana State University School of Medicine in New Orleans, where he retired as chair of the Neurology Department in 1988.
“Earl chose to teach, believing that if he could turn out one good doctor a year, he would reach more people than opening a lucrative private practice,” his children wrote in his award nomination letter. “Thousands of students took his classes and hundreds of residents received specialized training.”
But Hackett’s work was far from over. Moving back to Springfield, Hackett continued to volunteer teach one day a week, traveling to Columbia to work with University of Missouri students.
Hackett’s brother, William ’36, initially took up their father’s work in Burma, and following his death, his daughter sought to continue the effort.
“That was a problem because of the culture there,” says Hackett, noting his niece came to him for help. “She needed a male. So, in 1994 I returned to Burma.”
He returned every two years, until 2013, when his wife told him he was “too old,” Hackett says with a chuckle.
“When we first went, we set up a free clinic and a church and that clinic is still going to this day,” Hackett says, noting his son, Ray ’80, and daughter, Nancy, still travel to Burma with medical supplies. “We helped care for kids at a lot of orphanages. The government made a lot of orphans.”
Hackett’s children continue the work through the family’s Hackett Mission Legacy foundation, the third generation of the Hackett family to make an indelible difference in the country.
“Drury set me on the right path. It prepared me. I met my wife here,” says Hackett. “The professors, like L.E. Meador and Tom Parsons, gave me the education that made everything else possible.”
Young Alumni Award
Mati Hlatshwayo Davis
Mati Hlatshwayo Davis has found her voice, and her place in the world, as a trusted medical messenger.
The Zimbabwe native came to Drury University in 2001, sight unseen, to study science with her sights set on medical school. She achieved her goal of becoming an infectious disease doctor after graduating from the prestigious Lerner College of Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic. She went on to become an instructor in medicine at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic nudged her into an additional role as a medical contributor to national and international media outlets such as the BBC, CNN and Newsweek. She’s made it her personal mission to dispel disinformation about the coronavirus and the vaccines developed to fight it. It’s been especially important for her to speak out, she says, because she is a Black woman, an immigrant and a new mother.
“Community engagement has become the biggest part of who I am and what I love to do in this space,” she says.
But she also says the path to this point wasn’t an obvious one. Despite exceling at top-tier institutions at every step of her journey, she often struggled self-doubt in part because she didn’t “see a lot of people that looked like me.” One of the consequences was Davis would often defer when asked to speak to media as expert source from Washington University. That was a job for more experienced doctors, she thought.
When the pandemic hit, Davis was struck by the fact that the virus was disproportionately affecting Black, brown and other minority communities. She realized she needed to speak up, especially when those same communities were more hesitant than the general population about getting vaccinated.
“For some people in my community I am a trusted messenger, more so than even someone far more qualified than me and has more experience,” Davis says. “That counts. That matters. And it matters for young kids coming up and young medical trainees coming to know, ‘You won’t be alone. You will be seen and what you do has value and has worth.’”
In fall of 2021, Davis started yet another professional role as the Director of Health for the City of St. Louis. She views it as the culmination of her medical training, public health work, and passion for improving people’s lives – especially minority and hard-to-reach populations.
“This is the fit,” she says.
Davis credits her time at Drury with building a foundation of confidence and self-assurance because of the knowledge and curiosity it instilled in her and the opportunities it gave her, including becoming student body president, winning a world championship with Students In Free Enterprise and holding court as homecoming queen in traditional African dress.
“I flourished at Drury” she says. “I was accepted for exactly who I was and encouraged to be the very best of me, and I did that with people who supported me the whole time. I can’t show enough gratitude.”
Career Achievement Award
CDR Anna Santoro, PharmD ’06
Bachelor of Arts in Biology, Chemistry and Spanish
For Anna Santoro, equality is the ultimate goal. She’s seen peers thrive in a diverse environment; she’s also seen the effects of a more homogeneous view.
Growing up in Oklahoma, Santoro attended a magnet school with an intentionally diverse student body.
“To me, that was normal. In my head, it reflected the real world,” says the 2006 Drury alumnae. “But I soon realized that was not the case when I left those walls. When that light bulb clicked on, I knew I had a goal.”
Originally an architecture student, Santoro soon realized it wasn’t the path for her and was ready to switch gears, but to what? Working at the time in a retail pharmacy, Santoro recalls she loved the work, but also knew she didn’t want to take chemistry class.
“I really didn’t,” she says with a laugh. “But my roommates convinced me and you know what, I loved it.”
With degrees in biology, chemistry and Spanish under her belt, Santoro enrolled in pharmacy school at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy, with plans to enter the retail space upon graduation, focusing on populations at need and translating. But again, she found that wasn’t the path for her. In 2007, she discovered the U.S. Public Health Service and found a way to help serve those in need while also serving her country and providing unique career opportunities.
One of the eight uniformed branches of service, the USPHS Commissioned Corps gave Santoro the opportunity she wanted: to help others beyond her local environment. As a Commander in the USPHS, Santoro is stationed at Federal Medical Center Devens, part of the Federal Bureau of Prisons system. In just a dozen years there, she’s helped streamline the way patients receive medications. As a mental health clinical pharmacist, she implemented a pharmacist run clinic that manages treatment of both inpatient and outpatient inmates with mental health disorders.
“Medications have reactions to each other and it’s not always to the benefit of the patient,” she says. “As a specialist, I work with providers, and with patients directly to help find the medications – or combination of medications – that can best treat their mental health issues as well as provide the best possible quality of life.
“Over 95 percent of my patients will end up back in the community and helping them not only improves their day-to-day life, but improves their chances of success after they are released.”
Working to treat pain management and those with substance use disorder as well, Santoro has helped decrease overall narcotic use by 85 percent in just three years.
The system works so well, the BOP implemented a mental health pharmacist consultant system. Santoro currently serves the southeast region, overseeing 19 institutions in six states and more than 30,000 inmates.
The work earned Santoro major recognition. She was named the 2020 United States Public Health Service RADM Allen J. Brands Clinical Pharmacist of the Year Award for her innovation and progress in novel pharmacy services. In 2021, she was honored with the Weaver/Penna Pharmacist of the Year award from the Board of Pharmacy Specialists, recognizing her role as a psychiatric specialist throughout the nation.
“This career has been so rewarding for me,” she says. “Some of my patients have never had access to health care before. As a mental health pharmacist, I am able to help provide specialized care, as well as to help educate other about the importance of appropriate medication use.”
Community Service Award
Robert Malone ’56
Robert Malone has had many varied careers in his lifetime, but one thing has stayed constant – his dedication to helping his community.
A geologist by degree, he later trained as a financial planner for American Express, then ran a bank in his small town and taught seniors about the southwest at New Mexico State University,
But in each town, he’s lived in from Canada and Colorado to New Mexico to his current home in Arizona, he always finds a way to give back.
“I’m not sure what first got me interested, but I have always been involved in quite a few things,” he says.
That is a bit of an understatement. He’s organized charity golf tournaments enabling special needs children to attend summer camp, he’s volunteered to teach science at elementary schools and worked to beautify medians. Wanting to bring cheer to his town, he supervised the cutting of a 30-foot Christmas tree and organized the electric company to light it up. He’s served as treasurer and president of more organizations than he can name.
“I’ve kind of been a jack-of-all-trades in my career, I guess it’s the same with my community,” he says.
Malone earned his geology degree from Drury University in 1956, after a bit of a mixed start. He began classes in 1949, but was drafted to serve during the Korean War, returning to school after.
“I had a good time at Drury,” he says with a chuckle, “maybe too good of a time at first. When I returned, I had more sense, as soldiers do. I buckled down and concentrated on my life, my career.”
His degree led him from the oil fields of south Texas to the mines of Canada and back to the states in Colorado where he worked in uranium. By the time the job took him to New Mexico, he was chief geologist over operations of eight Kerr McGee mines, but by 1984 the uranium industry wasn’t what it used to be. He left geology, but wasn’t ready to retire. Taking a financial planning job with AmEx, he took classes and learned the ropes. But during all the moves, he never stopped helping each community he was in.
As coordinator of the Elderhostel Program at New Mexico State, now known as Road Scholar, he helped the city with motel and restaurant occupancy and exposed participants, 65 and older from all 50 states, to knowledge of the southwest. He continues at his retirement community doing barbecue cookouts and pancake breakfasts.
Despite it all, Malone says he was surprised to receive this award. Surprised, but thankful.
“Over all the years, I’ve gotten a lot of plaques and certificates for things, but this has got to be the biggest,” he says. “Never did I dream my alma mater would recognize me in this way. It’s truly an honor.”
An honor befitting a life with the same, helping his community anyway he could.
Dr. Regina Waters
For Dr. Regina Waters, a professor of communication at Drury University for 28 years, teaching in her discipline has always been about connection – both in the classroom and outside the classroom through networking and mentoring.
Waters is well-known among Drury alumni as someone who can forge lasting and meaningful connections among those within her orbit. It’s produced a powerful network effect, evidenced by the personal and professional bonds shared by a generation of her former students at Drury. Often these connections created relationships that led to job opportunities, friendships and long-lasting mentorships.
For those efforts and for her many years of dedication in the classroom, Waters was honored with the Faculty/Staff Appreciation Distinguished Alumni Award.
Waters realized early on her students could benefit from seeing examples of alumni who majored in communication but were in career roles outside the discipline. One’s college major is not a narrow lane, she says, but a jumping-off point.
“I thought it was important for them to understand that there was so much more to it than just those labels,” Waters says. “If they could just meet people who had sat where they are sitting and studied what they are studying and moved on into these diverse careers doing things they could never have imagined as an 18- or 20-year-old, that’s where the light bulbs come on.”
Waters cites her own college mentors as the reason why she pursued a career in higher education. Mentors are vital at every stage of life, she says, because they raise awareness of issues or solutions we may not see ourselves.
“A really good mentor asks questions that are important for that part of our developmental journey or that phase of our questioning about the world – about who we are and where we are within it,” Waters says.
It was always important for Waters to be a conduit for students to understand what was happening in the world beyond the campus. She set high bars in the classroom so her students would never be caught flat-footed in life after Drury. Getting them out of their comfort zones meant they were truly learning and digging deeper.
Waters cherished seeing students grow, develop confidence and connect with others. Drury alumni are “talented, interesting, engaged” leaders who care about making a difference, she says.
“They are smart, enlightened contributors to the world, and it’s just been a joy to be a part of their journey in getting there,” she says.
During our 70th Annual Distinguished Alumni Awards, alumni who went above and beyond during the Covid-19 pandemic will be recognized April 29, 2022 in the Findlay Student Center Ballroom following our 2021 Distinguished Alumni Awards honorees. This is an invitation only event. Alumni Council created this special recognition and the nominations were reviewed and selected after a nomination process in early Spring 2021. We look forward to recognizing these alumni for their contributions during the Covid-19 pandemic.
BRUCE DART ‘77
STEVEN BARD ‘19
ALISON (CRONKHITE) BRAINAIRD ‘00
JENNIFER (JOHNSON) COLE ‘98
STEVEN D. EDWARDS ‘88
SUSAN MATHERN ’86 MBA ‘89
SCOTT MOORE ‘17
CORA (DURBIN) SCOTT ‘90